MOHAMMAD Natsir, a leading Muslim figure and former prime minister, passed away, On 6 February 1993. His death followed from complications from a heart disease, pneumonia, and bronchitis. He died at the Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital where he had been in intensive care for three months. He was buried the next day at the public cemetery of Karet, Central Jakarta, beside the tomb of his wife, Putri Nurnahar.
Mohammad Natsir, who bore the traditional Minangkabau “Datuk Sinaro Panjang”, was born in Alahan Panjang, Solok Regency, West Sumatra, on 17 July 1908. After completing the Adabiyah (Arts) section of the HIS (Hollandsch-Inlandsche School – Duthc-Native School), and madrasah as well as the MULO (Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderweij – Dutch tyoe of extended primary education) in Padang (1916-1927), West Sumatra, he continued his studies at the AMS – Algemene Middlebare School (Dutch-type General Secondary School) in Bandung, West java. In this city, he also studied Islamic religion with A Hassan, one of the founders of the Persatuan Islam (Persis) and was involved in political life through some Islamic-oriented organizations such as the Jong islamieten Bond (JIB), Boedi Oetomo, Syarikat Islam (SI), and the Muhammadiyah. With Hassan, he directed the magazine Pembela Islam (Defender of Islam).
His political career continued when he became an executive member of the Komite Nasional Indonesia Pusat (KNIP – Central Indonesian National Committee) (1945-1946), minister of information in three successive cabinets (1946-1949), chairman of the Masyumi Party (1949-1958), prime minister (1950-1951), and member of the rebellious Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia (PRRI, Revolutionary Government of the Indonesian Republic) (1958-1960). For this last mentioned activity, he was jailed by the Soekarno regime in Batu, near Malang, East Java (1960-1962) and in Jakarta (1962-1966).
His monumental merit to Indonesian political history was when his proposal, which was known as “the integral motion of Natsir”, was accepted by the Parliament in 1950. The proposal led to re-creation of the unified state of Republik Indonesia (RI) and the end of the one-year old Republik Indonesia Serikat (RIS, United States of Indonesia). The RIS consisted of 17-Dutch-created puppet states. It was on these grounds that President Sukarno appointed him prime minister.
In the same year, he represented the Indonesian government at an international Islamic meeting in Karachi, Pakistan. On this occasion, he spoke on Pancasila, the first speech made by an Indonesian leader abroad on the Indonesian state ideology. In 1982, however, he once more spoke on Pancasila to the House of Representatives. This time together with a number of leaders from various Islamic organizations, he asked the government to purify the ideology because it had deviated from the original spirit.
He was also known for his polemics on religious and poltical matters with Sukarno, who represented the (“secular”) Nationalist group, when the latter figure in exile in Ende, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, in the 1930s.
Likewise famous was his address of 12 November 1957 before the Dewan Konstituante entitled Pilih Antara Dua Jalan: Agama atau Tanpa Agama (Choose Between Two Ways: Religion or without Religion). Natsir pronounced his address at the moment that the Konstituate had to decide on the fundamental ideology of the state. However, before the Konstituante could take a decision, it was dispersed by President Sukarno using the argument that the quorum had not been reached. This was what Natsir called a coup d’etat by Sukarno.
Natsir also criticized Soeharto’s presidency, saying that he limited the activities of the Indonesian mass organizations and political parties. In 1980, he was one of the signatories to a critical petition to the Indonesian government. Because of the number of signatories, their statement became known as the “Petisi 50”. As a consequence of this move the signatories underwent what they called “the loss of civil rights”. They were hampered in their business and in traveling abroad. Natsir was several times unable to attend international Islamic meetings.
However, a month before the Indonesian election in June 1992, he called on Muslims to support the Muslim-backed PPP. According to him, his call was aimed at defending the multi-party system in Indonesian political life. He even urged the MPR to limit the maximum span of office for an Indonesian president to two terms. The MPR should dare to discuss this matter before they elected the new president, he added.
Since 1967, Natsir had been concentrating on Islamic propagation by establishing the Yayasan Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (Yayaan DDII, Foundation of the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council). Afterwards, he was appointed vice president of the Karachi-based Mu’tamar al-Alam al-Islami (World Muslim League, 1969), member of Majlis al-a’la al-Islami lil-Masajid (the World Mosques council, 1972), member of the Founding Board of the International Islamic Charitable Foundation, Kuwait (1985), as well as member of the Founding Board of the Oxfors Centre for Islamic Studies, Great Britain, and member of the Council of Trustees of the International Islamic university of Islamabad, Pakistan (1986). In 1980, he received the “Faisal Award” for his dedication to Islam from the King Faisal Foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Besides politics and religion, he was also active in the education sector. He was director of Islamic education of Bandung for ten years (1932-1942) and afterwards head of the Office for Education in the same city (1942-1945).
He also wrote a number of books, among them Kapita Selecta, Marilah Salat! (Let’s Pray!) and Islam dan Kristen di Indonesia (Islam and Christianty in Indonesia). His address of 1957, Pilih antara Dua Jalan, was translated into Arabic by Geys Ammar (the present chairman of Al-Irsyad) and was published in the Syrian Muslim magazine Al-Muslimun (managed by Sa’id Ramadan, a figure of al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun organization and son-in-law of Hasan al-Banna, founder of the organization. In 1970, this Arabic translation was published as a book under the title Ikhtaru ahad al-sabilayn: al-din aw al-ladiniyah. Accordng to Geys Ammar, this book has become a reference work in the Middle East.
In the middle of February 1993, a group of students from the Universitas Islam Bandung (Unisba), West Java, issued an appeal to the government to name M. Natsir a national hero. Later they were followed by a number of Muslim students in Yogyakarta, united in the Generasi Muda Muslim Yogyakarta (GMYY, Muslim Young Generation of Yogyakarta).
Finally, their efforts were successful after fifteen years later. On 6 November 2008, the Indonesian government bestowed Natsir a national hero.
Source: Darul Aqsha, Dick van der Meij and Johan Hendrik Meuleman, Islam in Indonesia: A Survey of Events and Developments from 1988 to March 1993. Jakarta: INIS, 1995); Wikipedia