Terrorism and Islam are Intimately Connected:
A Conversation with Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, General Secretary of Indonesia’s Largest Muslim Organization
by Marco Stahlhut
“Many Western politicians and intellectuals say that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. What is your view, as leader of the world’s largest organization of Sunni Muslims, the Nahdlatul Ulama of Indonesia?
“‘Western politicians should stop pretending that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam. There is a crystal clear relationship between fundamentalism, terror and the basic assumptions of Islamic orthodoxy. So long as we lack consensus regarding this matter, we cannot attain final victory over fundamentalist violence within Islam. Radical Islamic movements are nothing new. They’ve appeared again and again throughout our own history in Indonesia. The West must stop ascribing any and all discussion of these issues to ‘Islamophobia.’ Or do people want to accuse me—an Islamic scholar—of being an Islamophobe, too?’”
by Joe Cochrane
“JAKARTA, Indonesia — The imposing, six-foot-tall painting is a potent symbol of modern Indonesian history: the country’s founding father, Sukarno, cradling a dead, barefoot rebel killed by Dutch colonial forces amid rice fields and smoldering volcanoes in late-1940s Java.
“The fighter’s bloodied shirt draws immediate attention — but so does a necklace dangling from the body: a Christian cross, worn by the independence martyr for the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
“The 2006 painting has become the symbol of a global initiative by the Indonesian youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest mass Islamic organization in the world, that seeks to reinterpret Islamic law dating from the Middle Ages in ways that conform to 21st-century norms.”
by Joe Cochrane
“JAKARTA, Indonesia — The scene is horrifyingly familiar. Islamic State soldiers march a line of prisoners to a riverbank, shoot them one by one and dump their bodies over a blood-soaked dock into the water.
“But instead of the celebratory music and words of praise expected in a jihadi video, the soundtrack features the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, singing a Javanese mystical poem: ‘Many who memorize the Quran and Hadith love to condemn others as infidels while ignoring their own infidelity to God, their hearts and minds still mired in filth.’
“That powerful scene is one of many in a 90-minute film that amounts to a relentless, religious repudiation of the Islamic State and the opening salvo in a global campaign by the world’s largest Muslim group to challenge its ideology head-on…”
Full text of the historic 2016 ISOMIL / Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration and selected media coverage that includes articles from Agence France Presse (AFP), Al Arabiya, Associated Press (AP), CNN, Daily Mail, Hindustan Times, Jakarta Post, Kompas, Nettavisen, Saudi Gazette, South China Morning Post, Straits Times, Sydney Morning Herald, Vatican Radio, Washington Post and more.
Includes articles from Al-Ahram, Al-Arab, Atlantic, Boston Globe, Channel News Asia, CNN, Huffington Post, Jakarta Post, New Mandala, New York Times, Spiegel, Strategic Review, Tempo, Weekly Standard and more.
by Jewel Topsfield
“This week the largest Islamic civil group in the world – Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – will host a two-day international summit of Muslim leaders in Jakarta.
“The summit, attended by 300 Muslim leaders from more than 30 countries, is part of NU’s global campaign to promote Islam Nusantara as an antidote to extremist ideology and jihadism.
“NU’s Supreme Council general secretary, Yahya Cholil Staquf, believes the event will be historic because it will discuss frankly the links between terrorism and Islam.”
by Muhammad Abul Fadl
“The great Indonesian Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—which is also the world’s largest, with 70 million followers—has begun to expand its operations internationally, to fill this gap. The NU represents the most tolerant face of Islam, which is compatible with Western societies’ values and traditions, and shows no sign of wishing to engage in conflict with the West.
“The Nahdlatul Ulama holds a view of Islam that its members describe as Islam Nusantara—East Indies, or Indonesian Islam—which emphasizes the adaptation of religion to local culture, and firmly rejects the ideology of extremist movements that have produced such a negative image of Islam in the West. This tolerant face of Islam, in Indonesia, accepts all the different religions and cultures that exist in the Malay Archipelago, and regards them as having a natural right to live side by side with Islam.
“Given the facts described above, the profoundly spiritual and tolerant worldview embodied in the term Islam Nusantara has begun to expand beyond its local framework to a global environment. Many lines of communication have been initiated between the Nahdlatul Ulama and various Western governments. [Spiritual leaders within] the Nahdlatul Ulama have begun to establish working relationships and operational nodes in many countries, operating under the organizational name, ‘Home of Divine Grace (Bayt ar-Rahmah).’ Each operational node propagates the model of tolerance embraced by the Nahdlatul Ulama—such as peaceful coexistence with others and respect for individuals’ right to privacy, including freedom of thought and conscience—and seeks to accomplish this by leveraging the profound humane and spiritual values that underlie and animate all religions.”
by Muhammad Abul Fadl
“The vital role of the Nahdlatul Ulama stems from its success as a mediator between the Indonesian government and its people. The NU can maintain a harmonious relationship between the government and the people due to its spiritual values, political engagement and mass following, which combine a profound understanding of Islam with respect for the inherent variety of Indonesia’s countless local cultures. That is why the Nahdlatul Ulama has consistently nurtured the values of Islam Nusantara (East Indies Islam) for over a century, and is now poised to export its collective wisdom and experience throughout the world, for the benefit of humanity.”
by Ivan Watson
“It begins with a prayer, and then the world’s largest Muslim organization declares ideological war on groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. ‘We are like traditional opposition to supremacist Islamism’ (Yahya Staquf, Nahdlatul Ulama). Here in the world’s most populous Muslim country, senior Indonesian clerics like Yahya Staquf argue that the global jihadi movement cannot be defeated until world leaders and Muslims first acknowledge a basic fact. ‘We keep denying the source of the problem, namely, some elements within Islam itself.’
