by Joe Cochrane
“JAKARTA, Indonesia — The scene is horrifyingly familiar. Islamic State soldiers march a line of prisoners to a riverbank, shoot them one by one and dump their bodies over a blood-soaked dock into the water.
“But instead of the celebratory music and words of praise expected in a jihadi video, the soundtrack features the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, singing a Javanese mystical poem: ‘Many who memorize the Quran and Hadith love to condemn others as infidels while ignoring their own infidelity to God, their hearts and minds still mired in filth.’
“That powerful scene is one of many in a 90-minute film that amounts to a relentless, religious repudiation of the Islamic State and the opening salvo in a global campaign by the world’s largest Muslim group to challenge its ideology head-on. . .” Read the full article (PDF).
Al-Ahram (The Pyramids)
by Mohamed Abu Al-Fadl
“When I first wrote about ‘Indonesian Islam’ in this newspaper following a trip to Jakarta many years ago, the term — and its political and religious implications — astonished many. . . .
“The majority of Muslims look to the Arab world for guidance, but the failure of this region’s ulama to keep up with the transformations taking place will lead to the rug being pulled out from under them. For the openness adopted by Nahdlatul Ulama and its new Chairman, Yahya Cholil Staquf, will not stop at borders, nor be confined to one specific country or region. Mr. Staquf is following in the footsteps of the late NU leader and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid. Critical thinking, vigilance regarding the nation state, and overcoming the problems of difference between the heavenly religions is among the factors that will encourage more ijtihad to block the path of extremists. . . . For the trans-national caliphate desired by ISIS and al-Qaeda — and which subtly appears in the discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood — is viewed by NU as an obstacle in the way of its project and duty to establish a fiqh foundation that may solve a crisis that has continued for many long centuries.” Read the full article (PDF).
by Muddassar Ahmed
“A remarkable transformation has been taking place in the Muslim world, a years-long shift towards pluralism and tolerance belying common assumptions about Islam.
“Maybe we missed this earlier: A lot has been going on, after all. But last week in Bali, at the G20’s ground-breaking Religion Forum, the R20, that transformation took center stage. Not only is it an epochal moment in modern Islam, but this moment also helped create the world’s most important interfaith conversation.
“By expanding beyond the G7 to the G20 — the world’s 20 largest economies — the developed world has created more space for non-Western populations to enter the space of global governance and bring their perspectives and insights with them. That extends to The Hill 2 India, with the world’s largest Hindu population and a massive Muslim minority, as well as three Muslim-majority countries: Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
“Over the course of a week in Bali, I watched, spellbound. . .” Read the full article (PDF).
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).
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).
by Mohamed Abu Al-Fadl
“The great Indonesian Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—which is also the world’s largest, with 70 million followers—has begun to expand its operations internationally, to fill this gap. The NU represents the most tolerant face of Islam, which is compatible with Western societies’ values and traditions, and shows no sign of wishing to engage in conflict with the West.
“The Nahdlatul Ulama holds a view of Islam that its members describe as Islam Nusantara—East Indies, or Indonesian Islam—which emphasizes the adaptation of religion to local culture, and firmly rejects the ideology of extremist movements that have produced such a negative image of Islam in the West. This tolerant face of Islam, in Indonesia, accepts all the different religions and cultures that exist in the Malay Archipelago, and regards them as having a natural right to live side by side with Islam.
“Given the facts described above, the profoundly spiritual and tolerant worldview embodied in the term Islam Nusantara has begun to expand beyond its local framework to a global environment. Many lines of communication have been initiated between the Nahdlatul Ulama and various Western governments. [Spiritual leaders within] the Nahdlatul Ulama have begun to establish working relationships and operational nodes in many countries, operating under the organizational name, ‘Home of Divine Grace (Bayt ar-Rahmah).’ Each operational node propagates the model of tolerance embraced by the Nahdlatul Ulama—such as peaceful coexistence with others and respect for individuals’ right to privacy, including freedom of thought and conscience—and seeks to accomplish this by leveraging the profound humane and spiritual values that underlie and animate all religions.” Read the full article (PDF).
