05/30/2022, 11.30
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Yogyakarta: Buya Syafi'i, Muslim champion of dialogue, 'friend' of Catholics, has died

by Mathias Hariyadi

President of Muhammadiyah and university lecturer, Ahmad Syafi'i Maarif died on 27 May just days before his 87th birthday. His commitment to dialogue earned him the Magsaysay Award in 2008. President Widodo's condolences for the passing of a great Indonesian. Commemoration of the local Church. 

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A true friend of Catholics and a leading figure in interreligious dialogue. Indonesia mourns the passing of Ahmad Syafi'i Maarif, a Muslim intellectual who spent most of his decade-long career as a lecturer at Yogyakarta State University and led the Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest (moderate) Islamic organisation, from 1998 to 2005. Born in Sumpur Kudus, a town in the province of West Sumatra, his merits also include founding the Ma'arif award, linked to the institute of the same name, which is at the forefront in promoting harmony and encounters between different faiths and cultures.

Ahmad Syafi'i Maarif, better known by his nickname Buya Syafi'i, was born on 31 May 1935 and passed away on 27 May, shortly before his 87th birthday, in a hospital in Yogyakarta where he had been hospitalised for a few days due to illness. In the past, he served as president of the Conference of Religions for Peace and was known and appreciated for his moderate and progressive interpretation of Islam. His commitment to dialogue and work for the development of the nation, capable of embracing all its souls and components, earned him the Magsaysay Award in 2008. 

The Ma'arif Award, linked to his work, has been awarded to several leading personalities in the country. Among the recipients is missionary Fr Carolus 'Charlie' Burrows, an Oblate of Irish descent, who won it in 2012. His work and his work attracted the interest of non-governmental organisations and institutions, and President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo himself wished to express his condolences on the death of "a prominent personality". 

The body was displayed in the Kauman mosque for a greeting from acquaintances and ordinary citizens before the funeral. He was then buried in Muhammadiyah Cemetery in Kulon Progo, a suburb of the special-status region of Yogyakarta. 'Farewell,' said the president, 'to the guru of interreligious dialogue', who also recalled their last meeting last March. 

A strong advocate of dialogue and tolerance, his writings on civil society have been published and relaunched by many Indonesian media, the most populous Muslim nation in the world and where there has been - and still is - no shortage of episodes of sectarian violence. His commitment is confirmed by the deep esteem and relations he has been able to establish and cultivate with the Catholic world, which has long considered him 'a true friend'.

Fr. Yohanes Dwi Harsanto, of the archdiocese of Semarang, was among the first to pay his respects to the deceased. Interviewed by AsiaNews Indro Suprobo, an activist for interreligious dialogue in Yogyakarta, confirms that Buya Syafi'i made the most significant gestures towards non-Muslims, especially Catholics. 'When the German Jesuit priest Fr Karl Edmund Prier was the victim of a brutal attack by local Islamic extremists while celebrating the Eucharist,' recalls Indro Suprobo, 'it was precisely a friendly gesture by Ma'arif, who paid a courtesy visit to the stricken priest and expressed his concerns about the matter, that encouraged a détente'. At the same time, he concludes, 'Maarif also visited the assailant to stigmatise his intransigent views against Christians, who have worked hard to minimise religious extremism'.

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