Major Indian media outlets praise NU and the G20 Religion Forum (R20):

“[A] unique and significant initiative. . . that will bring together leaders of all the important world religions to assist G-20 governments in building a united, pluralist and peaceful world”
“Islam Nusantara aims to transform the role of religion from being a source of conflict and hatred to a wellspring of compassion and collaboration”

Home page of The Print (July 8, 2022)

NEW DELHI, India — July 7, 2022: Leading Indian news outlets have published a pair of articles that highlight the newly established G20 Religion Forum and the potential role of Islam Nusantara (“East Indies Islam”) in countering Islamist extremism in India, whose Muslim population is second only to that of Indonesia.

On July 7, an article authored by Indonesian scholar Hadza Min Fadhli Robby appeared in The Print under the title: “Islam Nusantara saved Indonesia’s Muslims from ISIS. It can help India too.” The brainchild of award-winning journalist Shekhar Gupta, The Print is an online newspaper launched in 2017 with the support of prominent Indian billionaires, including N.R. Narayana Murthy, Ratan Tata, Nandan Nilekani, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Nirmal Jain.

Dr. Robby, who lectures at the Indonesian Islamic University (UII) in Yogyakarta, highlights the role of Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf in establishing the G20 Religion Forum (“R20”). This coming November, Nahdlatul Ulama will launch the R20: a first-of-its-kind G20 event designed to tackle religious extremism and establish a framework to help ensure that religion functions as a source of genuine solutions, rather than problems, in the 21st century.

A thousand-year-old Hindu temple discovered on the grounds of the Indonesian Islamic University in Yogyakarta during excavations in 2009 to build a new library. Situated at the heart of the UII campus, the ancient temple has been carefully and respectfully preserved.

A previous article by Dr. Robby, titled “Bharat and Dvipantara: Advancing Cultural and Civilizational Ties between India and Indonesia,” appeared in 2020. In that piece, Dr. Robby argued that “the unique cultural links between India and Indonesia offer immense potential for future cooperation between the two thriving Asian nations.”

After discovery of the Shiva temple, the Islamic University of Indonesia’s board of directors decided, at considerable expense, to redesign the university library to accommodate the Hindu temple, which is now a centerpiece not only of the library, but of the UII campus itself.

Dr. Robby’s opinion piece follows closely on the heels of a new article by Hindu social and political leader Sri Ram Madhav Varanasi, which appeared June 30 in Open, a major Indian magazine. In his article, “The Battle for Religious Reform,” Mr. Madhav also highlights the significance of the upcoming G20 Religion Forum, which will be held in Bali, Indonesia, in November of 2022.

The most inspiring example [of reform in the Muslim world] comes from the world’s largest Islamic nation, Indonesia. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Islamic organisation in the country boasting 90 million membership and close links with the ruling government of Joko Widodo, has openly come out against Wahhabism in a declaration in 2018. Calling upon the Muslims to reject Wahhabi influence, the NU leadership insisted that respecting nation-state and constitution was the duty of every Muslim theologically. . . . In a historic declaration in [2019], it also proclaimed that nobody can be called a Kafir. The NU is taking a unique and significant initiative of organising R-20 (Religions-20) on the sidelines of G-20, which is going to be hosted by the Indonesian government in [November] this year. R-20 will bring together leaders of all the important world religions to assist the leaders of G-20 governments in building a united, pluralist and peaceful world.

For an explanation of Nahdlatul Ulama’s position on these matters, see “NU Rejects the Relevance of ‘Infidel’ as a Legal Category within Modern Nation States.”

Islam Nusantara saved Indonesia’s Muslims from ISIS. It can help India too

Religious leaders will assemble for the first ‘R-20’ at the G20 summit in Bali later this year and work to form a guideline to tackle extremism.

by HADZA MIN FADHLI ROBBY   |   7 July, 2022

Girls at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, 2006 | Wikimedia Commons

In 2015, a group of Islamic scholars under the banner of Nahdlatul Ulama declared that an alternative vision of Islam was needed to protect the concept of nation-state and the moderate value of Islam against the violent teachings of the ISIS caliphate. This teaching would be introduced as Islam Nusantara (Archipelagic Islam). As elements of ISIS began to gain followers in Indonesia, the government soon sanctioned Islam Nusantara as the country’s official religious discourse.

Since then, Islam Nusantara has been seen as a model for various Muslim countries facing inter-ethnic conflicts, and difficulties in balancing religious needs and political democratisation. One of the elements of this model by Nahdlatul Ulama was that national consciousness be made part of religious doctrine. The Indonesian government and Nahdlatul Ulama have conceptualised several projects to propagate the doctrine of Islam Nusantara in Afghanistan. A call for the Indian Muslim community to emulate Islam Nusantara was also recently made by Ram Madhav.

This brings us to two important questions: What makes Islam Nusantara distinct from other models in the Islamic world and how can Islam Nusantara work to solve religious conflict in India?

