Friday, February 5, 2010

Home, Fatherhood, Succession: Three Generations of Amrullahs in Twentieth-Century Indonesia

Hamka has not been well-served by scholars, and often it would seem for good reason. In Ajahku and Kenang-kenangan Hidup he constructs a portrait of himself as a man who is often misguided and callow, forever in the long shadow of his father, Haji Abdul Karim Amrullah (usually referred to as Haji Rasul). So as novelist, he is dismissed: "Hamka cannot be considered a great author by any standards."4 As politician, he is criticized for having worked closely with the Japanese, actions that exposed him to charges of collaboration. Following the occupation, unable to claim a heroic role in the revolution, he relocated to Jakarta where, "In the fifties and sixties he had turned himself, if not into a religious scholar, at least into a popularizer of Islam."5 Imprisoned by Sukarno for speaking out against Guided Democracy and the PKI, Hamka was rehabilitated under Suharto as a leader of reformist Islam and head of the Majelis Ulama. If the Revolution is the fiery triumph and the Orde Baru a grim betrayal in the arc of Indonesian history, then there is apparently little to admire in Hamka's life.

So the most current narrative of Indonesian history-valorizing the Revolution and demonizing the Orde Baru-renders Hamka politically unserviceable. This is unfortunate.6 Hamka was almost certainly the most successful Islamic populist of twentieth-century Indonesia, from his Tasauuf Modern of the 1930s to the radio sermons of the 1970s. And although he eagerly cooperated with the Japanese, the image of Hamka as a failed Revolutionary is deliberately loaded into his autobiography and is not borne out in the record of his activities. Sukarno and Hatta were also able to be "collaborators," yet they managed to maintain their reputations as untarnished revolutionaries; association with the Japanese precluded nothing. And while Hamka's son Rusydi reiterates that his father was defamed and despised in Medan ("ayah dituduh lari dan dtitnah serta dibenci"), he also recalls that back in Minangkabau Hamka worked for the remainder of the Revolution as both the head of the local Muhammadiyah and errant colporteur.7 Kenang-kenangan Hidup and Ajahku were written in West Sumatra during this period. When in 1950 Hamka demanded to be read as a failure, political recuperation was still perhaps possible. But Hamka brilliantly, and authoritatively, defames himself in his narratives, and so makes possible a narrative of transformation and redemption.

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