“A President for All People”

“Many Muslim Indonesians considered Mr. Wahid a living saint. But Christians, Buddhists and many others mourned his passing last week. Their grief is testament to the power of his ideas, not just for Indonesians, but for every other pluralistic society seeking a peaceful and prosperous future.”

~ Wall Street Journal

Humanitarian Islam is a global movement that seeks to restore rahmah (universal love and compassion) to its rightful place as the primary message of Islam, by addressing obsolete and problematic elements within Islamic orthodoxy that lend themselves to tyranny, while positioning these efforts within a much broader initiative to reject any and all forms of tyranny, and foster the emergence of a global civilization endowed with nobility of character.

The inspiration for Humanitarian Islam is the unique example of the 15th/16th century Wali Songo (“Nine Saints”) who proselytized Islam Nusantara (“East Indies Islam”)—rooted in the principle of rahmah—stressing the need to contextualize Islamic teachings and adapt these to the ever-changing realities of space and time, while presenting Islam not as a supremacist ideology or vehicle for conquest, but rather, as one of many paths through which humans may attain spiritual perfection.

International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders (ISOMIL)

The Humanitarian Islam movement emerged in response to the 2016 International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders (ISOMIL) Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration, which called upon “people of good will of every faith and nation to join in building a global consensus not to politicize Islam” (point 15); and explicitly affirmed that the NU “will strive to consolidate the global ahlussunnah wal jamaah (Sunni Muslim) community, in order to bring about a world in which Islam, and Muslims, are truly beneficent and contribute to the well-being of all humanity” (point 16).

Humanitarian Islam is also a direct response to the First Global Unity Forum Declaration—issued on May 12, 2016 by Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, the Nahdlatul Ulama young adults movement—which “calls for an end to conflict in the name of religion, and for qualified ulama (Muslim religious scholars) to carefully examine and address those elements of fiqh (classical Islamic law) that encourage segregation, discrimination and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be ‘non-Muslim.’”

The movement was born on March 30th, 2017, in Jakarta, Indonesia, when Gerakan Pemuda Ansor and Bayt ar-Rahmah announced the launch of a concerted effort to promote Humanitarian Islam (al-islam li al-insaniyyah), by developing and operationalizing a global strategy to recontextualize the teachings of orthodox, authoritative Islam and thereby reconcile certain problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy with the reality of contemporary civilization, whose context and conditions differ significantly from those in which classical Islamic law emerged.

The elements in question include those portions of fiqh that address relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, the structure of governance and the proper aims and conduct of warfare. It is precisely these elements that are often employed by terrorists to justify their actions, and by those who seek to use Islam for political purposes, fostering a sense of grievance and alienation from the modern world.

Alissa Wahid, the daughter of Indonesia’s fourth president, H.E. KH. Abdurrahman Wahid, and Putri Guntur Soekarno, granddaughter of Indonesia’s first president, attended the launch of the Humanitarian Islam movement at Gerakan Pemuda Ansor’s headquarters. Together, they presented Ansor Chairman H. Yaqut Qoumas with Sri Ayati’s Legacy, a painting that vividly illustrates why the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation and democracy was established as a multi-religious/pluralistic state, with a constitutional guarantee of equal rights for all its citizens.

Gerakan Pemuda Ansor adopted this painting as a symbol of the Humanitarian Islam movement. A four-page brochure explains the painting’s significance and contains the lyrics (in English translation) of popular Indonesian musician Leo Kristi’s The Old Cathedral’s Silhouette. This deeply-moving song is written from the perspective of a young Catholic freedom fighter—like the one whose lifeless body lies cradled in President Soekarno’s arms, in Sri Ayati’s Legacy—who sacrificed his life to free Indonesia from colonial rule.

