Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoplesby V. S. Naipaul
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
"The book's strength lies in Naipaul's extraordinary ability as a storyteller to draw striking portraits of a cross section of individuals."--The Boston Globe
Fourteen years after the/i>/i>/i>
"Brilliant. . . . A powerfully observed, stylistically elegant exploration." --The New York Times
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
"The book's strength lies in Naipaul's extraordinary ability as a storyteller to draw striking portraits of a cross section of individuals."--The Boston Globe
Fourteen years after the publication of his landmark travel narrative Among the Believers, V. S. Naipaul returned to the four non-Arab Islamic countries he reported on so vividly at the time of Ayatollah Khomeini's triumph in Iran. Beyond Belief is the result of his five-month journey in 1995 through Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia--lands where descendants of Muslim converts live at odds with indigenous traditions, and where dreams of Islamic purity clash with economic and political realities.
In extended conversations with a vast number of people--a rare survivor of the martyr brigades of the Iran-Iraq war, a young intellectual training as a Marxist guerilla in Baluchistan, an impoverished elderly couple in Teheran whose dusty Baccarat chandeliers preserve the memory of vanished wealth, and countless others--V. S. Naipaul deliberately effaces himself to let the voices of his subjects come through. Yet the result is a collection of stories that has the author's unmistakable stamp. With its incisive observation and brilliant cultural analysis, Beyond Belief is a startling and revelatory addition to the Naipaul canon.
"Highly accomplished. . . . Another display of Naipaul's remarkable talent." --The Independent (London)
Read an Excerpt
Beyond BeliefIslamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
By V. S. Naipaul
Vintage Books USACopyright © 1999 V. S. Naipaul
All right reserved.
The Man of the
IMADUDDIN WAS A LECTURER in electrical engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology. He was also an Islamic preacher. So in the 1960s and 1970s he was unusual: a man of science, one of the few in independent Indonesia, and at the same time a dedicated man of the faith. He could draw the student crowds to the Salman Mosque in the grounds of the Bandung Institute.
He worried the authorities. And when, on the last day of 1979, I went to Bandung to see him, driving up through the afternoon along the crowded smoky road from coastal Jakarta to the cooler plateau where Bandung was, I found that he was a man more or less on the run. He had not long before finished fourteen months in jail as a political prisoner. He still had his little staff house at the Bandung Institute, but he was not allowed to lecture there. And though he was still being defiant, giving his courses in Islamic "mental training" to small groups of middle-class young people--holiday groups, really--he was, at the age of forty-eight, getting ready to go abroad.
He was to spend many years abroad. But then his fortunes changed. And this time I found--going back to Indonesia more than fifteen years after that meeting with him in Bandung--that Imaduddin had money and was famous. He had all Islamic Sunday morning television program. He had a Mercedes and a driver, a reasonable house in a reasonable part of Jakarta, and he was talking of moving to something a little better. The very mixture of science and Islam that had made him suspect to the authorities in the late 1970s now made him desirable, the model of the Indonesian new man, and had taken him up to the heights, had taken him very nearly to the fount of power.
He had become close to Habibie, the minister for research and technology; and Habibie was closer than anyone else in the government to President Suharto, who had ruled for thirty years and was generally presented as the father of the nation.
Habibie was an aeronautical man and his admirers said he was a prodigy. He was a man with a grand idea. It was that Indonesia should under his guidance build, or at any rate design, its own airplanes. The idea behind the idea--as I had read in some newspapers--was that such a venture wouldn't only deliver airplanes. It would also give many thousands of people a high and varied technological training; out of this would come an Indonesian industrial revolution. Over nineteen years almost a billion and a half dollars--according to The Wall Street Journal--had been given to Habibie's aerospace organization. One kind of airplane had been built, the CN-235, in collaboration with a Spanish company; it hadn't been commercially successful. But now something more exciting was about to fly, the N-250, a fifty-seat commuter turboprop, wholly designed by Habibie's organization.
The aircraft's inaugural flight was to be in time for the fiftieth anniversary of Indonesia's independence, on August 17, for which, for weeks before, the streets of Jakarta and other towns had been strung with the same kind of colored lights and hung with flags and banners. Against this background of celebration--which was like the state's gift to the people--the Jakarta Post, like a lecturer handling the beginners' class, one day took its readers through stage by stage of the N-250's trials: the taxiing at low speed, to check ground maneuvering; then at medium speed, to check wing and tail and brake systems; and then at high speed, to make sure that the N-250 could fly just above the ground for five or six minutes.
