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The Unity of Human Life

Achmad Dachlan


Achmad Dachlan (Java, 1868–1923) received a traditional education in Java, but was influenced by modernist teachings during his three years of study at Mecca. He spent much of his life as a teacher of religion in the new educational system promoted by the Dutch Administration. One of several reformers who held that secular education needed a leavening of Islamic teaching, he and his followers devised and used new teaching material in Dutch, Javanese, and Indonesian. Active in many of the leading organizations of the day—the cultural Budi Utomo (High Endeavor), the educational Jami‘at Khair (Benevolent Association), and the political Sarekat Islam (Islamic Association)—he also founded his own organization, the Muhammadiyah, which became the largest modernist Muslim organization in Southeast Asia. The Muhammadiyah was originally concerned with Muslim education, but later expanded into the entire social welfare sector. Dachlan was an accomplished teacher and organizer, but he wrote very few essays. The text selected here appears to have been part of instructions to Muhammadiyah leaders, exhorting them to provide role models, overcome the force of local custom, gain more knowledge of true Islam, and make it accessible to their followers. The work is not marked by intellectual citations or even religious allusions, but uses Islamic language, such as happiness in the “Hereafter” and the reality of God. Despite Dachlan's opposition to Sufi mysticism, he consistently draws that tradition into his work, especially with his rejection of human desires and reference to the importance of human conscience.1 Alfian, Muhammadiyah: The Political Behavior of a Muslim Modernist Organization Under Dutch Colonialism (Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Gadjah Mada University Press, 1989); Abdul Mukti ‘Ali, “Modern Islamic Thought in Indonesia,” Mizan (The Scales), volume 2, number 1, 1984, pp. 11–29; Howard M. Federspiel, “The Muhammadijah: A Study of an Orthodox Islamic Movement in Indonesia,” Indonesia, number 10, October 1970, pp. 57–80; Achmad Jainuri, Muhammadijah: Gerakan Reformasi Islam di Jawa pada Awal Abad Kedua Puluh (The Muhammadiyah: An Islamic Reform Movement in Twentieth Century Java) (Surabaya, Indonesia: Bina Ilmu, 1981); James L. Peacock, Purifying the Faith: The Muhammaijah Movement in Indonesian Islam (Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona State University Program for Southeast Asian Studies, 1992).

The binding role for human life consists of a knowledge that is too large for humans to consider. Therefore it is hoped that readers will give this lesson serious consideration, remember it, and read it slowly.

To manage one's life a person should use an instrument, that is, the Qur'an. Are there reasons for all people to have common feelings? [Of course there are!] First of all, human beings, regardless of ethnicity, actually come from one [set of] ancestors, that is, Adam and Eve. So all humans are related to each other, because they are from one blood. The second reason is to establish a peaceful and happy order of human life that is impossible to gain without having common feelings and unified hearts. This is undeniably true.

O leaders, please think! Since the era of the Prophet, his Companions, and early leaders of the Muslim community, up to the present, there has been no common feelings and unified hearts among human beings. Though there were very famous and educated individuals [throughout that history] and many worked for long periods, they failed to achieve commonality.

O leaders, do not be surprised! Look to your right and to your left! Everything is in disorder, is it not? Remember, I do not simply look at one nation, but at all human beings. Even if we focus on a single nation, we see that there is no common intention and will. This is not safe, but just the opposite, it is dangerous. Why? First, we leaders are not in agreement [with one another]. We neglect each other; one denies the other's knowledge, although we are aware that human beings need that knowledge. Beyond the leaders’ lack of sufficient knowledge, there is also narrow-mindedness, so that all things are decided without certainty, like groping in the dark. From such a condition, a great debate arises among the leaders themselves.

The second reason is that the leaders have not yet led their people by [their own] actual behavior, but only lead by use of vocal direction. They are still trying to understand themselves, and to spread their understanding to the people, but they have not [yet] related this understanding to their own action and to the behavior of others. Consequently, most leaders rely on their voice to spread their opinions, although their own behavior is very bad and has a negative impact. Clearly, they are captive to their own desires, without any understanding and self-awareness. For example, personal appetite drives them to be lazy and stingy, and these characteristics mark their leadership styles. That is the way personal appetite works negatively in human life.

The third reason is that the majority of leaders do not have a universal goal. [. . .] They relate only to their own group, not universal humanity. Actually, some of them just think about themselves, their own bodies, and their own life. If their bodies get what they need and are satiated, they feel they earned the reward from God, and they believe that they have reached their goal. This kind of thing is so common in our society that the organization and community [such leaders] provide are broken into many parts; even to the original condition before the leaders arrived. Their hearts are then so heavy [when they realize they have not succeeded].

