The grave of H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid in Jombang, East Java, which millions of pilgrims visit annually. The inscription on his tombstone—“Here Rests a Humanist”—is written in Indonesian, Arabic, English and Chinese.

“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

“People who are convinced that they know more than anyone else about Islam, and yet are full of hatred towards any of God’s creatures who do not travel the same path as they; and those who claim themselves to be in possession of the absolute truth, and for that reason entitled to act as God’s vice-regents on earth (caliphs) and to dictate how everyone else must live—clearly, their words and behavior will not lead us into the presence of God. Their dream of an Islamic state is merely an illusion, for the true Islamic state is not to be found in the structure of any government, but rather, in hearts which are open to God and all His creatures.”

~ H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, from his introduction to The Illusion of an Islamic State

Sri Ayati’s Legacy, by Dutch artist John van der Sterren

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 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.

Sri Ayati’s Legacy

The inspiration for Humanitarian Islam is the unique example of the 15th 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.

“Gunungan” used in Javanese wayang kulit (shadow puppet theater), a Mountain-like Figure Symbolizing the Universe. Left: Cosmic tree emerges from the Void (“suwung”) of the “Divine Being That Encompasses All Things.” Right: “Conflagration of spiritual ignorance (ego) that purifies the world.”

Islam Nusantara inspired the establishment of the Nahdlatul Ulama in 1926, in direct response to the Wahhabi conquest of Mecca and Medina and the imposition of “a grasping and materialistic Islam—coarse, cruel and savage.” (Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri, addressing the Festival of East Indies Saints in Demak, Central Java, on February 22, 2014).

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) founder Hadratusy Syaikh KH. Hasyim Asy’ari, depicted alongside the NU and Indonesian flags. In the center of the picture stands the unique minaret of the Kudus Mosque in Central Java, which follows the Hindu-Buddhist architectural style of the Majapahit era.

Indonesia’s Coat of Arms, the Garuda Pancasila. Each of the Five Principles are represented upon a shield borne by the Garuda—a mythical creature from Indonesia’s Hindu-Buddhist tradition—which grips the national motto, “Unity Amid Diversity,” between its talons.

Islam Nusantara also inspired the founders of Indonesia to establish their newly-independent nation as a multi-religious state (NKRI) rooted in Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or “Unity Amid Diversity” and Pancasila, or “the Five Principles”: belief in the one and only God; a just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; democracy guided by inner wisdom, and arising out of deliberations by elected representatives; and social justice for all the people of Indonesia.

For nearly a century, NU theologians have developed an extensive body of religious discourse that secures the legitimacy of NKRI and demonstrates the feasibility of cooperation between ulama and statesmen to develop theologically-legitimate modern socio-political systems that promote the welfare of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

During its 27th national congress held in Situbondo, East Java, in 1984 the elected chairman of the NU Supreme Council, Kyai Haji Achmad Shiddiq, established a theological framework for the concept of brotherhood that was not limited to Muslims (ukhuwwah islamiyah), but also encompassed all the citizens of a nation (ukhuwwah wathaniyah) and, indeed, the brotherhood of all humanity (ukhuwwah basyariyah), anticipating by over three decades the Charter on Human Fraternity jointly signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb in February of 2019.

In 1992—at a National Gathering of Religious Scholars held in Lampung, under the leadership of NU chairman H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, who would become Indonesia’s first democratically-elected president—Nahdlatul Ulama explicitly acknowledged that the changing context of reality necessitates the creation of new interpretations of Islamic law and orthodox Islamic teaching.

President Wahid further articulated this vision for Humanitarian Islam during the final months of his life. He hoped to mobilize the concentrated energies of the West to “help Islam,” by joining people of goodwill of every faith and nation in a global movement, imbued with the spirit of Islam Nusantara, to marginalize and discredit Islamist extremism among Muslim populations worldwide.

Following his death, several close friends and associates of Abdurrahman Wahid established Bayt ar-Rahmah li ad-Da‘wa al-Islamiyah Rahmatan li al-‘Alamin (Home of Divine Grace for Revealing and Nurturing Islam as a Blessing for All Creation), to serve as a hub for the worldwide expansion of NU operations and realize President Wahid’s vision.

[Add language about Pak Yahya and Holland founding Humanitarian Islam (Joint Resolution and Decree pt. 9) mention Borden]

In February of 2014, Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council and Bayt ar-Rahmah Chairman, Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri, initiated the Islam Nusantara movement, in conjunction with the Festival of East Indies Saints (Mahrajan Wali- Wali Jawi)—to celebrate, propagate and defend the legacy of the Wali Songo at a time of enormous upheaval and bloodshed in the Middle East caused by “Islamic proselytism (da‘wah) [that] has been violating the principles advocated by the noble Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him.” (KH. A. Mustofa Bisri, Festival of East Indies Saints).

The following years saw the mobilization of a large body of Sunni Muslim authorities to engage in a wide-ranging, concerted and explicit project of theological renewal (i.e., reform) for the first time since the late Middle Ages. A series of historic declarations form the basis for this renewal, including the ISOMIL Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration (2016); the First Global Unity Forum Declaration (2016); the Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam (2017); and, most recently, the Nusantara Statement and Nusantara Manifesto (2018).

In support of these efforts, a coalition of international religious and political figures participating in the Second Global Unity Forum—held on October 25 – 26, 2018 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia—joined leaders of the Nahdlatul Ulama in signing the Nusantara Statement, which contains the essence of the longer Nusantara Manifesto and constitutes both an open invitation to join the burgeoning global movement for Humanitarian Islam and an articulation of the movement’s objectives.

Participants at the Second Global Unity Forum