Nahdlatul Ulama moves to prevent foreign and domestic interference in its affairs

NU General Secretary: “NGOs often weave ‘beautiful narratives’ to impress donors, while in reality undermining progress or even placing others in jeopardy”
Nahdlatul Ulama has a track record of acknowledging and addressing Indonesia’s internal problems, without provoking social unrest and political instability

“Always be honest and open, there’s no need to be afraid”

لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ ۖ قَد تَّبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ ۚ فَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِالطَّاغُوتِ وَيُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ اسْتَمْسَكَ بِالْعُرْوَةِ الْوُثْقَىٰ لَا انفِصَامَ لَهَا ۗ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ (256)

اللَّهُ وَلِيُّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا يُخْرِجُهُم مِّنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ ۖ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَوْلِيَاؤُهُمُ الطَّاغُوتُ يُخْرِجُونَهُم مِّنَ النُّورِ إِلَى الظُّلُمَاتِ ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ أَصْحَابُ النَّارِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ (257)

القرآن الكريم، سورة البقرة: 256­–257~

Let there be no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the path of error. Whosoever rejects the powers of evil (tāghūt) and believes in God has indeed grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks, for God is all-hearing, all-knowing.

God is the Protector of those who have faith, bringing them out of darkness into the light — whereas those who are bent on denying the truth (kafarū) are allied with the powers of evil (tāghūt) that bring them out of the light and into deep darkness: it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide.

~ Qur’an 2:256–257

One of the primary themes of the Qur’an is the danger — both spiritual and worldly — of allowing pretense to masquerade as reality. The language of the Qur’an describes this phenomenon as “deliberately closing one’s heart to the truth,” or kufr. Those who willfully close their hearts to the truth are described as infidels (sin. kāfir; pl. kufār).

In Islamic theology, tāghūt: (literally, “to go beyond the (true) measure”) is a term that encompasses both demonic forces and earthly tyrants who encourage falsehood, including the worship of false deities. The Qur’an presents Pharaoh as a classic example of a tāghūt — compelling Egyptians to worship him as a god and obey his every whim — while Moses opened his heart to God’s light and obeyed His command to confront Pharoah with the truth.

“Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”

Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed

2021 National Conference of Nahdlatul Ulama Religious Scholars Press Conference: “[Strengthening] East Indies Islam and NU Autonomy, for the Sake of Global Civilization”

JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 20, 2021: The Central Board of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization, has instructed all of its chapters, institutions and autonomous bodies to cancel or suspend all activities with an Indonesian NGO and two of its foreign partners, and to submit any proposed future activities for approval by the Central Board. The order is designed to protect and enhance minority rights while preserving social harmony and political stability, rather than seeking to curtail NGOs’ freedom to engage in activities of their choice.

The order was issued in the form of a circular letter distributed to those who govern Nahdlatul Ulama, in response to efforts by the Leimena Institute, a Jakarta-based NGO and its foreign backers — the U.S.-based Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) — to harness Nahdlatul Ulama and Indonesia’s powerful Ministry of Religious Affairs in service of a potentially disruptive agenda dictated by foreign actors, who seek to reshape Indonesia’s complex socio-cultural, religious and political landscape.

For the past century, Nahdlatul Ulama has consistently sought to block the infiltration of Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements into Indonesia’s religious mainstream. The unanimous decision by NU’s Supreme Council and its Executive Board to cancel or suspend any and all cooperation with Leimena, IGE and AJC suggests that NU is also concerned about Western NGOs acting in pursuit of agendas that have the potential to induce social unrest and political instability in Indonesia.

Kyai Miftachul Akhyar, Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council, recently warned of “external parties that seek to infiltrate the NU wearing masks,” in order to manipulate the world’s largest Muslim organization as if it were “a bonsai tree that is malleable in their hands.”

Nahdlatul Ulama spiritual leaders are aware that Indonesia faces a wide range of challenges, including many serious problems that need to be honestly acknowledged and addressed. These include corruption, crony capitalism, religious extremism and environmental degradation. These domestic problems are often exacerbated by foreign actors seeking to acquire cultural, ideological, religious, economic and/or political influence within the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and democracy, which lies astride maritime trade routes within the Indo-Pacific.