The Road toward Unity

Leaders have understood the behavior, condition, and traditions held by the people they lead, so as to be able to proceed properly, that is, remembering “the conditions of their own bodies.” Do not rush, be clear, and understand which conditions are acceptable and which ones to reject. Do not ever oppress and force people to speak and act against their will. By following these suggestions, conditions for effective communication will be established and proceed to the goal itself, that is, the unity of human hearts.

It is common in society that what is understood and done in accordance with the teacher's guidance, a friend's opinion, or personal preference will make an individual happy. The advice will be followed consistently, particularly when such advice was also followed by their forebears. That advice is considered as bringing happiness to those who believe and causing suffering to those who are in denial. O leaders, please look and see! Does this kind of thing occur only in our own Muslim community? Buddhists, Christians, and Jews are much the same, [I suspect,] much the same as among Muslims; isn’t this true?

O leaders! Since “truth” is actually unified (tawhidi), the question is how we obtain “truth” in order not to be false before God Almighty.

People usually refuse a new way that is different from what they have been following, because they believe that the new way will cause unhappiness and suffering, even though, in reality, the new matter will actually bring happiness and pleasure. This refusal will always occur, unless the [presenters of the new] have the common interests of people at heart and work for the universal human future.

Is the traditional conduct, described above, right and good? Of course not, because such people only use local tradition as their legal reference, while this tradition should not be used as a determinant for “good,” “bad,” “right,” and “wrong.” The reference for those legal and ethical judgments is the holy heart.

This situation should be studied, perceived, and pondered, because, in essence, happiness and unhappiness are at stake. Therefore, I call on leaders to think together to bring human hearts together. If this cannot be realized, the leaders will need to start from themselves, by unifying their own hearts for the interest of all people [as a precursor to the effort in the wider community]. This is the real obligation for them.

O leaders! Let us come together in a common place to speak the truth—without division, but for all universally. Do not feel self-satisfied and indifferent, or else we will not discover the truth. After that, let us promote one mode of conduct, one vision, and one mission. In short, all human beings should be in agreement with united hearts, so that they will attain happiness and realize the ultimate purpose of life.

[One might ask] why people neglect or deny the truth? Actually, there are several reasons:

1. Stupidity, which is very common.

2. Disagreement with the person bringing the truth.

3. Holding to traditional ways from forebears.

4. Fear of being separated from relatives and friends.

5. Fear of losing honor, position, job status, pleasure, and the like.

There are a few things to remember:

1. People need religion.

2. Originally, religion shines, but later it appears to become dull. Truly, it is not religion that becomes dull, but the person who follows the religion.

3. People should follow the rules made in accordance with the edicts of religious scholars. One should never make decisions by oneself [in matters of religion].

4. People must ever seek new knowledge. They should never feel satisfied with their own knowledge, or ever refuse knowledge from others.

5. People need to apply the knowledge they have. Do not let knowledge go wasted.

The Creature of God

All God's creatures have destiny. Every destiny extends toward a goal. And truly there must be a road to that goal.

It is obvious that God creates time and the path by which the goal can be reached. If this is so, then the destiny of a creature can be attained by following its time and path. Indeed, every condition depends on God's will, and God has provided all the necessary conditions.


Actually, humans want no destiny but safety and happiness in this world and in the Hereafter.

The path for achieving human destiny requires the use of common sense, that is, the common intellect. A good intellect is characterized by the ability to select with care and consideration, and to place [the decision] in a courageous heart after selecting it.


The nature of intellect is to accept all knowledge. That knowledge becomes the passion of intellect, because the intellect is like a seed in the earth. In order for a seed to grow, the seed needs to be watered and have all its needs fulfilled. Similarly, the intellect will not grow properly without being showered by knowledge. And all of this is absolutely in accordance with God's will.

The Teaching of Logic

The teaching of logic is conducted through learning ‘ilm manthiq, the science of logic, which reflects reality. This science can be gained only through the learning and teaching process, because humans have no other way to know names and languages without teachers who got the knowledge from their teachers, and so on. The [dependence on such learning] indicates that human beings have no power to know the primary source of knowledge, except those who get guidance from God Almighty.

Human beings who obtain more than basic principles of knowledge are like the person who takes jewelry, makes a fastener, and then uses it as a decoration on an item of clothing. This means that a person who can speak clearly and straight to the point, is actually supported by the other knowledge he or she has.

So, it is not surprising that some people speak very well and to the point. What is especially good and helpful is when a person can accept or agree with another's good religious opinion and pass it on to others. People should not be considered weak if they do not add to the explanation that they received. Rather, they should be regarded as furthering wisdom.

The Perfection of Intellect

There are six conditions for maintaining the perfect intellect and keeping it functioning:

First of all, logic should base itself on love and affection. Without this selection of love and affection, a human will not reach ultimate wisdom. On the other hand, a person with no love and affection will only follow behavior that is guided by negative emotional power.

