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Senior Indonesian cleric Mahfudz dies at 77

JAKARTA -- Indonesia has lost one of its most respected clerics; Mohammad Ahmad Sahal Mahfudz, the Rais Aam Syuriah or supreme leader of the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), who was also chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI).

Sahal, who was 77, passed away early on Friday at around 1:05 a.m. at his residence in the Maslakul Huda Islamic boarding school in Kajen, Margoyoso in Pati regency, Central Java.

The cleric had previously been treated at the Dr. Kariadi General Hospital in Semarang for lung and heart problems.

“He was known to be a leader with excellent knowledge about Islam; a modern thinker, who was very humble and consistent in preserving Sharia law,” United Development Party (PPP) secretary-general Romahurmuziy said.

The party gave a special award to Mbah Sahal, or Kiai Sahal as he was affectionately called within NU, back in 2005 for his dedication to the Muslim community in the country, he added.

Known as a Muslim leader who refused to enter politics, Sahal is survived by his wife, Nafisah Sahal, son Abdul Ghaffar Rozin and two grandchildren.

“The way he thought was very moderate; he was neither an extremist nor a liberal. As a leader, he respected everyone from all walks of life and background, and he was very polite,” former NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi said.

NU secretary-general Muhammad Sulthan Fatoni said the organization instructed its members across the archipelago to pray for the cleric on Friday.

The organization will also conduct a tahlilan (Koran recitation) for seven consecutive days at the An-Nahdlah Mosque at NU headquarters in the capital city.

“This is what the Nahdliyin (NU followers) can do if they cannot attend the burial or conduct prayers in Pati. This is our way to pay our last respects to Sahal Mahfudz,” Fatoni said, adding that it was an instruction from NU chairman Said Aqil Sirodj.

The senior cleric was buried in his hometown on Friday at 9 a.m. and he was laid beside the tomb of Abdullah Salam, his uncle, he added.

Meanwhile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called Sahal's wife from Kabanjahe, North Sumatra, to express his condolences on the loss of the country's prominent religious leader.

Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said the President had sent special staffer Ahmad Yani Basuki to Pati to represent him at the funeral.

On his Twitter account, @SBYu-dhoyono, the President wrote: “Please accept my condolences on the passing of KH Sahal Mahfudz, an ulema who loved the people and was loved by the people. May Allah SWT put him in the best place.”

Sahal was born in Pati on Dec. 17, 1937, and he took over the Maslakul Huda boarding school from his father, Kiai Mahfudz Salam, in 1963.

He was known for improving the quality of life for people living near the boarding school in the form of educational, economic and health development.

He became NU's supreme leader in 1999, while he sat as chair of the MUI since 2000.

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