Islamist movements originating in the Middle East; China’s Belt and Road initiative; and Western governments and NGOs routinely seek to identify and recruit local actors willing to facilitate their agendas. The cooptation of local elites by foreign powers has a long and disreputable history in Indonesia, which experienced over 350 years of Dutch colonialism, from 1596 – 1949. Nahdlatul Ulama is deeply rooted in those elements of Indonesian society that historically refused to collaborate with tyrants (tāghūt), whether foreign or domestic.

“[Strengthening] East Indies Islam and NU Autonomy for the Sake of Global Civilization”

Commenting on these developments, KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf — General Secretary of the NU Supreme Council — said: “We welcome those who wish to cooperate with Nahdlatul Ulama in solving problems, but cannot endorse grandstanding by NGOs or advocacy groups that seek to highjack the institutional structure of Nahdlatul Ulama in pursuit of their objectives. Such behavior threatens to undermine social harmony, political stability and the well-being of religious minorities. We advise Western governments and NGOs to exercise caution in choosing partners in Indonesia. Domestic organizations acting at the behest of foreign donors — even if they seek to accomplish worthy objectives — may be incapable of accomplishing those objectives, due to lack of knowledge, institutional infrastructure and a popular base.”

Mr. Staquf added, “Recent events in Iraq — where an ill-advised conference played into the hands of Islamist militias and extremist political parties on the eve of national elections —  illustrate the dangers posed by NGOs that weave ‘beautiful narratives’ to impress donors, while in reality undermining progress or even placing others in jeopardy.”

From its founding in 1926, Nahdlatul Ulama has consistently taught its tens of millions of followers that there is an inescapable link between individual and collective moral responsibility. This is reflected in a well-known tenet of traditional Sunni Islam that “it is forbidden to pursue a noble objective by using ignoble means.”

This fundamentally distinguishes Nahdlatul Ulama and other traditional Sunni organizations from ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram.

NU spiritual leaders established the Humanitarian Islam movement and the Center for Shared Civilizational Values to create institutional platforms through which people of goodwill of every faith and nation may systematically examine and address profound moral issues, including the relationship between individual and collective behavior.

View the original and an English translation of Nahdlatul Ulama’s Circular Letter

In a distinct yet related development, in July of 2021 Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs affirmed that every Indonesian citizen has a constitutional right to freedom of conscience, including Baha’is, Sikhs, Taoists and Jews. The current Minister of Religious Affairs, the Honorable Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, is the scion of a prominent Nahdlatul Ulama family and senior NU figure himself.

These developments vividly illustrate the contrast between pro forma and substantive actions to foster religious pluralism and tolerance, and the vital need to address serious problems in a manner that reflects a deep understanding of any given country’s internal dynamics, including its history, culture, religion and politics.

For over a decade, Nahdlatul Ulama spiritual leader Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri; NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf; Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Chairman and current Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs H. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas; and C. Holland Taylor — GP Ansor’s Emissary to the UN, Americas and Europe — have coordinated a long-term, systematic and institutional effort to address “obsolete and problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy” that lend themselves to the political weaponization of religion. Islamist movements, opportunistic politicians and governments throughout the Muslim world often employ these tenets to foster religious hatred, supremacy and violence, rather than mutual understanding and harmony between those of different faiths.

Read the
NU’s Legal Ruling

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Communiqué

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NU’s Legal Analysis

Legal Category of “Infidel” within Islamic Law

World First: Nahdlatul Ulama Abolishes the

Without the category of infidel (kafir) within Islamic law, there is no theological basis for Muslims to foster enmity or perpetrate acts of violence (e.g., jihadi terrorism) against those perceived to be non-Muslim

In 2019, at a conference attended by over 20,000 NU religious scholars, Nahdlatul Ulama officially decreed that the modern nation state is theologically legitimate; that there is no legal category of infidel (kafir) within a modern nation state, only ‘fellow citizens’; that Muslims must obey the laws of any modern nation state in which they dwell; and that Muslims have a religious obligation to foster peace rather than automatically wage war on behalf of their co-religionists, whenever conflict erupts between Muslim and non-Muslim populations anywhere in the world.

The historic implications of these rulings may be glimpsed from the fact that — absent the category of infidel — there is no theological basis for Muslims to foster enmity or perpetrate acts of violence (e.g., jihadi terrorism) against those perceived to be non-Muslim.

