Kyai Haji Agus Salim: Left Comfort for National Movement

Agus Salim

Early Life and Education of Agus Salim

Agus Salim, just 20, had everything in 1903. He was young, beautiful, educated, and not as ‘threatening’ as most Dutch colonial young men. As a native at the time, his gorgeous face and charisma made him appealing. He also graduated first from the exclusive colonial Hogere Burgerschool (HBS) Koning Willem III Batavia. He had not joined any dangerous organizations like the independence fighters, which the Dutch colonial authorities regarded a threat. High school graduates were rare in the Dutch East Indies of the 20th century, thus Salim’s future seemed bright.

Being the best high school graduate allowed him to attend college, thus he might have easily become a colonial government employee. He received a Raden Ajeng Kartini scholarship. Despite possessing a scholarship and aspirations to study medicine, the Dutch government ruled that “Inlanders,” the native people, were not eligible for scholarships. Salim kept striving to study medicine. Instead, he was a notary assistant and interpreter. The Dutch East Indies Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, offered him a post in 1905, and he went there a year later.

Saudi Jeddah career of Agus Salim

Following Queen Wilhelmina’s August 27, 1906 appointment letter, Agus Salim became Raden Abu Bakar, an accomplished translator, in Jeddah. Salim, a teenage intern, received 1,080 guilders per year and 720 guilders in pension. He was promoted to secretary-drogman in six months and earned 2,400 guilders per year and 1,600 guilders in pension, which was a lot for him. Dutch Islamic scholar Snouck Hurgronje, who recognized Salim as the top graduate of Batavia’s colonial HBS, recommended him for Jeddah.

Salim performed five Hajjs in Jeddah throughout his five years. Salim handled all Hajj matters for Dutch East Indies pilgrims, according to historian M.C. Ricklefs’ 2008 book “Sejarah Indonesia Modern 1200-2008” (Modern Indonesian History 1200-2008). He grew close to his Minang cousin in Mecca, Sheikh Ahmad Khatib, who became an Islamic scholar there.

Salim returned to the Dutch East Indies after six years in Jeddah. “Haji Agus Salim 1884-1954,” states that he worked for the Bureau Voor Openbare Werken (BOW) for a year after returning. He visited West Sumatra’s Koto Gadang, his hometown. Salim, wealthy, married Zainatun Nahar Almatsier. Ten children were born from their marriage.

Dutch spy but National Movement member

From 1912 to 1915, Salim founded Hollandsch-Inlandsche School (HIS), a Dutch-taught primary school. He was the Malay language editor of Balai Pustaka (previously Commissie voor de Volkslectuur). Salim was liked by the colonial authorities after leaving BOW. Indonesia did not exist, and national unity was not popular. Many indigenous people supported the Dutch. Indigenous people didn’t consider it betrayal to be colonial government informants. Salim was an alleged police informant.

In a 1927 article titled “Ben Ik Een Spion” in the Dutch-language magazine “Het Licht,” Salim explained that the Dutch had asked him to examine claims that Cokroaminoto sold SI to Germany for 150,000 guilders. Salim said Cokroaminoto planned to utilize this funds and German weaponry to start a huge insurrection on Java. Ricklefs claims Salim attended SI meetings in 1915 as a Dutch informant. The rumors were incorrect, and the insurrection never happened. However, Salim joined SI and believed that Islam and modernism were its foundation. The group gained a new force.

He also helped weaken the organization’s young communist majority. Young communists in Sarekat Islam, like Semaoen, opposed Agus Salim, who wanted to face the Dutch. Salim attended 1915 SI sessions as a Dutch informant. The insurrection never happened. Salim joined SI and believed its Islam-modernism foundation was right. His influence grew in the organization.

Despite living cheaply, Agus Salim was important after Indonesia attained independence. He was Sjahrir’s Deputy Foreign Minister. This was owing to his six-year colonial government consular experience in Jeddah. Roem also noted that Salim helped garner Arab support for Indonesian independence. This was achievable since Indonesia and Arab countries were overwhelmingly Muslim. They also experienced Western colonialism.

From Diplomatic Challenges to National Independence

In late 1946, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Salim visited the Middle East. The Dutch Ambassador to Egypt criticized Salim’s travel to Cairo for breaking the Linggarjati Agreement. The Dutch Ambassador was silenced when Egypt fully supported Indonesia’s sovereignty.

The elderly Agus Salim became Foreign Minister after Sjahrir’s cabinet was reshuffled by communist and Christian Amir Sjarifuddin. Salim had eliminated communists from Sarekat Islam, his first organization. He finally collaborated with religious communists like Amir Sjarifuddin. Salim negotiated with Arab states and large powers including the UK.

To protect Indonesian sovereignty, he maintained strong relations with Dutch officials despite their political differences. Salim was revered by Dutch diplomats who opposed him. He excelled as Indonesia’s first diplomat due of his multilingualism. Salim spoke and wrote fluently in all nine languages, according to Prof. Schermerhorn. Wak Haji was a menace to the Dutch during colonial times despite his poverty.

Roem also noted Salim’s difficult return to the Dutch East Indies in his article. His family traveled from rental to rental due to financial hardship. Sometimes they lived in mud in Tanah Tinggi when it rained. Salim and his children overcame these obstacles. Rainwater was gathered and utilized to play with tiny boats. This one way Agus Salim amused and taught his children to appreciate simplicity.

Agus Salim’s life was full with spectacular events from his childhood to his leadership in diplomacy and the national struggle. He was crucial to Indonesia’s independence due to his dedication to the national cause and ability to negotiate complex political environments despite personal hardships.