A Tribute to Pak Al Azhar

Sustainability Advisory Committee (SAC) since its foundation in 2014, died on October 12th. His loss is felt deeply by everyone at APRIL: by his fellow advisors, by the communities he so cherished and who cherished him, by his academic colleagues, and most of all, by his wife Ibu Eryati and their four children.

His death deeply affects all those whose lives he touched. He moved between many groups – and indeed between ideologies, schools of thought, fields of knowledge – with consummate ease. He was in that sense a bringer together, a bridge.

This is reflected in his own philosophy. He once said: ‘I believe that environmental damage is cultural damage, damage to the spirit, to the mind, and to civilisation.’ His chosen academic field was Malay and Indonesian modern and classical literature, and again he saw a bridge here between written expression and the environment. ‘I found ecological determinism in oral literature,’ he said.

Pak Al was the humblest of men. This, and his many other qualities are manifest in the words used by others on hearing of his passing: courageous, wise, respected, kind, a man of integrity, gentle.

Joe Lawson, former SAC chair, said: “I immediately admired Pak Al and over the years he became both a trusted colleague and a friend. Hardly a month went by without me asking for Al’s perspective on the proper Indonesian context or his general wisdom on a multitude of issues.

“I learned a lot from Pak Al. He was a gentle man who had an aura about him that commanded respect from all who knew him. I remember how impressed I was the first time I was with him outside of the SAC and around local community members. I always felt honored to be alongside him,” said Mr. Lawson.

Pak Putera Parthama, a fellow member of the SAC, said: “I first met Pak Al about two years ago when I was an observer in a SAC meeting in Jakarta. It did not take time for me to recognize Pak Al as a nice, friendly and humble individual and it did not take long for us to become close. I also quickly learned how (much of) a respected person he is, especially in the Melayu communities in Riau.”

Neil Byron, another SAC member, said: “I am thinking of his quiet friendliness and generosity, his intellect and his very strong personal values. In this way, he was a model for any of us.”

Praveen Singhavi, President, APRIL Group, said: “Pak Al made a huge contribution to the workings of the SAC. But perhaps most importantly, he was able to act as a bridge between the Committee and the local stakeholders, particularly the communities. His lasting legacy will be the improved understanding between stakeholders in Riau on how to best manage landscapes for the benefit of all.”

The bridge metaphor has been present in so much of his life – not just bridging divides between opposing groups and drawing them together, but in trying to make more whole the relationship between man and his wider, natural environment. He saw the earth not just as soil, but a mother, the sky as representing a father. He said: ‘I see the tree as the bridge between the two.’

We will always remember Pak Al for his wisdom and his gentle manner. And we will remember his love for the traditional Malay Pantun.

Sungai Dua di atas bukit
Elang bersarang di kuala
Bulan dua sekali terbit
Pilih yang terang cahayanya

(Two rivers upon the hill
An eagle nested in the estuary
Two moons rise together
Choose the one with the brightest light)

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