Four days before the inaugural flight a generator shaft (whatever that was) broke down during a medium-speed taxi. A replacement was, however, to hand; and on the appointed day the N-250 flew for an hour at ten thousand feet. The front page of the Jakarta Post showed President Suharto applauding and Habibie embracing a smiling Mrs. Suharto. Plans were announced for a midrange jet, the N-2130, for March 2004. It was going to cost two billion dollars. Since this program stretched far into the future, Habibie's thirty-two-year-old son," Ilham, who had done all apprenticeship course at Boeing, was going to be in charge.
Three weeks later, after the climax of the fiftieth-anniversary independence celebrations: a great French-produced firework display, and in an atmosphere of national glory, Habibie proposed that August 10, the day on which the N-250 flew, should be observed as National Technological Reawakening Day. He made the proposal at the Twelfth Islam Unity Conference. Because there was another side to Habibie: he was a devout Muslim and a passionate defender of the faith. He was chairman of a new body, the aggressively named Association of Muslim Intellectuals. And when he told the Islam Unity Conference that mastery of science and technology had to be coupled with stronger faith in Allah, it was accepted that he was speaking with both religious and secular authority.
If it wasn't absolutely certain how the designing and building of airplanes with Imported components could lead to a general technological or scientific breakthrough; so, too, it wasn't absolutely clear how Islam had been ennobled by the success of the N-250, and the hundreds of millions that had gone to serve one man's particular talent or interest.
But this was precisely where Imaduddin's faith--as scientist and believer--had coincided with Habibie's, where the careers of the two men had crossed, and Imaduddin had been taken up by his new patron to the sky of presidential favor.
Imaduddin, some time after his return from exile, had been one of the principal early movers behind the Association of Muslim Intellectuals. And now he served Habibie in a special way. Habibie, or his ministry, had sent very many students to study abroad. It was Imaduddin's duty--as scientist and preacher--regularly to visit these students at their foreign universities, to remind them of their faith and where their loyalties should lie. In 1979, when he had been on the run, the Islamic mental training courses he had been doing at Bandung hadn't been approved of by the government, nervous of the beginnings of any populist movement it couldn't control. Now--in an extraordinary reversal--these mental training courses of Imaduddin's, or something like them, were being used by the government to win the support of the important new intelligentsia or technocracy that Habibie was creating
It was out of his new freedom and security, the new closeness to power, which to Imaduddin was only like the proof of the rightness of the faith he had always served, that he told me how, in the bad old days of persecution, he had been picked up one night by the police from his little house at the Bandung Institute of Technology, and taken to jail for fourteen months.
He didn't want to make too much of it now, but he had been provocative, had brought trouble on his own head. He had spoken against some plan of President Suharto, the father of the nation, for a family mausoleum. Gold was to be used in some part of the mausoleum, and Imaduddin spoke now as though it was the use of gold more than anything else that had offended his Islamic puritanism.
So he was expecting trouble, and it came. On the twenty-third of May, 1978, at a quarter to midnight, someone rang the bell of his little house. He went out and saw three intelligence men in plain clothes. Imaduddin could see a gun on one of them. Many people were being arrested at that time.
One of the men said, "We come from Jakarta. We would like to take you to Jakarta to get some information."
"What kind of information?"
"We cannot tell you. You have to come with us immediately."
Imaduddin said, "Give me a few minutes."
And, being Imaduddin, he prayed for a while and washed, while his wife prepared a little prison bag for him. She didn't forget his Koran.
All at once Imaduddin felt that he didn't want to go with the men. He felt that as a Muslim he couldn't trust them. He believed that the intelligence people in Indonesia were under the control of the Catholics. He telephoned the rector of the Bandung Institute. The rector said, "Let me talk to them." He talked to them, but the intelligence men insisted that Imaduddin should go with them. The rector began to hurry over to Imaduddin's house, but by the time he got there Imaduddin had been taken away in a taxi.
The intelligence men left the house with Imaduddin about twelve-thirty, forty-five minutes after they had rung the bell. Imaduddin sat at the back of the taxi between two of the men; the third man sat in the front. They got to the Central Intelligence Office in Jakarta at four-thirty in the morning. Imaduddin, with the serenity of the believer, had slept some of the way. It was time for the dawn prayers when they arrived, and they allowed Imaduddin to do the prayer. Then they asked him to wait in a kind of waiting room. They gave him breakfast.
At eight he was taken to an office and he began to be interrogated by a lieutenant colonel in uniform. There was no hint or threat of abuse or violence. As a lecturer at the Bandung Institute Imaduddin would have been considered of high official rank and had to be handled correctly.
After the lieutenant colonel there was a man in plain clothes. This man gave his name. Imaduddin recognized it as the name of a state prosecutor.
He asked Imaduddin, "Are you a Muslim?"
"Is that why you think this country is an Islamic state? Do you think so?" He was an educated man, a lawyer, perhaps five years younger than Imaduddin.
Imaduddin said, "I don't know what to say. I have never studied law. I am an engineer. You are a lawyer."