Sri Ayati’s Legacy, John van der Sterren, oil on canvas, 200 x 130 cm, 2006

H. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, General Chairman of Gerakan Pemuda Ansor (center) and H. Alfa Isnaeni, Commandant of Ansor’s 5-million-member militia, Banser in Jombang, East Java, at the international gathering of ulama where Ansor promulgated its Declaration on Humanitarian Islam

On 21 – 22 May 2017, over 300 Indonesian religious scholars gathered with colleagues from South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America to address “obsolete tenets of classical Islamic law, which are premised upon perpetual conflict with those who do not embrace or submit to Islam.” The event was held at PP (Madrasah) Bahrul ‘Ulum in Jombang, East Java— birthplace of the Nahdlatul Ulama and its 5-million-strong youth movement, Gerakan Pemuda Ansor.

A. Mustofa Bisri—former Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council and currently Chairman of Bayt ar-Rahmah—opened the event with a prayer that the assembled scholars’ deliberations would constitute “a humble act of religious piety and a blessing for all humanity… [as well as] the starting point of a movement that may bring the rays of enlightenment to a desperate world.”

The two-day international gathering of ulama concluded with the adoption of Gerakan Pemuda Ansor’s Declaration on Humanitarian Islam, an 8,000 word analysis of the manner in which state and non-state actors have “weaponized” orthodox Islamic teachings, and detailed road map that calls for “a serious, long-term socio-cultural, political, religious and educational campaign to transform Muslims’ understanding of their religious obligations, and the very nature of Islamic orthodoxy.”

“Muslims face a choice between starkly different visions of the future. Will they strive to recreate the long-lost ideal of religious, political and territorial unity beneath the banner of a Caliphate—and thus seek to restore Islamic supremacy—as reflected in their communal memory and still firmly entrenched within the prevailing corpus, and worldview, of orthodox, authoritative Islam? Or will they strive to develop a new religious sensibility that reflects the actual circumstances of our modern civilization, and contributes to the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal dignity and rights of every human being?” ~ Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam (point 31)

The road map is divided into five sections, viz., “Identification and Containment of the Threat (points 40 – 66); Conflict Resolution (points 67 – 72); New Theological Discourse to Recontextualize Islamic Teachings for the Modern Era (points 73 – 87); Development and Adoption of New Educational Curricula Throughout the Islamic World (points 88 – 95); and Grassroots Movement to Build Societal Consensus and the Political Will Necessary to Resolve the Crisis” (points 96 – 112).

Bayt ar-Rahmah and its sister organization, LibForAll Foundation, have developed—and are currently executing—a concrete strategy to operationalize the Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam in conjunction with like-minded civil society institutions, governments and people of good will of every faith and nation, including the Nahdlatul Ulama and Ansor itself.

Operationalizing the Gerakan Pemuda Ansor
Declaration on Humanitarian Islam “Road Map”

Identification and Containment of the Threat

NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf addressed UN delegates at two events broadcast live by the U.S. Department of State during High Level Week of the 75th UN General Assembly

Nahdlatul Ulama General Secretary hailed at the 75th United Nations General Assembly as a key partner in an emerging values-driven alliance to “foster respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.” There are growing indications that the U.S. Department of State has begun to mobilize its extensive diplomatic capacity to foster awareness of Nahdlatul Ulama General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf and the Humanitarian Islam movement he co-founded. The Indonesian religious leader is increasingly viewed in Western political circles as a potential lynchpin in an effort to forge a global, values-driven alliance dedicated to strengthening the rules-based international order and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) at a time of increased geopolitical uncertainty and rising human rights abuse.

Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama Helps Shape British Government Policy Through High Profile Commentary and Policy Exchange Report On Islamophobia. On May 15, 2019, the British government rejected calls to adopt a vague yet sweeping definition of the term “Islamophobia,” that would undermine counterterrorism policy, empower Muslim extremists, enable media censorship and open the door to criminalization of frank discourse about Islam, including the crystal-clear links between jihadist doctrine, goals and strategy and certain problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy and its historic practice.

