Nahdlatul Ulama convenes International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders (ISOMIL) and issues historic declaration. On May 9 and 10, 2016, approximately 400 traditional Muslim scholars from 30 nations gathered to attend an International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders sponsored by the world’s largest Muslim organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and its affiliate Bayt ar-Rahmah. At the Summit’s conclusion, the NU Central Board promulgated a 16-point declaration that affirmed the mainstream nature of the NU’s understanding and practice of traditional Sunni Islam; identified the salient factors driving Islamist extremism and terror worldwide; and committed the NU to develop a global alliance capable of addressing the twin threats of Sunni and Shi’ite extremism.
The event featured expert presentations and detailed discussion of the relationship between Islam and nationalism; the unchecked spread of religious extremism, terror, armed conflict in the Middle East and a rising tide of Islamophobia in the West; the role of certain Middle East governments in fostering the spread of sectarian hatred; and the need for an honest appraisal of, and response to, Islamist extremism and terror.
Nahdlatul Ulama Youth Movement Hosts Global Unity Forum — Urges Reform of Classical Islamic Law. On May 12, 2016, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish leaders gathered to attend a Global Unity Forum co-sponsored by the world’s largest Muslim youth organization, Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, and Bayt ar-Rahmah. At the Forum’s conclusion, GP Ansor issued a 3-page declaration that includes “The GP Ansor Call. . . 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 those perceived to be ‘non-Muslim.’”
According to senior NU and Ansor leaders, the declaration issued at the Global Unity Forum provides the requisite theological grounds to summon an international gathering of Muslim scholars (bahtsul masa’il), whose deliberations are expected to establish a road map for the reform of classical Islamic law, in order to meet the needs and circumstances of Muslims living in the 21st century.
Indonesians Seek to Export a Modernized Vision of Islam
by Joe Cochrane
“JAKARTA, Indonesia — The imposing, six-foot-tall painting is a potent symbol of modern Indonesian history: the country’s founding father, Sukarno, cradling a dead, barefoot rebel killed by Dutch colonial forces amid rice fields and smoldering volcanoes in late-1940s Java.
“The fighter’s bloodied shirt draws immediate attention — but so does a necklace dangling from the body: a Christian cross, worn by the independence martyr for the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
“The 2006 painting has become the symbol of a global initiative by the Indonesian youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest mass Islamic organization in the world, that seeks to reinterpret Islamic law dating from the Middle Ages in ways that conform to 21st-century norms.” Read the full article (PDF).
World’s largest Muslim youth organization publishes detailed road map for the reform of Islamic orthodoxy. 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.”
Nusantara Manifesto initiates the renewal of Islamic teachings through the recontextualization (i.e., reform) of obsolete tenets within Islamic orthodoxy. 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). In the words of KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, General Secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council, “This effort will address obsolete tenets within Islamic orthodoxy; realign these problematic tenets with 21st century ‘civilizational reality’; block their political weaponization; and 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.”
This reform effort was officially launched by Gerakan Pemuda Ansor—the NU young adults movement, with over 7 million members—and its international affiliate, Bayt ar-Rahmah, through a Joint Resolution and Decree that incorporates the Nusantara Manifesto, which Ansor and Bayt ar-Rahmah leaders signed during a plenary session of the Second Global Unity Forum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on October 25, 2018. The Nusantara Manifesto builds on a centuries-old tradition of de facto renewal (tajdīd) practiced by Indonesian ulama (Muslim scholars), as exemplified by the late Indonesian President and NU Chairman H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, whose seminal article, “God Needs No Defense,” is incorporated as Section §11.3 of the Manifesto. The Manifesto also builds upon three previous declarations: the ISOMIL Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration; the First Global Unity Forum Declaration; and the Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam.
General Chairman of Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, H. Yaqut Qoumas, says “By adopting the Nusantara Manifesto, Ansor and Bayt ar-Rahmah are moving systematically, and institutionally, to address 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. This call to nobility reflects the primary message of Islam, and of President Wahid, as demonstrated by the Manifesto.”
Reforming the Faith: Indonesia’s Battle for the Soul of Islam
Veteran foreign correspondent, Middle East expert and Senior Fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Dr. James M. Dorsey, has written a comprehensive, 22-page analysis of Humanitarian Islam—a global, multi-faith movement guided by the spiritual leadership of the world’s largest Muslim organization, Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). The movement seeks to reform obsolete and problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy that enjoin religious hatred, supremacy and violence. Titled “Reforming the Faith,” Dorsey’s wide-ranging article examines the history, challenges and potentially far-reaching consequences of the NU leaders’ effort to block the weaponization of Islam for political purposes, which fuels Islamist extremism and terror worldwide. In his conclusion, Dr. Dorsey observes that:
“Nahdlatul Ulama’s campaign amounts to more than simply confronting ultra-conservatism and militancy. It is a pushback against the notion that secularism and pluralism are expressions of a Western conspiracy to undermine Islam. . . If successful, Nahdlatul Ulama’s strategy could have far-reaching consequences. For many Middle Eastern autocrats, adopting a more tolerant, pluralistic interpretation of Islam would mean allowing far greater social and political freedoms and embracing concepts of pluralism. That would likely lead to a weakening of their grip on power.”