The prosecutor said, "The government has spent so much money building mosques and many other things for the Muslims. It has built the national mosque. But still there are Muslims who would like to turn this country into an Islamic state. Are you one of those Muslims?"
"You tell me what you think of this country."
"It is a secular state. Not a religious state."
Imaduddin said, "You are wrong. You are dead wrong."
"Why? You said that as an engineer you don't know the law."
"Some things I know. Because I have studied in the States. The United States you can call a secular state. But you have told me that the government here has spent so much money to build things like the national mosque. What kind of government is that?"
For two hours they argued, saying the same things over and over. Then Imaduddin was taken to the headquarters of the military police. There they brought out his file, and from there he was taken with his file to the jail.
The jail had been built for his political enemies by Sukarno, the first president of independent Indonesia; many famous people had been there before Imaduddin. It was a compound of fifteen acres, with a double wall and barbed wire and other jail apparatus. The buildings were of concrete.
Imaduddin was given a large room, twenty feet square, with a special Muslim bathroom. There were eight such rooms in the jail. They were for people of rank, and Imaduddin was considered a person of rank. Imaduddin knew that he was going to spend a long time there. So, with the confidence and briskness of his great belief--and the curious simplicity: he could with equal ease have been all inquisitor or a martyr--he asked for a broom to clean the place up. He thought it was dirty: as a religious man he had certain standards of cleanliness. He even scrubbed the bathroom. Apart from everything else, the bathroom was important for his ritual wash before the five-times-a-day prayers.
He settled into the jail routine. There was a small mosque in the middle of the prison. When he went there for the Friday prayer he met the jail's most famous prisoner: Dr. Subandrio, one of the Indonesian old guard, by profession a surgeon, a political associate of Sukarno's, once Sukarno's deputy prime minister, once foreign minister.
Subandrio had been in prison since 1965 for his part in the very serious communist plot to kill the generals and take over the country. The crushing of that plot had altered the political balance of the country. It had brought the army and young Suharto to power; it had led to a bloodletting so widespread that at the end the Indonesian Communist party, in 1965 one of the largest political groupings in the country, had been all but destroyed. Hundreds of thousands had been sent to labor camps and had later been denied full civic rights. The memory of the 1965 plot had not been allowed to fade; the strange paternalism of military rule under President Suharto, always set against this background of latent communist danger, had been institutionalized.
Subandrio had originally been sentenced to death. But he told Imaduddin that on the day of his execution Queen Elizabeth had made a plea for his life--Subandrio had been the first Indonesian ambassador to Great Britain--and President Suharto had commuted the death sentence to imprisonment for life.
And there, in the jail Sukarno had built for another kind of political person, Subandrio had been all this time, for thirteen years, simply living on, while the world outside changed, and Subandrio and his great adventure became part of the past, and he himself was taken further and further away from the man he had been. He who had once been at the center of so much now depended for social stimulus on new arrivals at the prison, people like Imaduddin, a kind of human windfall from beyond the high double walls.
The two men met every day. They went to each other's rooms. There was a kind of freedom for prisoners before eight in the morning, and again in the afternoon, when the warders went to their own quarters. The two men were not alike. Subandrio was about sixty-five, Imaduddin thought; Imaduddin himself was forty-seven. Imaduddin, describing Subandrio, mentioned the older man's fitness, his small size, his training as a surgeon, his Javanese background, The background was important. The Javanese are known as feudal people with courtly manners and special ways of saying difficult things. Imaduddin was from North Sumatra, blunter in every way, and in the matter of Islam far more puritanical and aggressive than the Javanese.
And Imaddudin would have had no sympathy for Subandrio's pre-1965 politics. He had told me in 1979 that he could not have been a socialist when he was a young man, however generous the socialists were to him, because he was "already" a Muslim. I believe he meant that all that was humane and attractive about socialism was also in Islam, and there was no need for him to take the secular way and risk his filth.
Thirteen years before, Imaduddin and Subandrio would have been on opposite sides. But the jail was an equalizer. And Subandrio had also changed. He had become a religious man. He said to Imaduddin at their first meeting that he wanted to know more about the Koran, and he asked Imaduddin to help him. This was more than Javanese courtesy or the result of the social starvation of jail life. Subandrio was a true seeker. Imaduddin became his teacher.
They also talked every day about politics. They talked specifically about politics in Javanese culture.
Imaduddin said, "He learned from me how to read the Koran. I learned from him about Javanese culture."
"What did you learn?"
"The importance of paternalism. Not in the Western sense, but a mix-up of feudalism, paternalism, and nepotism. You have to know what to say and what not to say. You have to know your position in the society. Your ability sometimes had nothing to do with it."
