Rock Star Ahmad Dhani

Works Closely with LibForAll Foundation,

Executing Projects Together and Serving on its Board of Directors

Ahmad Dhani and LibForAll CEO Holland Taylor at Wall Street Journal editorial board meeting, overlooking "Ground Zero" in New York City.  In the words of the WSJ, Dhani "is creating his own jihad -- for moderate Islam."

Ahmad Dhani is one of Muslim Southeast Asia’s best-known musical celebrities, with twenty years experience in the industry and multiple platinum-selling albums to his name.  His albums routinely sell millions of copies in Indonesia, and go “platinum” in Malaysia as well. 

Born in Jakarta in 1972, Dhani formed the group Dewa in 1986 with three young schoolmates from Surabaya’s Public High School No. 6.  In the words of Rolling Stone Magazine: “Armed with big dreams and a name laden with significance [Dewa means “god” in Javanese and Sanskrit], they moved forward, not realizing how enormously their decision to form the band would affect their lives in the years to come.

“Like many bands in the past, Dewa 19 has not been free of trouble, from personnel changes to gossip and legal difficulties.  As the saying goes, ‘If something doesn’t kill you, it just makes you stronger.’  Here in the year 2006, Dewa 19’s flag remains firmly planted atop the world of Indonesian music.”

The group’s first album, Dewa 19, swept them to national prominence in 1993, winning awards as the best debut album – and the top-selling album – of the year.  Dewa’s third album, Terbaik-Terbaik (“The Best”) also swept Indonesian music awards, receiving top honors for the best rock album, best music video, best duet, best music arrangement and best album nationwide in 1996.

The group’s fourth album, Pandawa Lima (“The Five Pandawas,” a reference to the heroes of the ancient Javanese and Sanskrit legend, the Mahabharata) won national awards in 1997/98 for best song, best alternative song, best alternative group, best title song and best rhythm and blues album, and dual awards for favorite music video, for the songs Kamulah Satu-Satunya (“You’re the Only One”) and Kirana (“Ray of Light”).

After releasing a “Best Of” album in 1999, the group launched the massively successful Bintang Lima (“Five Stars”) in the year 2000, which sold approximately 9 million copies (legitimate and black market).  The album won awards for best song, best music video, best singer, best bassist, best record producer and best arranger.

The group’s best-selling sixth album, Cintailah Cinta (“Love Love”), broke new ground, as Ahmad Dhani incorporated elements of Sufi mysticism, with songs such as Kosong (“Emptiness”), Mistikus Cinta (“The Mystery of Love”) and Air Mata (“Tears”).  The album won awards for best album, best group and best song.

In recent years, religious extremists have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Indonesians – Christian and Muslim alike – in the eastern provinces of Maluku and Sulawesi. More than half a million people have been driven from their homes.  A key radical Islamist group involved in this slaughter is known as Laskar Jihad (“Warriors of Jihad”).

In response to these atrocities, Ahmad Dhani composed the best-selling album Laskar Cinta (“Warriors of Love”). Released in November of 2004, it quickly rose to the top of the charts and created a national sensation, as millions of young Indonesians embraced its message of love, peace and tolerance.

Numerous radical Islamist groups have attacked Ahmad Dhani and his group Dewa because of Laskar Cinta. The album presented Indonesia's youth with a stark choice, and one easy for the vast majority to answer: Do they want to join the army of jihad, or the army of love?  Extremist threats led Dhani to move his wife and three young sons from their home, while radical mobs threatened to burn record stores that carried the album, and forced its recall from the shelves.

In response to these attacks upon Ahmad Dhani, Indonesia’s former president and long-time head of the world’s largest Muslim organization, Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, presented the LibForAll (“Liberty for All”) Award to Ahmad Dhani and Dewa, “for their outstanding contribution to world peace, and for presenting the true face of Islam to Indonesia and the world.” Presented in conjunction with LibForAll co-founder and CEO C. Holland Taylor and Abdul Munir Mulkhan, the Vice-Secretary of the Muhammadiyah (the world’s second-largest Muslim group), this widely-publicized award caused radical attempts to portray Dhani as a heretic to backfire in the eyes of the Indonesian public.

Rather than be intimidated by extremist threats, Ahmad Dhani composed a new song called Laskar Cinta (the previous album did not have a title track).  The song Laskar Cinta (“Warriors of Love”) uses lyrics derived from the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of the prophet Muhammad) to denounce religious extremism and hatred. (“Hey there, all you lovers of peace," the song goes. “Watch out, watch out and be on guard – for lost souls, anger twisting their hearts, for lost souls, poisoned by ignorance and hate. . . . Warriors of Love, teach the mystical science of love, for only love is the eternal truth and the shining path for all God's children everywhere in the world.”)

Released to massive publicity in December of 2005 by recording giant EMI, Laskar Cinta quickly became the #1 song in Indonesia, while its music video soared to the #1 spot on MTV Asia’s hit program Ampuh. 

In 2005, Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono named Ahmad Dhani that nation’s “Environmental Ambassador.” Dhani also won the “celebrity image” award that year, and the most popular band award with his group Dewa.  In 2006, the group won the best album award for their latest release, Republik Cinta (“Republic of Love”), and were named “City Ambassadors” by Indonesia’s second-largest metropolis, Surabaya, where the group was formed in 1986.

Dhani’s father, Eddy Abdul Manaf, was formerly the head of Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (Indonesian Council for the Propagation of Islam), a prominent hard-line organization linked to numerous Islamist groups. Dhani’s paternal grandfather fought against the Indonesian government in the Darul Islam guerrilla movement, which sought to establish shari’a and a strict Islamic state in the years following Indonesia’s independence.  (Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah – author of numerous bombings in Jakarta, Bali and elsewhere – was established by former Darul Islam members.)

Despite this familial background, Ahmad Dhani’s own religious views are the polar opposite of those held by his father and paternal grandfather. Instead, Ahmad Dhani shares his mother’s tolerant and pluralistic religious views. Dhani considers himself to be an ideological disciple of Indonesia’s great liberal Islamic theologian and former president, Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid.  This background makes Dhani uniquely qualified to understand radical psychology; to refute the ideology of hatred and violence; and to promote a spiritual and progressive interpretation of Islam that is at peace with itself and the contemporary world.

In addition to his achievements as a musician and composer, Dhani owns several music production, promotion and management companies, including Ahmad Dhani Production, Ratu, Manusia Biasa, Ahmad Studio and Dewa 19 Management.  In this capacity, he has produced numerous best-selling albums and music videos, including his own and those of his wife Maia, who is a musical celebrity in her own right, and the creative force behind the pop duo Ratu. 

Today, Dhani’s faith as a Sufi Muslim informs his music and his actions. He is a board member of LibForAll Foundation and works closely with the organization’s co-founder and spiritual advisor, President Wahid. Together, they are recruiting other moderate voices to reject the fanatical ideology of hatred that underlies and animates terrorism, and building a global network of moderate Muslim leaders to combat terrorism and extremism.


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