Pope Francis to NU leaders: “Pray for me and I shall pray for you. We are all brothers.” On September 24 and 25, 2019, a delegation of Indonesian Muslim and Roman Catholic leaders met with senior Vatican officials to discuss the global Humanitarian Islam movement and possible cooperation with the Vatican in promoting a shared humanist agenda. The multi-faith delegation was jointly led by Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf (“Gus Yahya”), Religious Affairs Advisor to the President of Indonesia and General Secretary of the world’s largest Muslim organization—Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—and Monsignor Agustinus Agus, the Archbishop of Pontianak in West Kalimantan (Borneo).
The delegation also included the senior-most leadership of Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, NU’s 5-million-member young adults movement; scholars from of one of Indonesia’s most prestigious Islamic boarding schools, PP. Krapyak; a group of Dominican priests; and Indonesian businessman Paulus Totok Lusida. Senior journalists from Indonesia’s two leading print media groups, Kompas and Jawa Pos, accompanied the delegation and covered its meetings in depth.
Mr. Staquf’s conversation with Pope Francis—held near St. Peter’s Basilica in the heart of Vatican City—constituted the centerpiece for two days of intensive discussions between key NU and Roman Catholic figures, examining how the universal values shared by Christian humanism and the Humanitarian Islam movement may contribute to the emergence of a global civilization endowed with noble character.
Nahdlatul Ulama rejects the relevance of “Infidel” as a legal category within the context of modern nation states. 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.
At the 2019 Munas, ulama (religious scholars) and their disciples witnessed or directly participated in the creation of new fiqh (Islamic legal rulings) adopted through a process of collective ijtihad, the use of independent reasoning to formulate Islamic law. Known as al-istinbath al-jama‘iy, this process was authorized by the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board and its National Congress during the 15-year tenure of former NU Chairman H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, from 1984 – 1999.
With Indonesia being the world’s largest Muslim nation and Nahdlatul Ulama wielding significant influence within the government of President Joko Widodo, the recontextualization of Islamic texts is likely to reverberate throughout the Muslim world at a time of rising religious ultra-conservatism.
This represents the latest step in a long-term, systematic and institutional process, through which Nahdlatul Ulama spiritual leaders are moving to address obsolete and problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy often used to justify religious supremacism, hatred and violence.
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.
Who is a ‘kafir’?
Mustafa Akyol | November 01, 2019
AT the magnificent St Peter’s Square in Rome recently, Pope Francis welcomed a group of unusual guests: members of Nahdlatul Ulema (NU) from the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia. The head of the delegation, Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf, gave the pontiff documents outlining the vision of a “humanitarian Islam” his organisation has been promoting.
The tenets of this vision reject Islamism — the politicised version of Islam that aims to establish the caliphate as a political system, and to make Sharia the law of the land, despite the diversity in modern societies. It also includes a proposal that is quite new and ambitious: that Muslims should stop calling non-Muslims ‘kafirs’. This is necessary, the Indonesian Sheikh Staquf said, so that Muslims can “view others as a fellow human beings, fellow brothers in humanity”. Read the full article.
Humanity’s ability to live together in peace and harmony—and the very lives of both Christians and peaceful Muslims in many parts of the world—are threatened by radical Islamic elements. The World Evangelical Alliance and a major Muslim organization have agreed to work together to combat threats to their shared values and articulate a positive alternative. This article explains why such an effort is justified and how it hopes to make a global impact.
On 19 April 2007, as I was preparing to teach a theology class for a low-visibility evangelical seminary in Turkey, I read an email and felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. Terrorists had slit the throats of three men—two Turkish converts from Islam to Christianity, one German missionary. One of them had enrolled in my class. Read the full article (PDF).
Al-Arab (The Arabs), a leading Arabic-language newspaper founded in 1977
Indonesia is Washington’s Gateway for Promoting Islamic Reform
Supporting local Islamic groups is an American recipe for confronting fundamentalism.
Tuesday, 27 October 2020
Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama—an Islamic mass movement—is hosting a two-day conference in the capital Jakarta to explore the “shared civilizational aspirations” of Indonesia, the United States and Islam. The event will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is pushing his administration to promote Islamic reform. Read the full article.
