An Inspiring story about Ban Tan and Surin Pitsuwan
By: Ahmad Cholis Hamzah* Anies Baswedan, a noted Muslims intellectual in Indonesia who is also rector of Paramadina University in Jakarta the capital city wrote his impression about one of leading figures of Thailand. Actually his article about it is and old story since he was writing it on board the plane on the way back from Bangkok to Jakarta on October 4, 2010.However, it becomes popular nowadays as it appears again in social media in the country. On that year, he was invited by this Thai leading figure to visit a “Pesantren” (in Javanese or Bahasa Indonesia) or Islamic boarding school named “Ban Tan”, located in a remote area in the Southern part of Thailand. To get there he flew from Bangkok to a small city called Nakhom Si Thammarat around 750 km from Bangkok; then he took a car for around one hour to get this small Islamic boarding school. He got good impression that small Muslim community in this Ban Tan School live side by side peacefully with the majority Buddhist community in the area. In early 1967; there was a long debate among teachers in the school as the eldest son of Haji Ismail - leader of Ban Tan became the subject of the debate. This young man, 17 years old won a scholarship to study at a senior high school in U.S (AFS program). The “shocking” debate occurred due to the fact that the eldest grandson of the founder of Ban Tan would study in U.S - a non-Muslim country. Some of them were afraid that this boy would be influenced by American life style. Their concern was understandable since most Muslim kids in this remote village in general went to Jawa (Java) in Indonesia, Kedah or Kelantan in Malaysia, or to Egypt to study Islamic teachings. After a long debate, the finding father of Ban Tan said that he was ready to send his grandson to U.S as he already provided him with adequate education and he believed that his grandson had strong commitment. Everybody was in silent; nobody dared to challenge the “Fatwa” (or religious opinion) of their great leader. The boy’s father Haji Ismail also agreed; and finally he went to U.S. The teachers waited him for a long time and they believed that this boy would never become a teacher of the Islamic boarding school to continue the legacy of his grandfather and his father. The boy lost his path and entered another orbit……. Anies Baswedan continued his story: tonight the lost boy returned home; not as a foreigner, but a successful young man that brought with him the pride for his all family, Ban Tan School and for all people in his neighborhood. He returned home as a Secretary General of ASEAN; Ban Tan Islamic boarding school became popular; his village became attention of global community. Before that he was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kingdom of Thailand; the first Muslim figure that was in charge to be a Foreign Minister of a majority Buddhist country. His name is known in the world as H.E SURIN PITSUWAN, in his village he is known as Abdul Halim Bin Ismail. Surin studied at Thammasat University in Thailand, graduated cum laude from McKenna College, California in political science; he was a researcher for the Human Rights Studies Program; he was fellow of The Rockefeller Fellowship Program, The Rockefeller Foundation, Harvard University and did research at The American University in Cairo as a scholar of the Institute of Higher Council for Islamic Affairs of Egypt. He earned his Master of Arts and Ph.D. from Harvard University. Anies Baswedan in his article said: “I witnessed that actually, Surin is always “presence” here; he brings the world with him. He becomes a bridge of inter – civilization; he becomes a Muslim Ambassador for Thailand in the world”. When H.E Surin invited Anies Baswedan to visit his Pesantren/Islamic boarding school, Anies told him that he could not make it since he had appointment in Bandung – West Java Indonesia. However, he received sms texts from H.E Surin convinced him that “Ban-Tan” was more important than “Ban-Dung”. When Anies Baswedan came to Ban Tan, he noticed faces of “santri” or students of the school; faces that showed a strong will to to be a leading figure like H.E Surin in the future. Anies continued saying: “Surin seems to be a real visualization of dreams of these students in a small kampong of a remote area of Thailand”. Anies ended his story by saying: “at the airport we said goodbye. I returned to Jakarta and Surin departed for Brussels to lead delegations of all head of states of ASEAN countries to attend ASEAN-European Summit”. Indeed it is an inspiring story for those young men that have dreams….!