The move follows a series of high-profile interventions in continental Europe and the UK by Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, General Secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). In his latest intervention, Mr. Staquf supported a broad cross-section of British civil society and its political establishment, who warned the British government not to adopt the policy recommendations of an informal grouping of UK parliamentarians — the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) — that seeks to weaponize a highly problematic definition of Islamophobia as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Nahdlatul Ulama General Secretary helps shape British grand strategy for the emerging “Eurasian century.” Current and former Prime Ministers from four of the world’s most economically powerful countries have endorsed recommendations contained within a landmark report on the future of the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR). Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, General Secretary of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, helped shape key elements of the 52-page strategic plan, which was warmly received by 10 Downing Street, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Britain’s Parliament. Mr. Staquf serves as one of 16 members of the Indo-Pacific Commission, which is chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a major foreign policy speech that accompanied the launch of the Commission’s report, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed “the UK’s acknowledgment of the strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific Region” and said: “I endorse the report’s vision for a reinvigorated community of free and independent nations with a single overriding goal, namely: to reinforce a sustainable rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific that is resilient but adaptable to the great power realities of the 21st century.”


“How can we – Muslims and non-Muslims together – prevent another atrocity like the one in Christchurch? As I have watched New Zealanders of all faiths mourn, this has been the question on my mind. So far, few of the answers offered have come close to the truth.

What the massacre revealed was the need for a clear understanding of the weaponisation of ethnic, religious and political identities that is going on throughout the world. This was Brenton Tarrant’s evil aim: to contribute to a polarisation of the West – and to a parallel phenomenon in the Muslim world. His actions, which eerily resemble those of Isil and other Islamist terror groups, were calculated to intensify the hostility and suspicion that already exist towards Muslims in the West. They were also designed to elicit a response from Islamists and so encourage a cycle of retaliatory violence.

We must not let him, or anyone else, succeed. Solidarity across racial, religious, cultural and political lines to address this global crisis is the only answer. But this means resolutely acknowledging the causal factors of the violence that we are seeing in so many parts of the world. As a Muslim, this leads me to questions that require difficult but honest answers.” Read the full article (PDF).

Advising the European Union on issues related to Islam, terrorism, security and migration. In July of 2017, the Rotating Presidency of the EU Council introduced NU/Bayt ar-Rahmah policy recommendations via the EU Council TWP (Terrorism Working Party) to help reconcile severe policy differences—triggered by mass migration—that have strained relations between Western European nations led by Germany and the V4 (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). In a formal address to the EU Council TWP, the NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf told the European Union and its 28 Member States that “lasting peace cannot be attained without addressing those elements of orthodox Islam that underlie and animate jihadist movements and constitute their center of gravity. Islam must reform itself in order to live in peace with the rest of the world.” The NU General Secretary’s speech to the EU Council TWP is part of a larger effort to establish a common platform capable of addressing issues that threaten not only international peace and security, but EU solidarity as well.

Nahdlatul Ulama General Secretary’s “Message to Europe” helped shape public discourse amid the heat of Germany’s 2017 national election campaign. In June of 2017, several organizations affiliated with the spiritual wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama—including Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, Bayt ar-Rahmah and LibForAll Foundation—launched a strategic messaging campaign and began implementation of the road map. On August 19 one of Germany’s leading newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), published a hard-hitting interview with NU General Secretary Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, which promptly went viral amidst an historic election campaign in Germany. Mr. Staquf’s message was quickly translated and conveyed via print and internet/social media throughout the EU, eliciting a strong, favorable response across the political spectrum and the continent, in regions as diverse as Spain, Belgium, Poland, Denmark and Finland.

The timing and extent of media coverage within Germany—combined with a nuanced analysis of that nation’s September 24, 2017 election results—suggest that Mr. Staquf’s FAZ interview legitimized public discourse regarding the relationship between terrorism and Islam, and thereby accelerated European voters’ abandonment of political parties that refuse to acknowledge any causal relationship between Islamist terrorism and certain problematic elements of orthodox Islamic teachings and practice. This result is in keeping with GP Ansor and Bayt ar-Rahmah’s strategy to develop a peaceful, common platform and alternative bloc in support of the principles, strategy and objectives articulated in the Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam, including the need to identify and contain the threat posed by Islamist extremism.

