Alumni profile: Muhammad A.S. Hikam
by Liane Yim Smith
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Tuban, East Java Province, the sixth of seven children. My late father, Abdul Fatah Al-Manshur, was a religious teacher (Kyai) and a member of the house of regional representatives and of the NU (Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia) executive boards at both district and provincial levels.
My mother was also an educational and social activist throughout her life, primarily in the organization called the Muslimat (the women group) of NU. She was an excellent religion teacher for the elderly women in the weekly religious gathering (Majelis Ta’lim) that she established. My mother introduced me to the histories of nations such as China, India and the Islamic world. In retrospect, it is my mother’s influence that led to my thirst for education and my pursuing formal degrees both in Indonesia and abroad.
I am married with one daughter. My wife, Wien, a Hawai‘i Pacific University graduate, is chair of the Center for Standardization and Testing Technology, one of LIPI’s research institutes in Jakarta. My daughter Lily is a chemical engineering student at Penn State University. Lily attended a UH sponsored play group class (1992-1994) when we were in Honolulu. So we’re ‘ohana.
Dr. Muhammad A.S. Hikam (MA ’94, PhD ’95 Mānoa) at President University
in Indonesia, where he is vice rector for research and institutional collaboration
What brought you to Hawai‘i?
After graduating from the Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia, I was recruited by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) a government-based national research agency in Jakarta to work at its National Research Institute for Cultural Studies (LRKN). Well-known political scientist, Dr. Alfian, was the LRKN director. He encouraged me to apply for a graduate study scholarship in the U.S. and I was awarded a scholarship to support my MA in communications at UH.
At that time (1985), UH had already become one of the best-known U.S. universities among Indonesians thanks to the East-West Center fellowship program and other collaborative research activities between EWC and LIPI and other Indonesian universities. So, my decision to attend UH was an easy one. Some of the people I worked with at LIPI were UH alumni, too.
After completing my master’s degree in communications I joined the UH political science department and worked there from 1988 to 1995 (one year of absence for field work in 1990).
Who were your mentors?
I am heavily indebted intellectually to professors both in the communications and political science departments. It was Professor Henningsen who challenged me to be what he labels “a public intellectual” when I returned to my beloved country Indonesia. I embraced his challenge when I accepted the offer from then President Abdurrahman Wahid to serve in his cabinet as the State Minister of Science and Technology (1999-2001). After that I served the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) as a member in (2004-2007).
Describe your time at UH
I was a student at UH during the late ’80s to the mid-’90s when the democratic movement was at its peak. During my student days the Berlin Wall was torn down, the Soviet block was dismantled, and socialism as an ideology was being severely discredited. It was the era when there was the emergence of civil society, especially in places like Indonesia and Eastern Europe. Nothing was more fascinating than studying and being involved in those movements around the globe. I wrote my dissertation on Indonesian civil society and the decline of the New Order military regime. UH is definitely the place any student of democratic movement must go and I was the lucky guy to be there!
How has the University of Hawai‘i enabled you to do great things?
UH has given me not only knowledge but also a sense and capacity of intellectual and social responsibility that have become the ultimate capital of my life, both as a person and as a member of society. My years at UH taught me the values of human dignity, of freedom and responsibility, of community and togetherness as a part of the whole of humankind. One of the most valuable experiences during my UH years was my study club. Here, Professor Henningsen was both mentor and member. This club broadened my views of the world. It strengthened my belief in the dignity of human beings; something that particularly resonates with my mentor in Indonesia, the late President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur).
What is your proudest accomplishment?
My biggest achievement to date was attaining my PhD from the political science department at UH Mānoa. I was the first in my family to get a doctorate from the U.S. and this will become the standard of achievement for the next generations. My daughter will definitely follow in my footsteps, just like her mother, who is also now a PhD candidate in the field of economic development.
What is your philosophy in life?
“Act as well as you can” and “demand less in return”. This philosophy stems from my experience as a person of humble background in terms of property and money. My parents had implanted in me the spirit of love, knowledge and of endless learning – the tenets of Islamic teachings.
What are your plans for the future?
I have returned to academia and my title is vice rector for research and institutional collaboration at President University in Indonesia. For the time being, I am enjoying this job after eight years in politics. I am not sure if I will return to politics, but I continue to write about politics (see www.facebook.com/mashikam and The Hikam Forum at www.mashikam.com).