Ahmad Syafii Maarif (Photo courtesy of Muhammadiyah)

Former Muhammadiyah Chairman Syafii Maarif Passes Away


MAY 27, 2022

Jakarta. Renowned Muslim scholar Syafii Maarif, widely considered a champion of pluralist democracy in the country that has the biggest Muslim population in the world, died at a hospital in Yogyakarta after being treated for heart problems on Friday. He is 86 years old.

Top government officials were quick in offering condolence and testimonies in praise of Syafii.


President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo immediately flew to Yogyakarta after the Friday prayer to attend the funeral ceremony at Kauman Great Mosque.

“He was the teacher of the nation who had lived a very modest life,” the president said.

“[Syafii] was the best Muhammadiyah member who always respected diversity and voiced religious tolerance.”

Just last month, the president paid a visit to Syafii upon learning that he was being treated for a heart problem.

President Joko Widodo gives a eulogy at the fineral of Muslim scholar Syafii Maarif at Kauman Great Mosque in Yogyakarta on May 27, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Secretariat/Muchlis Jr)
President Joko Widodo gives a eulogy at the fineral of Muslim scholar Syafii Maarif at Kauman Great Mosque in Yogyakarta on May 27, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Secretariat/Muchlis Jr)

“Indonesian Muslims and the whole nation have lost one of their most prominent figures,” chief security minister Mahfud MD tweeted as he broke the news earlier in the day.

Doctors at Yogyakarta’s Muhammadiyah Hospital said Syafii had been admitted to it multiple times for heart problems in recent months.

Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who turned 80 on Thursday, remembered Syafii as a true statesman despite never having a key government position.

“Muhammadiyah and the Indonesian people owe a great deal to him. May God welcome him to paradise and comfort the family in this loss,” he said in a statement.

Syafii has openly rejected the formal implementation of sharia or Islamic laws in diverse Indonesia. 

In November 2016, he expressed support to Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, who was under pressure from various Muslim organizations for alleged blasphemy after he quoted a verse from the Koran during a visit to the Thousands Islands.

When invited to a meeting with the president and several other prominent people in 2017, he took the commuter train to reach the meeting venue at the Bogor Palace, the official residence of President Jokowi. 

The photograph of the old Syafii holding a walking stick at a Jakarta train station was reposted by Kompas news website on Friday.

Born in West Sumatra on May 31, 1935, Syafii received most of his formal education from various schools run by Muhammadiyah, one of the country’s biggest and oldest Muslim organizations. 

He moved to Yogyakarta at the age of 18 to attend a Muhammadiyah high school before continuing study at Cokroaminoto University in the nearby town of Surakarta. He received his bachelor's degree from the Yogyakarta-based Institute of Teaching Philosophy and Education (IKIP) aged 33.

Syafii also went to the United States to study history at the Ohio State University and earned his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago after completing a dissertation on Islamic political ideas in Indonesia in 1983.

He was elected as Muhammadiyah chairman in 1998, the year when long-serving President Soeharto resigned and ended his 32-year tenure.

During the Jokowi presidency, he was appointed as an advisor for the Agency for the Implementation of the State Ideology of Pancasila (BPIP) which is led by former President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Syafii was the former co-president of the World Conference on Religion for Peace, which according to its website is “guided by a vision of a world where faith communities cooperate effectively for peace”. 

He also founded the Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity, which promotes democracy, human rights, diversity, and tolerance.