On May 22nd, 2018, Indonesia’s leading English-language daily, The Jakarta Post, published a collection of articles that analyzed the progress and prospects for reform in the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy, twenty years after the fall of Soeharto. Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, General Secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council, contributed an 1,800-word essay in which he examined the perennial Islamist threat to Indonesia and its roots within Islamic orthodoxy.
As Mr. Staquf writes: “[O]ne thing cannot be denied: the aspiration for Islam to attain political domination is, indeed, an intrinsic part of orthodox Islamic teachings, if we employ the term ‘Islamic orthodoxy’ to describe ‘an array of theological doctrines accepted, by the majority of Muslims, as the most authoritative religious reference standard.’ And how could this not be the case? Islamic orthodoxy includes a remarkably extensive discourse about public law, both civil and criminal, which is generally described as ‘God’s law’ (sharia) — or at least, as ‘the interpretation of God’s law’ — which must be operationalized in daily life. Obviously, this cannot be achieved without political domination by those who wish to implement sharia, which precisely describes the Islamist agenda. . . .
“So long as obsolete, medieval tenets within Islamic orthodoxy remain the dominant source of religious authority throughout the Muslim world, Indonesian Islamists will continue to draw power and sustenance from developments in the world at large…. Preservation of Indonesia’s unique civilizational heritage — which gave birth to the Republic of Indonesia as a multi-religious and pluralistic nation-state — requires the successful implementation of a global strategy to develop a new Islamic orthodoxy, which reflects the actual circumstances of the modern world in which Muslims must live and practice their faith.”