Findings of the 2019 National Conference of Nahdlatul Ulama Religious Scholars, published by the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board. This 317-page book contains the ruling that abolished the legal category of infidel within Islamic law, as well as the complete text of the 2016 International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders (ISOMIL) Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration; the 2016 First Global Unity Forum Declaration; the 2017 Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam; and the 2018 Nusantara Statement and Nusantara Manifesto.

Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon of the Chabad–Lubavitch movement (above) with Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Chairman H. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas at the first Global Unity Forum (2016) in Jakarta, which led to the birth of Humanitarian Islam and (below) accompanied by the Commandant of Ansor’s 5-million-member militia, Banser

Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs affirms the constitutional right to freedom of conscience

The Honorable Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs: “To my brothers and sisters in the Baha’i community, wherever you may be, I wish you a joyful celebration of your new year 178 EB [marking the anniversary of your founder’s teaching]”

In July of 2021, Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs responded to harsh Islamist criticism of a video address — in which he warmly conveyed a New Year’s greeting to Indonesia’s miniscule Baha’i minority — by affirming that every Indonesian citizen has a constitutional right to religious freedom, and to practice the teachings of his or her faith.

A government regulation dating from the mid-1960s provides official recognition to only six religious communities in Indonesia: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Confucianism.

Muslim extremists were swift to condemn Minister Qoumas for acknowledging and greeting members of Indonesia’s Baha’i community. Despite the viral nature of the controversy that exploded in print, broadcast and social media, the Minister did not apologize for his action. Demonstrating the strength of his convictions — and widespread popular support for his position — the Honorable Minister of Religious Affairs simply instructed officials within his Ministry to explain the constitutional, legal and regulatory framework that guarantees freedom of conscience to every Indonesian.

Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs KH. Zainut Tauhid Sa’adi

A document posted on the Ministry’s website and widely distributed by Indonesian media quoted Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs KH. Zainut Tauhid Sa’adi as stating that the actions of the Minister of Religious Affairs were an integral part of fulfilling his constitutional duties.

“I see what he said as consistent with his constitutional responsibility as a state official tasked with serving all Indonesian citizens, without exception,” the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs explained in Jakarta on Saturday (31/07/2021).

The Deputy Minister also explained that the Ministry of Religious Affairs is constantly developing and socializing mechanisms to strengthen religious moderation, whose aim is nothing less than manifesting harmony throughout our nation and all areas of civic life.

“Religious moderation cannot be created without [acting in accord with] fair and balanced principles,” explained the Deputy Minister.

According to the Deputy Minister, strengthening religious moderation is essential, as part of our cultural strategy to nurture an inclusive sense of “Indonesianness.”

“Indonesia is an extremely heterogeneous nation. From its inception, our founding fathers successfully established and bequeathed a national consensus regarding the structure of our nation state — namely, Pancasila and the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia [i.e., a multi-religious and pluralistic nation state] — which has succeeded in uniting all of its religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups.”

Republic of Indonesia Ministry of Religious Affairs (website): “Understanding the Minister of Religious Affairs’ Video regarding the Baha’i Religion”

In another document posted on the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ website, Ministry official Abdul Jamil Wahab stated that:

All religions in Indonesia are guaranteed and protected by the state. Article 28 E, Paragraph (1) of the 1945 Constitution states that everyone is free to embrace religion and to worship in accordance with the teachings of his or her faith. Article 28 I, Paragraph (2) of the Constitution states that the right to embrace and practice religion is a human right. Furthermore, Article 29, Paragraph (2) emphasizes that the state guarantees the right of each resident to embrace a religion. These articles of the Constitution clearly guarantee the religious rights and freedom of every Indonesian citizen.

In the accompanying text that explains Article 1 of Law No. 1 PNPS 1965, it is stated that the religions embraced by the Indonesian people are Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and that all of these religions shall receive government protection and assistance. Furthermore, the accompanying text that explains Article 1 of the Law, also states that religions other than the six (6) religions identified above shall nonetheless receive protection by the state and be allowed to exist, provided they do not violate the nation’s laws and regulations.

The terms “recognized religion” and “unrecognized religion” do not appear anywhere in the 1945 Constitution (UUD–45). The term “recognized religion” does appear in Law No. 23 of 2006 concerning civil registration. However, Articles 61 and 64 of the Civil Registration Law have been subject to judicial review by the Constitutional Court. In its decision regarding this matter, the Constitutional Court stated that these two articles were contrary to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. Articles 61 and 64 were ruled to discriminate against adherents of certain religions and beliefs.