Subandrio also got to know Imaduddin's story, and it was easy for him to see where Imaduddin was going wrong. Running together everything he had heard from Subandrio over fourteen months, Imaduddin put these words of political advice in Subandrio's mouth: "In politics you must not expect honesty and morality right through. Keenness and smartness are not important. In politics the question of winning is the end result. So if you put your idea into the mind of your enemy, and he practices it, you are the winner. Above all, you must remember that you must never confront the Javanese."
Confrontation: Imaduddin recognized that it had been his own political method. This wasted time in jail was part of the price he was paying; so were the many years of exile that were to follow. During those years he never forgot Subandrio's advice; and when his time of expiation was over, and he had come back to Indonesia, he set himself to learning the Javanese way of moving in an ordered society, the Javanese way of saying difficult things. He learned that he shouldn't try to act on his own. He found a patron, Habibie; he shot up; and as if by magic people he had thought of as remote and hostile became sources of bounty and favor.
On the day before the fiftieth anniversary of independence, and six days after the N-250 did its inaugural flight around Bandung, Dr. Subandrio--now nearly eighty-two--was at last released from jail, after an unimaginable thirty years, and a full sixteen years after Imaduddin had been freed.
The announcement had been made three weeks before by President Suharto. A Jakarta Post reporter went to the jail. He found Subandrio, suffering from a hernia and blood pressure. The old man wished now only not to die in jail, and (a remnant of the fitness Imaduddin had noticed sixteen years before) he kept himself going--for the little freedom he might yet have, and the little life--with the help of yoga and long walks in the jail compound.
The reporter asked Subandrio, whether he intended to take up politics again when he was released.
Subandrio said, "it is useless." His thoughts, he said, were only of the hereafter.
The reporter asked whether he had an opinion about his release.
He didn't. He didn't want to say anything at all until he was absolutely out of the jail. He said, "I'm afraid of a possible slip of the tongue, because it might backfire on me."
So now, almost at the very end, taking care to talk only of the benevolence of God and the generosity of President Suharto, Subandrio remained mindful of the Javanese advice he had given Imaduddin sixteen years before.
Imaduddin gave un-Islamic and modern-sounding names to his Islamic ventures. So in Bandung in 1979 he gave "mental training" courses to middle-class adolescent groups. One of the modern games he made them play was to sit in groups of five and attempt to make squares out of variously shaped pieces of paper that had been handed out in separate envelopes. The thing could be done only if the groups came together and exchanged pieces of paper. In this very attractive way they learned about the need for cooperation, perseverance, knowing one another, the sense of belonging. And since Imaduddin here was preaching to the converted--otherwise those adolescents, some of them from Jakarta, wouldn't have been allowed by their parents to come to Bandung for those mixed, late-night sessions--everyone knew that those virtues were Islamic ones; and some of the young people even had supporting quotations from the Koran.
If that, in 1979, was an aspect of mental training, it was possible for me, knowing about Imaduddin's current success and glory, to have an idea what was behind YAASIN, which was the stylish Indonesian acronyn Imaduddin had chosen for the foundation he now ran: Yayasan Pembina Sari Insan, the Foundation for the Development and Management of Human Resources. "Human resources" would have meant people; their development meant their becoming devout Muslims; the management of those devout people would have meant weaning them away from old loyalties, whatever these were, and getting them to follow the technological-political line of Imaduddin and Habibie.
The office of the foundation was on the ground floor of a small block some distance away from the center of Jakarta. It wasn't easy for the visitor to find. But Imaduddin was a busy man, with his weekly television program and his work for the Association of Muslim Intellectuals--in a few days, besides, he would be going to the United States and Canada, and traveling there for two months, visiting twelve universities to do his mental training work among Indonesian students--and he thought that his office was the best place for us to meet.
When he came out to the hall to greet me I didn't absolutely recognize him. It wasn't only the effect of the years. His manner had altered. In Bandung he had seemed to me to have the university lecturer's manner, not unattractive, the semi-informal, semi-confiding manner of a man used to going around the seriousness or awkwardness of a subject to win the allegiance of people who were not yet his peers. Now he was like a man of affairs, without a jacket but quite staid: the green-striped shirt, the tie, the pen clipped to the shirt pocket, the beige trousers belted to hold back the firm beginnings of middle-aged spread.
In the office, the first open space, to the right as you entered, had a low raised platform, with cheap rumpled rugs; and on the floor were slippers and shoes. This was where Imaduddin's visitors and employees or neighbors faced Mecca and prayed. Two or three people were already there, sitting quietly, waiting for the correct prayer time; in this setting they were a little like office trophies or diplomas, virtue on display.
As we tiptoed past these still people, the woman diplomat who had come with me (and had provided the car for the difficult journey) asked whether we too shouldn't take off our shoes before we went any farther. Imaduddin, with something of the preacher's bonhomie, said it wasn't necessary. He spoke as though he knew, out of his experience of the outside world, that this taking off of shoes would be a burden for us, and he was half in sympathy with us; but he spoke at the same time as though what was a burden for us was pure pleasure for him.