Global evangelical leader and scholar urges “Christians to develop extensive interfaith cooperation with Humanitarian Islam.” The world’s largest Protestant organization has endorsed the Humanitarian Islam movement as an essential vehicle for peacefully and definitively resolving “the Muslim-Christian clash of civilizations, which started almost 1,500 years ago.”
On the day that Pope Francis commenced an historic papal visit to Iraq — which included a meeting with the world’s preeminent Shi‘ite spiritual leader and a tour of Mosul, until recently a stronghold of the defeated ISIS caliphate — the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Theological Commission published Humanitarian Islam, Evangelical Christianity, and the Clash of Civilizations: A New Partnership for Peace and Religious Freedom.
The book’s author, Dr. Thomas K. Johnson, serves the World Evangelical Alliance as senior theological advisor, and is WEA’s Special Envoy to the Vatican and its Special Envoy for Engaging Humanitarian Islam. Reverend Johnson is also Co-chair of the Humanitarian Islam/WEA Joint Working Group, which was established in April of 2020. Through this mechanism, according to religious freedom expert Paul Marshall, “[what] may be the most important movement in the Islamic world. . . is engaged in active alliance with Christians and others.”
In a chapter titled “A Comprehensive Muslim Solution to Religious Violence,” Reverend Johnson observes:
A careful examination of the ethics of Humanitarian Islam finds that Muslims of this type support religious freedom and human rights for Christians and people of other faiths. But this ethic goes much farther. Though presented as a Muslim alternative to extremist violence, Humanitarian Islam contains a serious assessment of universal moral norms, the relation between faith and reason, fundamental human goods, the laws (both civil and religious) needed to protect those human goods, and the role of religions in societies. A comparison of Humanitarian Muslim philosophy and ethics with Christian ethics and philosophy of law reveals that, amidst the great global threats, Christians and Humanitarian Muslims are ideological allies and should treat each other as such.
“The Voice of Moderate Muslims”
In Indonesia, the renewal of Islam is easier than in the Arab heartland
by Rainer Hermann
The encounters were important simply because of their symbolism. However, they have not produced a sustainable Christian-Islamic dialogue. In 2019, Pope Francis issued a declaration on the fraternity of all people with the Egyptian Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and in 2021 he visited the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Iraq. As early as 2007, the then Saudi King Abdullah was a guest of Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican State. However, this has not led to theological cooperation.
Greater hopes are attached to the dialogue currently led by two large independent organizations: the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), whose national member organizations include several hundred million Christians, and the Indonesian Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest independent Islamic organization with more than 90 million members. A year ago, they founded a joint working group that wants to be a voice against religiously motivated violence and religious persecution. Read the full article (PDF).
God Needs No Defense: Reimagining Muslim–Christian Relations in the 21st Century. Spiritual leaders of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama have published a Festschrift, or collection of essays, honoring Bishop Thomas Schirrmacher, the newly appointed Secretary General & CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
“We hope this book will mark the beginning of a long and important journey of these two religions [Islam and Christianity] towards a more harmonious relationship, characterized by peaceful co-existence,” NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf told an audience of nearly 1,000 religious freedom activists and government leaders gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, for the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit.
Titled God Needs No Defense: Reimagining Muslim–Christian Relations in the 21st Century, the 228-page anthology was jointly published by the Institute for Humanitarian Islam, the Center for Shared Civilizational Values and the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission.
Does Nahdlatul Ulama offer a solution to the Muslim world’s authoritarian malaise? One of the world’s preeminent scholars of political Islam — Turkish American Professor Ahmet T. Kuru — has highlighted Humanitarian Islam’s transformative potential as an alternative to the mosque-state alliance that has kept much of the Muslim world trapped in a cycle of authoritarianism, underdevelopment and violence for centuries.
Titled “How the world’s biggest Islamic organization drives religious reform in Indonesia,” Professor Kuru’s article originally appeared in The Conversation, a multi-lingual network of media outlets that publishes news stories written by academic experts and researchers. The article was also prominently featured by a number of leading news, educational and foreign policy outlets — including AP, Religion News Service, International Policy Digest and Britannica — and translated into Bosnian, French, German, Indonesian, Spanish and Turkish.
One of Europe’s foremost scholars of jihadism and Islamic law has published an in-depth analysis of the indigenization of Islam within Indonesia and its recent emergence upon the world stage as the Humanitarian Islam movement. Humanitarian Islam offers a unique, dynamic and universal alternative to the supremacist, political understanding of Islamic law that animates Islamist ideology and has trapped much of the Muslim world in a cycle of authoritarianism, underdevelopment and violence for centuries
The 21-page analysis, titled “Fiqh Reconsidered: Indigenization and Universalization of Islamic Law in Indonesia,” was written by Rüdiger Lohlker, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Vienna’s Oriental Institute and a renowned expert on the links between Islamic theology and Islamist terrorism. Read the full article (PDF).