Thus, according to the Indonesian constitution, laws and regulations referenced above, Baha’is and adherents of other faiths, including Sikhism, Taoism, Judaism, [and indigenous religions such as] Aluktodolo, Merapu, Sunda Wiwitan, and others, have the right to live freely in Indonesia. The state must respect, protect, and serve the members of all these faith communities by ensuring that their civil rights are both acknowledged and respected [emphasis added].

Indonesian print and broadcast media reporting on the controversy heavily featured images of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Israel (above), while explaining the exact nature of Baha’i teachings

Muslim extremists sought to discredit Baha’is by stating that they “pray in the direction of Israel,” while rejecting religious freedom as an illegitimate Western import. The majority of Indonesians, however, appear to embrace the Minister’s description of religious freedom as a legacy from Indonesia’s founding fathers.

Many of NU’s most prominent spiritual leaders are descended from Javanese nobles who chose to abandon the palace and live a simple life in the countryside, rather than stifle the voice of conscience and collaborate with tyrants, or tāghūt. NU followers are aware of this history, which explains their reverence for NU spiritual leaders such as H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid (1940 – 2009), Indonesia’s first democratically elected president. Described by columnist Bret Stephens as “The Last King of Java,” Abdurrahman Wahid led the NU from 1984 – 1999 and secured Indonesia’s transition from the Suharto regime to become the most successful democracy in the Muslim world today.

This “spiritual wing” of Nahdlatul Ulama has long defended religious minorities and Indonesia’s ancient traditions of pluralism and tolerance.

Every year on Christmas Eve (above), members of Ansor commemorate the heroism of Riyanto, a 25-year-old Banser militiaman who died removing a bomb from Ebenezer Church in Mojokerto, East Java. The text below reads: “Riyanto has proven himself to be deeply religious and profoundly imbued with humanitarian values. May he be recompensed (by God) for the full measure of his sacrifice.” ~ H.E. KH. Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gus Dur”)

Research funded by Templeton Religion Trust as part of a three-year study (2017 – 2020) that examined the state of religious freedom in South and Southeast Asia, led Dr. Timothy Shah to identify Nahdlatul Ulama spiritual leaders as major drivers of Indonesian “positive deviance.” As lead author of the 88-page Indonesia Religious Freedom Landscape Report 2020, published by the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, DC, Dr. Shah states:

Significantly, Indonesia is the only Muslim-majority country in the modern world that has witnessed a dramatic increase in the size and influence of its Christian population since it became an independent nation state. This is in sharp and dramatic contrast to the near collapse of Christian minority populations in most of the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East, North Africa, and even South Asia, Pakistan foremost among them. . . Though many factors are at work, one crucial reason that Indonesia is a relative bright spot within the religious freedom landscape of South and Southeast Asia and the Muslim world is a single civil society organization: the Nahdlatul Ulama [NU].

In his report, Dr. Shah describes how:

The integrity of these devout Muslim leaders; their honesty in acknowledging and addressing the instrumental manipulation of their own faith; their vast, 90-million strong following within Indonesia; and their extensive global network of supporters and allies render them capable of both defeating the anti-pluralist forces that threaten the gains of Indonesia’s democratic transition and realizing Indonesia’s strategic potential as an engine of civilizational progress throughout the Indosphere [South and Southeast Asia] and beyond.

Bayt ar-Rahmah’s devout Muslim leaders thus represent the most theologically potent and operationally effective actors promoting religious liberty in the Islamic world today, leveraging the unique strength of Indonesia’s indigenous, pluralistic and tolerant understanding and practice of Islam to promote religious freedom for all.

“Always be honest and open: there’s no need to be afraid”
~ H.E. KH. Abdurrahman Wahid

تَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَىٰ أُمَمٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ فَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فَهُوَ وَلِيُّهُمُ الْيَوْمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ (63)

القرآن الكريم، سورة النحل: 63~

By God, [O Prophet,] even before thy time have We sent apostles unto [various] communities: but [those who were bent on denying the truth have always refused to listen to Our messages because] Satan has made all their own doings seem goodly to them: and he is [as] close to them today [as he was to the sinners of yore]; hence, grievous suffering awaits them.