After this was the secretary's office, with a flickering computer screen and shelves and files; and after this, at the end of the corridor, was Imaduddin's office, against the outer wall of the building--the sunstruck street and the smoking traffic just outside. It looked like an office where a lot happened. There was a tarnished laptop on the glass-covered desk. On one side of the laptop was a well-handled Koran; on the other side was a pile of shoddily produced paperback books, perhaps a foot high, of similar size and in electric blue covers, which had been published in Egypt and might have been a very long commentary on the Koran: no doubt like meat and drink to Imaduddin.
And it was there, in that atmosphere of mosque and office, that Imaduddin began to tell me of his adventures after 1979, and the changes in his thinking that had led him from persecution in Bandung, where he hadn't been allowed to give his lectures on electrical engineering, to his success here in Jakarta, with his foundation and his ideas about human resources.
Though in 1979 he was in his late forties, he still kept up with two international Muslim student organizations where he had held important positions. These organizations were known, in an impressive modern way, by their initials: IIFSO of Kuwait, the International Islamic Federation of Student Organisations, and WAMY of Saudi Arabia, the World Association of Muslim Youth. It was through WAMY that he got a grant from the Faisal Foundation. He didn't use this to go to a Muslim country, where as a defender of the faith he might have found solace of a sort. He went instead to the heart of the United States, to Iowa State University. Always out there, the United States, an unacknowledged part of the world picture of every kind of modern revolutionary: the country of law and rest, with which at the end of the day a man who had proclaimed himself to be on the other side--in politics, culture, or religion--could make peace and on whose goodwill he could throw himself.
It was at Iowa that Imaduddin made the great break with his past. He found a new subject of study, industrial engineering, and he gave up electrical engineering, which he had taught for seventeen years. He had decided to go into electrical engineering when he was a young man, he said; it was part of the uncertainty of the time; he had the haziest idea how the country could be best developed. Now at Iowa he began to see more clearly.
Imaduddin said, "I discovered at that time that this country needs human resource development rather than high technology. I realized that the problem of the country was not technology. Technology can be bought if you have the money. But you cannot buy human resources who are dedicated to doing things for their country. You cannot expect Americans to come here to do things for this country. As secretary-general of IIFSO I traveled a lot. And one day in 1978, when I was in Saudi Arabia, I saw that they had established a very modern hospital, the King Faisal Hospital, but all the doctors, even the nurses, were non-Arab. The doctors were Americans, the nurses were Filipinos and Indians and Pakistanis. Saudi Arabia can buy AWACS, but the pilots are Americans."
"You hadn't thought of that before?"
"Not really. But approaching it.
Though I half knew that the scientific-sounding words Imaduddin was using would have a religious twist, I had also given them a half-scientific interpretation. I thought he was speaking as a scientist and was saying, very broadly, that technology without the supporting science was useless, and I thought he was using Saudi Arabia as an example of technological dependence. But the very next thing he said made me feel I had missed the true line of his argument.
He said, "When I applied for the scholarship from Saudi Arabia I was thinking of shifting from electrical engineering. I thought there must be something more important than technology."
I had lost him for a while. He appeared to be saying that in order to develop technology it was necessary to give it up. I cast my mind back over what had been said. He talked on, and it was a little time before I saw that he was not speaking with detachment, laying down the principles of technological advance for Indonesia, but was speaking more personally, of his career, and of the intuitive stages by which he had given up electrical engineering, given up naked technology, and become a full-time preacher and missionary, and how, through this apparent professional surrender, he had reached the heights: the Association of Muslim Intellectuals, Habibie, the splendors of the N-250, and, indirectly, the president himself In his mind there was no disjointedness or lack of logic. There was only clarity. A country could develop only if its human resources were developed: if the people, that is, became devout and good.
My questions would not always have been to the point. He handled them civilly, but as interruptions; and, like the seasoned politician or preacher, always went back to his main story without losing his way.
He said, "With the Saudi grant I shifted to industrial engineering. In electrical engineering we study just engineering. No human being is concerned. Except, when you study high voltage, of course you must think of safety. In industrial engineering you combine industrial system and human system, and management. I did this in Iowa. I met a very nice professor who is an expert in human behavior, I asked this professor to be my major professor, and he very gladly agreed. Starting from this I concentrated my resources on behavioral approach."
He had no trouble giving up his old subject. "I am interested in something only when I am learning about it. Once I know everything about it I don't like it anymore. It's one of my weaknesses or bad behaviors. An example. Show me any motor or electrical machine. I can tell you about the behavior of this machine. An induction motor is an induction motor. It doesn't matter where it comes from. I can tell you about it completely. When I get my two babies, each baby has its own individual behavior. You cannot treat them like machines. Human beings are always enigmatic to me, always interesting."