Islam Nusantara—harmonising religion

The formation of Indonesian Islam heritage always involved cultural elements from various civilisations—Arab, Turkish, China, and India. This is evident in the traditional puppet theatre play called wayang, a Javanese Islamic adoption of Mahabharata created by Sunan Kalijaga who was a part of the wali sanga—the ‘nine saints of Islam’—on the island of Java.

Wayang not only includes characters from Mahabharata but also local characters called Punakawan. The traditional art form has played an integral role in harmonising Islamic values with the Hindu civilisational heritage and made it an integral part of the Javanese culture. To date, many Javanese and Indonesians with varied cultural backgrounds are still familiar with the moral values in the wayang stories. The cultural inclusions, which happened during this era, can be compared to the case of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb and Deccan Muslims’ attitude of toleration towards their Hindu counterparts.

After Indonesia’s independence, the political leadership decided that the country should neither be a ‘theocratic’ nor a ‘secular’ state. This decision was driven by lessons that Indonesian nationalists had learnt from Turkey’s ardent secularism and the development of a ‘two-nation’ narrative in the Indian subcontinent.

The groundbreaking agreement, which was achieved between nationalist and Islamist politicians, stated that Indonesia should instead be a ‘religious’ State. According to the agreement, the moral framework of Indonesia’s constitution should take a foothold in religious teachings followed by the Indonesian populace. This is the reason Indonesia put ‘belief in one God’ as the utmost principle of the national ideology ‘Pancasila’.

During Indonesia’s democratisation, the Islamic discourse found a new challenge—the Wahhabi movement that preached jihadism in conflict-prone areas such as Maluku. The two Bali bombing incidents prompted the government to formulate new discourses of Islam that would stop further radicalisation. The effort came to fruition at Nahdlatul Ulama’s 2015 conference with the concept of Islam Nusantara.

Islam Nusantara has two main aspects. It envisions constructive engagement between Islam and local culture. The doctrine cannot simply have ‘Javanese, syncretic and Sufi’ characteristics. It must also embody various cultures of Indonesian people. Islam Nusantara also aims to transform the role of religion from being a source of conflict and hatred to a wellspring of compassion and collaboration.

India’s problems similar to Indonesia

By following the Indonesian example, India can benefit in two major areas — reduce extremist tendencies and ensure harmony between Hindus and Muslims.

It has been seriously argued that madrasas in India have influenced Muslims towards radicalisation. Some say the Deobandi school of thought is responsible for radicalisation, others argue it’s because of clericalism and madrasas abandoning secular knowledge. India can look at how Indonesia handled its madrasas, helping them integrate with the society at large.

Madrasas in Indonesia, state-owned or private, are managed and supervised by a directorate at the Ministry of Religious Affairs. This helps madrasas not only develop their capacity but also scrutinise the extremist tendencies in their curriculum. Indonesian madrasas owe their moderate character to the Bahtsul Masail model in its fiqh education, which is led by a religious scholar and attended by both male and female students. This learning model enables Indonesian Muslims to interpret the fiqh in their local context. A notable difference is that Indonesian Muslims do not call non-Muslims kafir.

Madrasas in Indonesia are also known for their openness toward local culture. Some of them, Pesantren Kaliopak (Kaliopak Madrasa) for example, have even made cultural education a central part of their curriculum. In Kaliopak, kyai (or the leader of the madrasa) teaches Islam through traditional dance forms and wayang.

The increase in violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India is also a source of concern. The Udaipur killing shows how a local issue can spark nationwide protests. In the late 1990s, Indonesia also faced a similar conflict between Muslims and Christians in the Maluku province. But the religious leaders resolved it by establishing the Maluku Interfaith Commission (Lembaga Antariman Maluku) to ensure common prosperity, a tolerant education model and equal economic opportunity for the people affected by the conflict.

Indonesia’s example shows India that an institutionalised approach, government’s commitment to faithfully uphold the Constitution and engage with related civil society organisations could work to decrease the influence of extremist elements.

Way forward for India

So, what is India’s takeaway from the Indonesian example? During the course of the Indonesian presidency of the G20, two urgent steps were discussed.

First, Nahdlatul Ulama, under the leadership of Yahya Cholil Staquf, decided to conduct a first-of-its-kind Religious-20 (R-20) event. Indonesia and India should utilise the R-20 forum to help create a global, groundbreaking framework to tackle religious violence and extremism. In this aspect, R-20 should translate the ‘normative’ Document on Human Fraternity signed by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayeb and the Catholic Church into a more practical guideline. This will provide countries facing problems of religious violence to create policies on religious harmony and a global curriculum on interfaith engagement. This global curriculum could take the case of Indonesian Islam as an inspiration and could be applied in India as well.

Second, the existing work of the India-Indonesia Bilateral Interfaith Dialogue, established in 2018, should continue to enable an effective way of learning from each other. Furthermore, the creation of a permanent bilateral interfaith commission should be considered in order to further the interfaith exchange and cooperation between the people of India and Indonesia.

The author is an Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, Universitas Islam Indonesia. Views are personal.

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