~ Qur’an 16:63

In 2007, LibForAll Foundation — together with the Wahid Institute and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance — hosted an historic religious summit in Indonesia that rejected the evils of Holocaust denial and affirmed religious tolerance as a blessing for all creation (rahmah). The following year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center awarded President Wahid its Medal of Valor “for his leadership of the LibForAll Foundation and his efforts to combat Holocaust denial in the Muslim world” (Los Angeles Times/Reuters), at the Wiesenthal Center Tribute Dinner, held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverley Hills, California. An audience of over 900, including many of Hollywood’s elite, gave a prolonged standing ovation to President Wahid, with much of the audience moved to tears.

“[W]e present Medals of Valor to individuals whose courage and bravery have made a difference and touched lives in the darkest of places.” ~ Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, presenting the Medal of Valor to President Wahid

Inspired by President Wahid’s example, contemporary NU leaders continue to vigorously defend Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution, which enshrines the Republic of Indonesia’s unique brand of inclusive, multireligious, and multi-ethnic nationalism. NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf has also continued President Wahid’s decades-long engagement with Jewish communities worldwide in pursuit of interfaith harmony, while seeking to foster peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

In June of 2018, Mr. Staquf elicited widespread praise and a firestorm of controversy by visiting Jerusalem from 9 – 15 June 2018, where he delivered a message of rahmah (universal love and compassion) in a series of public speeches and meetings with senior Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

Speaking at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum in Jerusalem, Mr. Staquf’s call for “compassion” between Muslims and Jews was met with a standing ovation by 2,400 AJC participants from over 50 nations. Mr. Staquf also addressed the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at Hebrew University (“Islam Without Violence: an Indonesian Perspective on the Israeli – Palestinian Conflict”); the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (“Shifting the Geopolitical Calculus: from Conflict to Cooperation”); performed pilgrimage to al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock; and met privately with a number of Palestinian figures including Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, founder of the Wasatia Movement, who responded sharply to Hamas and Fatah condemnation of Mr. Staquf’s visit by asking, “Why do we not embrace this visit and consider it a step towards peace, reconciliation, rapprochement and dialogue between religions at a time we are in urgent need of a glimmer of hope?” (al-Monitor).

Impact Analysis

NU General Secretary’s Historic Visit to Jerusalem Helped Shape Public Discourse Amid the Heat of Indonesia’s 2018 Regional Election Campaign

A firestorm of controversy over how the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and democracy should respond to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unexpectedly dominated Indonesia’s print, broadcast and social media during the decisive final weeks of that nation’s 2018 regional election campaign, which many experts viewed as a bellwether for national legislative and presidential elections to follow in 2019.

A long-planned visit to Jerusalem by Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf — General Secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) — triggered the controversy, when the Palestinian ambassador to Jakarta sought (and failed) to block the visit, and leading politicians from the Muslim Brotherhood political party PKS and Gerindra — both staunchly opposed to incumbent President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) — seized upon the visit as a de facto campaign issue.

Gerindra’s Fadli Zon, Deputy Speaker of Indonesia’s National Legislature (DPR), condemned Staquf’s visit to Jerusalem as “a national embarrassment” whose “moral depravity” constituted a betrayal of “the Palestinian people’s struggle,” and demanded that the government “firmly discipline” Staquf who, just prior to his departure for Jerusalem, had been appointed to a 9-member Presidential Advisory Council with a protocol rank equivalent to cabinet minister.

Within hours the Deputy Secretary General of Gerindra — Nuruzzaman, a prominent NU figure and member of GP Ansor’s Central Board — resigned from Gerindra and publicly lambasted the party for insulting his spiritual leader (Yahya Staquf) and for inciting hatred towards religious minorities through its alliance with Muslim extremists and its behavior during the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election.

The controversy quickly turned into a de facto struggle between competing visions of Islam, which constitute a socio-cultural and political fault line within Indonesian society at large. Adherents of a pluralistic, tolerant and spiritual understanding of Islam tended to agree with Dr. Nadirsyah Hosen, who hailed Mr. Staquf’s wisdom and courage in an article posted on the Nahdlatul Ulama’s official website:

You may disagree with what Kyai Yahya did [in visiting Jerusalem]. But do not underestimate the Message of Compassion that he delivered, in order to foster world peace. This is the true Heavenly Message. You may not realize it, but the Noble Prophet was present, in Jerusalem, when Kyai Yahya delivered his Message of Compassion. . . Every Muslim who echoes the Message of Compassion that the Prophet taught, will be accompanied and defended by the Prophet Muhammad himself.