Just outside the office wall, the bright light yellowed, turning the dust and smoke into gold: the hot afternoon on the turn, moving now towards dusk, the traffic as hectic as ever, full of event but (like a fountain seen from a distance) constant. Against this, but from within the office, no doubt from the carpeted and rumpled open space at the end of the corridor, hesitant scraping sounds developed into a shy chant.
Imaduddin heard: it showed in his eyes. But, with the same kind of courtesy that had made him tell us earlier that it was not necessary to take off our shoes in the corridor, he appeared not to notice. He didn't interrupt his story.
After four years at Iowa he finished his course in industrial engineering. He received a letter from some friends in Indonesia advising him not to come back just then. He showed the letter to the American immigration people--he had to leave the country as soon as he had graduated--and they gave him an extension. He also showed the letter to his professor. The professor knew that Imaduddin's Saudi grant had stopped with his graduation, and he offered Imaduddin a teaching job. Imaduddin taught at Iowa for two years.
I said, "People have shown you a lot of kindness."
I was trying to make a point about people in Iowa, unbelievers. I believe Imaduddin understood. He said with a mischievous smile, "God loves me very much."
The chanting from the corridor became more confident. It couldn't be denied now. I could see that Imaduddin wanted to be out there, with the chanters and the prayers. For a while longer, though, he stayed where he was and continued with his story,
In 1986 an Indonesian friend, well placed, in fact a minister in the cabinet, made a plea to the Indonesian government on Imaduddin's behalf He gave a personal guarantee that Imaduddin would do no harm to the state. It was because of this that, after six years of exile, Imaduddin was allowed to go back home. He went to Bandung. He thought he still had his lecturing job at the Institute of Technology, but when he reported to the dean the dean told him he was dismissed. So--though Imaduddin didn't make the point--it was just as well that he had turned away from electrical engineering.
The chanting now filled the corridor. It was authoritative. It recalled Imaduddin from his narrative of times past. And now he couldn't be held back. He rose with suddenness from his office chair, said in a businesslike way that he would be with us again in a few minutes, and went out towards the chanting.
The room felt bereft. Without the man himself--his curious simplicity and openness, his love of speech, his humor--all his missionary paraphernalia felt oppressive: something being made out of nothing. It was only someone like Imaduddin who could give point and life to the electric blue Egyptian paperbacks on the glass-topped desk.
When he came back he had lost his restlessness. The prayers, the assuaging of habit, had set him up for the happiest part of his story. This was the part that dealt with the success--still with him--that had come after nearly a decade of jail and exile and being on the run.
The success had followed on his coming to Jakarta, the capital, after the humiliation of Bandung. In Jakarta he was closer than he had been to the sources of power. For the first time he could act on the principles of Javanese statecraft he had heard about from Dr. Subandrio eight to nine years before in the jail. They were simple but vital principles: knowing your place in the society and your relationship to authority; knowing what could or couldn't be said; understanding the art of reverence.
He said, "From 1987 I started to be active in Jakarta life. I learned very fast."
"What did you learn?"
"The geopolitics of Indonesia. The rules of the game Suharto is playing."
Still, for all his new tact, he had a nasty stumble. It happened in his second year in Jakarta. He was working in a tentative way on his human resources idea.
"I started collecting some friends to start a new organization to be called Muslim Intellectuals Association--or something. We met at a small hotel in Yogyakarta. This was in January 1989. Four policemen came and dismissed the meeting. My name was still considered dirty. Suharto was still under the influence of the intelligence people."
The intelligence people, he was to tell me later, were under the influence of the Catholics, and they were nervous of the Muslim movement. The incident showed him that though the society was completely controlled, it wasn't always easy to read. It would be full of ambushes like this. He saw that it was wrong for him to think--as his Sumatran upbringing and American training encouraged him to think--that he could act on his own. He needed a patron.
"I learned more about the political situation. I read about Professor Habibie. I read cover stories in two magazines. I tried to learn more about him. I asked my friend"--perhaps the minister who had made it possible for Imaduddin to come back to Indonesia--"to introduce us. I was accepted by Habibie in 1990."
"What actually happened?"
"I sent a letter by a student to Professor Habibie. Then I went to his office, accompanied by the students, three of whom I had made my 'pilots.' I met him on the twenty-third of August, 1990."
A full year, that is, after the police had broken up the meeting of intellectuals in the Yogyakarta hotel. Habibie agreed to be the chairman of the new body.
"Why did you choose Habibie?"