“‘I don’t see any other Muslim leaders coming to Europe, standing up like a tower and saying, ‘Look, we are prepared to take this on.” Terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp (Swedish National Defense College) says these Indonesian Muslim leaders are breaking new ground by proposing to make changes to Islamic law to better fit the modern era…”
“JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia’s vice president on Monday called on Islamic leaders to spread messages about a tolerant Islam to curb extremism that often springs from misinterpretation of Islamic teachings….
“‘We gather here today for that purpose, to produce the solution to curb radicalism in the form of terrorism, wars and conflicts.’
“He added that the existence of 1.6 billion Muslims spread across 57 countries should become a force to promote the goodness of Islam.
“The meeting organized by Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, is expected to produce a message about the importance of promoting a peaceful Islam to combat radicalism worldwide.”
by Peter Alford
“Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest independent Muslim organisation, is exporting Indonesia’s traditionally tolerant Islamic values as the religion’s authentic form, an antidote to nihilistic radicalism tearing apart the Middle East.
“Claiming more than 40 million followers in the world’s biggest Muslim nation, NU spiritual leaders are also trying to supplant the influence of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism, which they believe is the ideological wellspring of Islamic State.
“The message to vulnerable Muslim communities everywhere is ‘NU is here to help’, Supreme Council secretary-general Yahya Cholil Staquf told The Weekend Australian.
“‘We know this threat, we have been fighting it for almost 90 years — it’s our daily business to face them,’ said Haji Yahya.
“‘We know how they think, we know who they are, we know how they operate.'”
“(Agence France-Presse) A group of Indonesian ‘cyberwarriors’ sit glued to screens, as they send out messages promoting a moderate form of Islam in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
“Armed with laptops and smartphones, some 500 members of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – one of the world’s biggest Muslim organisations – are seeking to counter the Islamic State group’s extremist messages.”
by Thomas Paust
“While Islamic State has its base in the Middle East, the NU dominates the other side of the globe [i.e., the Malay archipelago]. In fact, the NU enjoys great influence, even beyond Indonesia’s borders, says Ranstorp.
“‘This organization projects strategic influence far beyond Indonesia, by demonstrating resistance to the Islamic State as an ideology, and by visibly opposing extremist forces. They are highly resolute in their approach [to this global threat],’ says Ranstorp.
“‘They contribute positively, by displaying the true face of Islam as a humanistic religion with a humanist ideal,’ he says.”
by Keith Loveard
“For NU, the propagation of Islam Nusantara as a counter to Daesh is not merely a question of theology. The organisation was formed specifically to counter pressure from Wahhabi infiltration. ‘We know who these people are, we have been fighting them for 90 years,’ says KH Yahya Cholil Staquf, one of the leaders of the Islam Nusantara project.
“KH Mustofa Bisri, until recently the spiritual head or Rois Aam of NU, describes the proselytising of the Wahhabi as an offence to the Prophet Muhammad. ‘The Prophet advised those who proselytise (da’wa) to make things easy for people, not cause them to live in terror. And yet lately it is precisely da’wa that makes people feel horrified and appalled by Islam.
“‘Genuine Islam, Islam Nusantara, Indonesian Islam, the Islam taught by the Messenger of God, has been supplanted by Saudi Islam, a grasping and materialistic Islam, coarse, cruel and savage. The Wahhabi view is just a ghoulish nightmare that keeps the world awake at night, trembling in horror.'”
A century-old mass organization cultivates an adaptable Islam.
by Paul Marshall
“The 50-mile route from Surabaya airport to this East Java city was lined with tens of thousands of banners wishing peace and success to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim organization, as participants gathered in August for its latest five-year congress….
“In Indonesia, the congress was a major event. It opened with a speech by the country’s president; each day it was the lead item on TV news and in national newspapers. But apart from the presence of diplomats at the opening and reporting by specialized academics, it mostly passed unnoticed in the West.
“This is tragic, since a few days spent at the congress of the world’s largest Muslim organization would reshape most Westerners’ perception of Islam. While groups such as ISIS demand a many-sided, including military, response, long-term antidotes to growing Islamic extremism can only be found in organizations such as NU.”
by Erich Follath
“The Asian island kingdom, with all its faults and setbacks, does set the right priorities. Its most important politicians and writers are connected by the knowledge that education is the only way to progress and religion is something private. Of Indonesia’s 220 million Muslims, far fewer have left to join the Islamic State than in Tunisia or Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, Germany.”
by Frederic Spohr
“A Viennese expert on Islam, Nico Prucha, wants to undermine radical Muslims’ digital hegemony and their recruiting operations. To accomplish this, he has managed to recruit 50 million allies—in Indonesia.”
“European researchers and Indonesian kyais – traditional religious scholars – are collaborating to develop theological arguments to debunk the ideology of radical groups like Islamic State (IS):
“The University of Vienna has partnered with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization – and LibForAll Foundation in a research program on terrorism and extremism called VORTEX, which is funded by the Austrian interior ministry.”