Public interest in Mr. Staquf’s message, and the controversy surrounding his visit, dominated Indonesian news coverage for the entire week he was in Jerusalem and remained strong following his return home. Media outlets translated and published the complete text of Mr. Staquf’s 14-minute address to the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem for readers to contemplate, while an expert in linguistic analysis evaluated the speech employing computer-assisted qualitative data analysis, accompanied by extensive graphics and key-word analysis, which revealed Mr. Staquf’s “courage and expertise, penetrating to the heart of Israel to strike without an army, and accomplish one’s goals without humiliating others — as taught by the saints who spread Islam in Nusantara (the East Indies).”

Employing a non-confrontational approach rooted in the Islamic tradition of islah, designed to reconcile opposing parties and facilitate peace between them, Mr. Staquf was widely viewed as following the example of his spiritual mentor, Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid — former Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama and Indonesia’s first democratically elected president — who visited Israel three times and addressed the AJC Annual Forum in 2002. . .

The morning after regional elections, headlines across Indonesia proclaimed: “All the PKS/Gerindra ‘Roosters’ Quacked Like Ducks in Java’s Gubernatorial Elections.” As another internet meme explained, “PKS elites and cadres brought about their own electoral disaster by attacking leaders of the NU Central Board, including the General Secretary of the NU Supreme Council. If anyone asks you why the NU just beat the living daylights out of PKS, answer them: ‘Don’t insult NU kyais and ulama. Obey them.’”

“Acting with compassion is a choice”

Amid thousands of articles and social media posts about Yahya Staquf’s visit to Jerusalem, one quote from a 11-page interview appeared in the headline of an article titled “Conversation with Kyai Yahya Staquf: ‘I still have ingrained prejudice against Jews,’” which began with the words:

He doesn’t care if others attack him. He had only one goal in visiting Israel: to continue Gus Dur’s work, by Heru Triyono, July 2, 2018. Lately, Yahya has attracted a different kind of attention. . . because of his recent visit to Israel, which many perceived as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. He was cursed, bullied online and even denounced as a treasonous cockroach. ‘That’s ok with me’ he told the four journalists who interviewed him at Harlow Brasserie in Kuningan, Jakarta on Monday (25/6/2018). . .

Approximately mid-way through the article, the journalist asked:

Is there still any chance for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal?

There is, but not in the near future.

So what was the political impact on Palestine when you addressed the AJC?

What is clear is that we learned what must be done next. It’s not like I was invited to deliver a sermon in Taiwan and came home with an envelope full of cash. This is an enormous task we’ve undertaken. That is why, in my address to the AJC forum, I said: “Let us choose compassion.”

Compassion is not a question of mere feelings. It’s about an attitude that you may choose to adopt if you want to. Only by choosing to act with compassion will we have any chance of finding a way out [of the humanitarian crisis we face].

What was the world’s response to your offer?

Try Googling. Almost all the Western media coverage has been positive, except for the web site Palestine Now. The others are positive. I’m even regarded as a hero by many in this illusory and perishable world, ha-ha-ha. And yes, on the other [Muslim] side, many are cursing and insulting me.

Did it hurt your feelings to be called a treasonous cockroach?

Let people say whatever they want. In fact, there are some who think I’ve become infatuated with Jews. When in reality, even though I’ve just come from Jerusalem and talking about compassion, I myself still have ingrained prejudice against Jews (sampai detik ini saya benci Yahudi) [due to a lifetime of anti-Semitic conditioning].

If we look at history, Israel has done a lot of bad things. Who wouldn’t be angry? Who wouldn’t be heartsick? But, once again, I pose the question: what do we want to do about it?

Do you think the Palestinians have also done bad things to Israel?

Let’s analyze this rationally. It’s clear that Indonesian Muslims side with Palestine. That is our established mindset. But, what’s the point? I know Israel did bad things, and I know the Palestinians did too.

So what do we want? Revenge? That’s why I say: we can move beyond conflict by embracing rahmah (compassion), so that we can see things from each others’ perspective and become more accommodating. With compassion, it is entirely possible that peace negotiations could succeed.

“Muslims, Jews, and Christians should take their cue from Yahya Cholil Staquf. . .
Moderates have to find the moral courage to speak out when their own religions are hijacked by extremists, just as Mr. Staquf has. When his courage and clarity become the norm we may have the chance to slay the dragon of hate.”
~ Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center