The second is one's struggle to gain the highest happiness in this world and the Hereafter. This takes serious effort, for it will not be attained without great effort, and even sacrifices of a spiritual, financial, emotional, and intellectual nature.

Third, the [intellectual] endeavor should be undertaken carefully, since “good” is often accompanied by “bad.” Hence, sometimes, a person who seeks a good thing gains a bad thing that should be refused. This occurs especially when the seeker has no real knowledge on the matter, but simply follows the traditions of his community.

Next, the seeker should have good intentions with regard to the matter under consideration, so that good and strong motivation will keep his search on the right path.

Fifth, the seeker of intellectual activity should take care and give it full attention. This is very important, because humans have a natural inclination to forget and become careless.

Finally, the person undertaking the activity should apply it properly. Knowledge will not bring a valuable and meaningful result without being set in its proper place.

Human Needs

Every individual in this world has personal needs. In reality, no human being can exist properly without support from others. Accordingly, every human being should understand the relevance of such needs.

Actually, useful knowledge for the intellect and brain is needed by human beings even more than food is needed for the stomach to help grow physically. Actually, seeking riches in the world is not as demanding as seeking knowledge to improve the spiritual quality of one's own behavior. In reality, we can find that the number of people devoted to this [spiritual improvement] is fewer than those who are less devoted, and the number of people who understand in principle is greater than those who manifest understanding in real behavior. Therefore, even people with perfect logic at their disposal need to understand by searching within.

The Person with Accomplished Intellect

If human intellect falls into danger, there is an instrument in the human body that can control [the intellect], that is, the holy heart that consistently loves spiritual serenity. It is an obligation that the person with the accomplished intellect should avoid any risk that would destroy the holiness of the heart.

The spiritual level of a good person is truly regulated by the holiness of one's heart. A person will not reach real happiness in this world and the Hereafter without having exhibited behavior with an ethical basis. Therefore, one who wants to be wise should follow the road of wise people, that is, by striving to defeat one's own personal desires. In this way, one will be able to behave in accordance with legal, ethical, and aesthetic values, and will have a great opportunity to attain real happiness in this world and the Hereafter, as well as promoting spiritual serenity.

Therefore, it is obvious that those who want the good life in this world and the Hereafter cannot attain it simply by following the desire for fun and pleasure, or by being envious of the aims of others. It is possible to attain enjoyment in this world, even in very negative ways. But for genuine happiness in the Hereafter, one must attach oneself to the positive ways mentioned earlier.

The Difference between “Smart” and “Stupid”

The words “smart” and “stupid” are contradictory in meaning. For some people, however, they can have similar meanings, that is, in actual life the smart and the stupid person both like what they agree with and hate what they dislike. [Hence, it is difficult to ascertain stupidity or smartness from those choices.] Moreover, some matters that smart people can resolve can also sometimes be resolved by stupid ones. Therefore, it is necessary that a person with an accomplished intellect be able to perceive the difference between smart and stupid people.

Actually, the difference between the smart and stupid person can be seen clearly when they appear together. In this situation, the smart man will look confident, while the stupid one looks shaky and uncertain.

Actually there are three differences between them. The first is that the smart person absolutely understands what will lead him to happiness or to suffering, while the stupid person does not.

The smart person will, of course, always try to seek the right road toward real happiness, and to avoid the situation that will lead to unhappiness or suffering. The smart person who neglects God's guidance and follows personal desires will gradually fall into danger and suffering.

Bibliography references:

Kyai Haji Ahmad Dachlan, “Kesatuan Hidup Manusia” (The Unity of Human Life), in Pesan-Pesan Dua Pemimpin Besar Islam Indonesia (The Messages of Two Great Leaders of Indonesian Islam), edited by Abdul Munir Malkan (Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Medio, 1986), pp. 7–15. Text delivered as a speech to Muhammadiyah leaders in 1923. Translation from Indonesian by Achmad Jainuri. Introduction by Howard M. Federspiel.


1. Alfian, Muhammadiyah: The Political Behavior of a Muslim Modernist Organization Under Dutch Colonialism (Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Gadjah Mada University Press, 1989); Abdul Mukti ‘Ali, “Modern Islamic Thought in Indonesia,” Mizan (The Scales), volume 2, number 1, 1984, pp. 11–29; Howard M. Federspiel, “The Muhammadijah: A Study of an Orthodox Islamic Movement in Indonesia,” Indonesia, number 10, October 1970, pp. 57–80; Achmad Jainuri, Muhammadijah: Gerakan Reformasi Islam di Jawa pada Awal Abad Kedua Puluh (The Muhammadiyah: An Islamic Reform Movement in Twentieth Century Java) (Surabaya, Indonesia: Bina Ilmu, 1981); James L. Peacock, Purifying the Faith: The Muhammaijah Movement in Indonesian Islam (Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona State University Program for Southeast Asian Studies, 1992).

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