Scholar Cites NU General Secretary’s Role in Stripping Saudi Control of Brussels Terror Mosque, after three years in which Belgians played a prominent role in Islamic State attacks in the Belgian capital as well as Paris. “I view this as a positive sign,” said KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf when asked about the controversy raging over control of Brussels’ Grand Mosque. “Both the Saudis and Europeans are having to confront the real world consequences of their respective policies related to Islam. Rather than deny that there’s any causal relationship between terrorism and certain problematic tenets within orthodox Islam—such as enmity between Muslims and non-Muslims, which the Saudi religious establishment has deliberately fostered for decades—both sides need to acknowledge this problem and address it.”

White House Declares Support for @NahdlatulUlama. In May of 2018, the Vice President of the United States invited NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf to the White House, where they discussed the pressing need for religious freedom and for decisive action to bring this about. Within minutes of their meeting, the Vice President tweeted: “@POTUS Trump Administration stands with NU in its fight for religious freedom and against jihad.” News of the meeting quickly spread to major media outlets in the U.S. and Indonesia. Christianity Today reported, “US supports major Sunni group’s effort to fight radicalization… [The NU] has been championed as a model of ‘moderate Islam’” and quoted Pence saying, “As the largest Muslim majority nation, Indonesia’s tradition of modern Islam, frankly, is the inspiration to the world.”

In May of 2018 President Joko Widodo appointed NU General Secretary K.H. Yahya Cholil Staquf to the 9-member Dewan Pertimbangan Presiden (Presidential Advisory Council), a constitutionally-authorized body whose members may attend cabinet meetings and are accorded a rank equivalent to Minister of State. Mr. Staquf advises President Jokowi and the Indonesian government at large on religious, domestic and international affairs.

KH. Achmad Nadhif Mudjib, KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf and KH. Aunullah Habib with
Palestinian academic Dr. Ali al-Awar at the Noble Sanctuary (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem

Conflict Resolution

Indonesian Muslim Leader Delivers a “Message of Compassion,” and Reconciliation, from the Holy City of Jerusalem. Following a high-profile visit to the United States in May of 2018—which entailed substantive meetings with VPOTUS and other senior U.S. government officials—the General Secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization, Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), elicited widespread praise and a firestorm of controversy by visiting Jerusalem from June 9 – 15 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.

Middle East expert James Dorsey observed that Mr. Staquf’s “series of meetings in recent weeks [in Washington, DC and Jerusalem] signal a global shift” in geopolitical dynamics, with the NU General Secretary “promoting the concept of rahma[h] or compassion and mercy as the basis for a solution to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the forging of relations between Israel and the Muslim world.”

Spreading unity through song in one of the world’s most divided cities. On October 9, 2018, the Asia Society—founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III—honored the social music initiative Koolulam with its coveted “Game Changer Award,” in recognition of the group’s collaboration with Bayt ar-Rahmah, Jerusalem.com and the Tower of David Museum, which allowed its site in Jerusalem’s old city to be used free of charge in the production of an historic music video.

The award-winning video—created in honor of NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf’s visit to Jerusalem—is part of a comprehensive, global campaign to transform religion from a political weapon into a source of universal love and compassion, coordinated by LibForAll and Bayt ar-Rahmah.

New Theological Discourse to Recontextualize
Islamic Teachings for the Modern Era

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia delivers the opening address at the 2019 National Conference of NU Religious Scholars, (“2019 Munas”) in the presence of top theologians from Indonesia and the Middle East

World First: Nahdlatul Ulama Abolishes the Legal Category of “Infidel” within Islamic Law. In a major break with Islamic conservatism, the world’s largest Muslim movement—Nahdlatul Ulama—has abolished the legal category of infidels, those who do not adhere to Islam, which has long cast a shadow over the faith’s relationships with other religions.