"Because he is very close to Suharto, and nothing can be done in this country without the approval of the first man, Habibie told me that I had to write a proposal, and that this had to be supported by at least twenty signatures of Ph.D. all over the country. So I came back and for a fortnight went to work on the computer. I got forty-nine people to sign the letter. They were mostly university people. Habibie showed this letter to Suharto on the second of September 1990, and Suharto gave his approval immediately. He said to Habibie, 'This is the first time the Muslim intellectuals have united. I want you to lead these intellectuals to build this country.' Of course this letter will become a national document."
At this point Imaduddin's career took off. "After coming back from the meeting with Suharto, Habibie established a committee to prepare a conference. The Association of Muslim Intellectuals was established by the beginning of December 1990. Suharto committed himself to opening the conference." And there was a further sign of presidential forgiveness. "When Suharto through Habibie wanted to find a name for the paper for ICME, Habibie asked me to find a name. I gave him three choices: Res Publica, Republik, Republika. Suharto chose Republika. After that I began to gain my freedom. I can talk anywhere I like. When I came back in 1986 I wasn't allowed to give any public lectures. So things have changed completely in Indonesia. Of course there has been opposition. Non-Islamic, Catholics."
"Why did Suharto change his mind?"
"I don't know. A puzzle to me. Maybe God changed his mind. In 1991 he went on hajj to Mecca--the pilgrimage. His name now is Hajji Mohammed Suharto. Before that he had no first name. He was just Suharto." And Imaduddin became a busy man. "Since 1991 I have been assigned by Habibie. He called me one day and said, 'I would like you to do just one thing. Train these people. Make them become devout Muslims.'"
"So you've given up engineering?"
"Completely. Since 1991 I have been every year to European countries, United States, Australia, just to meet these students, especially those getting scholarships from Habibie. I train them to become good Muslims, good Indonesians. Next week, as I told you, I go to visit Canada and the United States. I will be there for two months. I will visit twelve campuses."
It was possible to see the political--or "geopolitical "--purpose of his work. The students were already dependent on Habibie and the government. Imaduddin's mental training, taken to the students at their universities, would bind them even closer.
He said of the students abroad, "When they become devout Muslims and good leaders of Indonesia they will not think about revolution but about accelerated evolution." It sounded like a slogan, something worked over, words, to be projected as part of the program: development, but with minds somehow tethered. "We have to overcome our backwardness and become one of the new industrial countries by 2020."
So, starting from the point that in Indonesia there was something more important than technology, we had zigzagged back--through the human resources idea, which was the religious idea--to the need for technological advance. A special kind of advance, with the mind religiously controlled.
This zigzag had followed the line of Imaduddin's own career, from his troubles at Bandung to his importance in the Habibie program. And in his mind there would have been no disjointedness. The most important thing in the world was the faith, and his first duty was to serve it. In 1979 he had had to express his opposition to the government. It was different now. The government served the faith; he could serve the government. The faith was large; he could fit it to the government's needs. He had not moved to the government; rather, the government had moved towards him.
"I felt in 1979 that the religion was under threat. The intelligence group at that time was under the influence of the Catholics, who were afraid of Islamic development here. They have what is called in psychology projection. They think that because they are a minority they will be treated like they treated the Muslims in other countries. Now I have my friends in the cabinet. It's God's will."
The Javanese way of reverence was now easy for him. He said of Habibie, his patron, "He's a genius. He got summa cum laude in both master's and doctorate in Germany, in Aachen. His second and third degrees were in aeronautical engineering. He's an honest person. He's never missed a prayer. Five times a day, and he also fasts twice a week, Monday and Thursday. Habibie's son is smarter than his father. He went to Munich." And Imaduddin had also arrived at an awed understanding of President Suharto's position as father of the nation. When Habibie had shown the president Imaduddin's first letter about the Association of Muslim Intellectuals, the president, running his eye down the forty-nine signatures, had stopped at Imaduddin's name and said in a matter-of-fact way, "He's been in prison." Habibie reported this to Imaduddin, and Imaduddin was wonderstruck.
He said to me, "One name. When you think of the hundreds of thousands who have been to jail here ..." He left the sentence unfinished.
And now he had a stupendous vision of the future of the faith here.
"I believe what the late Fazel-ur-Rehman told me. He passed away in 1980. He was one of the members of the National Islamic Academy in Pakistan. He was Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Chicago. I invited him to Iowa to give a lecture." Interesting, this glimpse of the protected goings and comings of Islamic missionaries in the alien land. "I met him at the airport. He hugged me and said, 'I have read many of your articles and books and I am happy to meet you today. You are Indonesian. I strongly believe that the Malay-speaking Muslims will lead the revival of Islam in the twenty-first century.' I picked up his bag and escorted him to the car and asked him why he believed that. He said, 'I am serious. You will lead the revival. There are three reasons. First, the Malay-speaking Muslims have become the majority of the Muslim world, and you are the only Muslim people to remain united. We Pakistanis failed to do that. The Arabic world is divided into fifteen states. You have only Sunnis, no Shias. Second, you have a Muslim organization, Muhamadiyah, with the slogan, Koran and Sunna.' Because Fazel-ur-Rehman strongly believed that only the Koran can answer modern questions. 'Third, the position of women in Indonesia is just as at the time of the Prophet, according to the true teaching of Islam.' "
I asked Imaduddin, "What are the modern questions that the Koran can solve?"
