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.

Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon and Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Chairman H. Yaqut Qoumas

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.

“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).

KH. Abdul Ghofur Maemun (Vice Chairman, NU Supreme Council); KH. Masdar Mas’udi (Vice Chairman, NU Supreme Council): KH. Abdul A’la (Rector, Sunan Ampel State Islamic University); Dr. Hamdi Murad (Jordan)

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.”

Nahdlatul Ulama, Gerakan Pemuda Ansor and Bayt ar-Rahmah leaders including KH. M. Luthfi Thomafi, H. Abdul Rochman, H. Yaqut Qoumas, KH. Aunullah Habib, C. Holland Taylor, KH. A. Mustofa Bisri and KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf

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.”

Ansor General Chairman H. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, addressing members of Banser—Ansor’s militia, who guard its religious scholars and their nation from the threat of Islamist extremism—at an event titled “Strengthening the Spirit of Nationalism; Conveying the Treasures of Islam Nusantara to Humanity, for the Sake of World Peace”

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.”

Read the full article (PDF).

Pope Francis and NU General Secretary KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf discuss the foundational texts of the Humanitarian Islam movement, following a general audience at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican

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.

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

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.

Thomas K. Johnson

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

Local groups lead the battle for Islam’s renewal

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.