The Central Board of the Indonesian movement recently published documents, based on a gathering of some 20,000 Muslim religious scholars (“2019 Munas”) that endorsed the concept of a nation state rather than caliphate and recognized all citizens irrespective of religion, ethnicity or creed as having equal rights and obligations.

The documents 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.

Hudson Institute’s Current Trends in Islamist Ideology: “Nahdlatul Ulama has emerged as a formidable challenger to powerful state actors in the battle for the soul of Islam.” A leading U.S. think tank has published an in-depth analysis of “The Battle for the Soul of Islam,” reporting that Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama has emerged as a formidable contender in the Islamic world’s competition for religious soft power and leadership — capable of operating on the same level as states such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey and Iran.

Soon after its publication, the article was nominated for the prestigious European Press Prize, amidst the intense debate that followed the beheading of a French school teacher and other Islamist attacks committed in Nice, Vienna and Dresden.

NU spiritual leader KH. A. Mustafa Bisri (center) greets Reverend Johnnie Moore

Multi-Faith Vanguard Joins Global Humanitarian Islam Movement. A coalition of international religious and political figures joined leaders of the Nahdlatul Ulama in signing the Nusantara Statement at the Second Global Unity Forum held on October 25 – 26, 2018 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Signatories “call[ed] upon people of goodwill of every faith and nation to join in building a global consensus to prevent the political weaponization of Islam, whether by Muslims or non-Muslims, and to curtail the spread of communal hatred by fostering the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.”

For the first time since the late Middle Ages, a large body of Sunni Muslim authorities are engaged in a wide-ranging, concerted and explicit project of theological renewal (i.e., reform). The Nusantara Statement (text above) contains the core message of the 40-page Nusantara Manifesto, which employs the science of uṣūl al-fiqh—the methodology of independent legal reasoning used to create Islamic law—to examine why it is theologically valid and necessary for contemporary Muslim scholars to recontextualize obsolete and problematic tenets within Islamic orthodoxy that justify religious hatred, supremacy and violence, and thus enable the weaponization of Islam for political purposes. Gerakan Pemuda Ansor and Bayt ar-Rahmah officially adopted the historic Nusantara Manifesto through a Joint Resolution and Decree signed at the Second Global Unity Forum.

GP Ansor promulgates the Nusantara Statement before President Jokowi and 100,000
members of Ansor and its militia Banser in Pekalong, Central Java on November 22, 2018

Grassroots Movement to Build Societal Consensus
and the Political Will Necessary to Resolve the Crisis

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and Gerakan Pemuda Ansor move to block the political weaponization of Islam. One month after GP Ansor and its international NU affiliate, Bayt ar-Rahmah, hosted the Second Global Unity Forum in Yogyakarta, Ansor promulgated the Nusantara Statement at a mass gathering of over 100,000 of its members, heavily covered by Indonesia’s print, broadcast and internet media. After a public reading of the text by Ansor Chairman H. Yaqut Qoumas, a commemorative steel plaque engraved with the Statement was presented to President Jokowi. The Statement conveys the essence of the historic Nusantara Manifesto, through which GP Ansor and Bayt ar-Rahmah have initiated a systematic and explicit effort to recontextualize (i.e., reform) obsolete and problematic tenets within Islamic orthodoxy.

Internet meme showing a young tough wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Thank God I’m not PKS” (a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated political party), as he tells a young woman, “Accuse me of anything you want, as long as you don’t accuse me of being PKS!”

Historic visit to Jerusalem helped shape public discourse amid the heat of Indonesia’s 2018 regional election campaign. Controversy surrounding the visit and public interest in Mr. Staquf’s message saturated Indonesian media, adversely impacting Islamist political parties’ results in gubernatorial elections across the heavily-populated island of Java, which dominates Indonesian politics.

The morning after regional elections, headlines across Indonesia proclaimed: “All the PKS (i.e., Muslim Brotherhood) ‘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 [religious scholars]. Obey them.’”