"Human relations. Sense of equality. Freedom from want, freedom from fear. These are the two things people need, and this is the basic mission of the Prophet Mohammed."
He had told me in 1979 that he could not be a socialist when he was young because he was "already" a Muslim. It could have been said then that devoutness did not provide the institutions. But this could not be said now that the faith alone did not bring about freedom from want and fear, because the faith Imaduddin propounded was anchored to Habibie's technological program, whose glory was expressed in the flight of the N-250.
"Science is something inherent in Islamic teaching. If we are backward it's because we were colonized by the Spanish, the British, the Dutch. Why were men created by God? To make the world prosperous. In order to make the world prosperous we have to master science. The first revelation revealed to the Prophet was 'Read.'"
It seemed part of what had gone before. But when I got to know a little more of the politics of Indonesia I was to see that this was where Imaduddin was taking the war to the enemy, and making an immense power play on behalf of the government.
In Indonesia we were almost at the limit of the Islamic world. For a thousand years or so until 1400 this had been a cultural and religious part of Greater India: animist, Buddhist, Hindu. Islam had come here not long before Europe. It had not been the towering force it had been in other converted places. For the last two hundred years, in a colonial world, Islam had even been on the defensive, the religion of a subject people. It had not completely possessed the souls of people. It was still a missionary religion. It had been kept alive informally in colonial times, in simple village boarding schools, descended perhaps as an idea from Buddhist monasteries.
To possess or control these schools was to possess power. And I began to feel that Imaduddin and the Association of Muslim Intellectuals--with their stress on science and technology, and their dismissing of old ritual ways--aimed at nothing less. The ambition was stupendous: to complete the Islamic takeover of this part of the world, and to take the islands to their destiny as the leader of Islamic revival in the twenty-first century.
Imaduddin said, "Formerly they used to read the Koran without understanding the meaning. They were interested only in the correct pronunciation and a certain enchanted melody. We are changing this now. Now I've been given a chance to give lectures through TV."
Later we went out, past the now empty open space with the rumpled rugs. Imaduddin's wife was there, waiting for him: a gracious and smiling Javanese beauty. It was something in Imaduddin's favor that he had won the love of such a lady. It was she who had packed the jail bag for him seventeen years before, and she reminded me that I had come to their house in Bandung on the last day of 1979,
I went to the bathroom. Ritual ablutions from a little concrete pool had left the place a mess, except for people who would take off their shoes and roll up their trousers.
When I came back there was a tall middle-aged man in a gray suit standing with Imaduddin's wife. As soon as this man saw Imaduddin he went to him and made as if to kiss his right hand. Imaduddin made a deflecting gesture.
The man in the gray suit was in the Indonesian diplomatic service. He had met Imaduddin when Imaduddin had come to Germany to do his mental training courses for students. He looked at Imaduddin with smiling eyes, and said to me in English, "He is himself He fears only God."
And I knew what he meant. And for a while we stood there, all smiling: Imaduddin, his wife, and the man in the gray suit.
Imaduddin told me later that it was the custom of traditional Muslims to kiss the hand of a teacher. The diplomat looked upon Imaduddin as his teacher. Whenever he met Imaduddin he tried to kiss his hand. "But I never let him."
Excerpted from Beyond Belief by V. S. Naipaul Copyright © 1999 by V. S. Naipaul. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
V.S. Naipul lives in England.
- Wiltshire, England
- Date of Birth:
- August 17, 1932
- Place of Birth:
- Chaguanas, Trinidad
- Queen's Royal College, Trinidad, 1943-48; B.A., University College, Oxford, 1953
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
His two books on islam were written in 1979 and 1994 period. He understood the muslim world view better than any other contemporary writer. Consider the time during which the books were written and you get the sense that this book should have been taken more seriously in the past. All this was written before the following events: The pakistani dictatorships, taliban smashing the buddha, indonesian suppression of tribal religions, september 11th. Prophetic.
V.S. Naipaul's Beyond Belief is an incredible account of fundamentalism and cross-cultural turbulence. In the wake of the September 11th tragedy, his foreboding account of fundamentalism should be in every American household.
This is a great book by one of the masters of the English language. I would recommend this book if you wish to understand the Muslim psyche. Considering that the West and Islam represent two opposite world-views, this book provides clues as to what the future holds.