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

Read the
Communiqué

Read the
NU’s Legal Analysis

legal category within the context of modern nation states

World First: NU rejects the relevance of “infidel” as a

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