I interviewed Gus Dur for a book on Indonesia and spent most of the time laughing at his jokes. There's one below. He was an extraordinary man, a true democrat, liberal, learned and impossible to dislike. History should treat him kindly - just as he treated others. His impact on Indonesia endures leaving it a far better country after the ravages of Soeharto.
THE BIG DEBATE
By Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur)
Back 10 centuries ago, just before the Crusade was launched, the Pope decided all Muslims had to leave Jerusalem peacefully or there’d be bloodshed. Naturally there is a big uproar from the Muslim community. So the Pope strikes a deal. He proposes a debate with a member of the Muslim community. If the Muslim wins the debate, all the Muslims can stay. If the Pope wins, all the Muslims will have to leave.
The Muslims realise they have no choice. They look around for a champion who can defend their faith. No one wants to volunteer, it's too risky. But they finally pick their representative, an old Mullah who unknowingly agrees without understanding what he’s getting himself into. He agrees on the condition that neither side is allowed to talk but communicate by miming, as he’s almost deaf. The Pope agrees.
The day of the great debate comes. The Mullah and the Pope sit opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raises his hand and shows three fingers. The Mullah raises his middle finger. The Pope waves his fingers in a circle around his head. The Mullah points to the ground and stamps his right foot. The Pope pulls out a wafer and a glass of wine. The Mullah pulls out an apple. The Pope stands up and says: ‘I give up. This man is too good. The Muslims can stay.’
An hour later the cardinals are all around the Pope asking what happened. The Pope says: ‘First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there is still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all about us. He responded by pointing to the ground and stamping his feet, telling me that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple reminding me of the first sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?’
Meanwhile, the Muslim community has crowded around the old Mullah in total astonishment. ‘What happened?’ they ask. ‘Well’ says the Mullah, ‘first, he said we Muslims had three days to leave Jerusalem. I told him - up yours! Then he said this whole city would be cleared of Muslims. I told him none would leave this land!’
‘And then?' asks a woman. ‘He took out his lunch and I took out mine,’ says the Mullah.