The future of civilization: Indonesia’s contribution
by H. Muhaimin Iskandar
“When preparing for the establishment of Indonesia as an independent nation state, our founding fathers did not concern themselves merely with the fate of Indonesia, while ignoring the rest of the world. The profound religious, philosophical, ethical and political principles upon which they established our nation were not designed to promote the interests of Indonesia alone. Our founding fathers contemplated the future of the entire world—proffering a set of noble aspirations that others could embrace, while striving to create a more dignified and auspicious future for all human beings, and for civilization as a whole.” Read the full article (PDF).
Humanitarian Islam: Fostering shared civilizational values to revitalize a rules-based international order
by Timothy Shah and Thomas Dinham
“The post-World War II rules-based international order is under severe stress, challenged by the emergence of “authoritarian, civilizationist states that do not accept [this] order, whether in terms of human rights, rule of law, democracy or respect for international borders and the sovereignty of other nations.”1 What also distinguishes “civilizationist” states—including Communist China and Putin’s Russia—is the weaponization of ethnic, religious and/or cultural identities, including their history and symbols, in order to consolidate and wield power vis-à-vis both internal and external enemies.” Read the full article (PDF).
by Rüdiger Lohlker | orcid: 0000-0002-3927-0783
Professor of Islamic Studies, Oriental Institute, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
“Developments in the Islamic world outside of the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region traditionally receive little scientific attention. . . .
“Often ignored because of the preoccupation in Europe with the development in the Arab world, Turkey and Iran, the important, paradigmatic case of Islamic law, to be more precise: fiqh, in Indonesia, may help to answer the following questions: to what extent can religious freedom, universal human rights and the rule of law be integrated in the legal conceptions of religious traditions? Can religions derive argumentative resources thereof against (renewed) political appropriation? In order to understand Islam nusantara, Islam in the Indonesian archipelago, as the living process of adapting to ever-changing circumstances, and not a mere collection of texts dear to any legal historian, there are some crucial texts that we can consult and that will help to conceptualize this living Indonesian Islam. The most important recent document is called the Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam – however, there are other documents to be discussed. . . .
“The last result of this ongoing process is a short statement called Nusantara Statement promulgated by [Nahdlatul Ulama’s 8-million-member young adults organization] Ansor at a mass rally on November 22, 2018, on the occasion of the birthday of the prophet (mawlid) and attended by the Indonesian president Joko Widodo.
“The statement reads:
“‘We call 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.’
“Thus, we witness a seemingly technical debate on the methodology of fiqh in Indonesia turning into a religio-political statement with a potentially global impact. We may understand this statement as the final proof of indigenization cum globalization cum universalization of fiqh in Indonesia.
“Hence, it is possible to understand this process of indigenization as the development of a genuine Indonesian school of thought beginning to operate at a global level and claiming Islam as part of the universal values of humanity and not excluding other Islamic and non-Islamic parts of the global society.” Read the full article (PDF).
Communalism will hurt India’s prospects, but the exaggerated portrayal of it by the Opposition will hurt us more. Right now, we need the political discourse to single-mindedly focus on the economy
“The 2020s will be to India what the 1980s were to China. A decade of singleminded focus on the economy could unleash the country’s latent potential and catapult it into the club of developed nations. . . .
“Communalism will hurt India’s prospects, but the exaggerated portrayal of it will hurt us more. Is the 1.3 billion-strong Indian society really polarised? Should some fringe elements be elevated to the status of ‘makers of the national narrative’ for a vast country like ours?. . . .
“Learning to live in harmony with the rest of our mainstream national society should be viewed as an important obligation. It is also important that the Muslim leadership come out of the Wahhabist hardline interpretations of Islam that seek to pit Muslim against non-Muslim and promote separatism and exclusivity. The return of debates like ‘hijab’ and ‘niqab’ is symptomatic of this as also the rise of violent, ultra-radical outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI). A more inclusive and humanitarian Islam on the lines of the one promoted by organisations like Nahdlatul Ulama, a 90-million-strong Islamic organisation in Indonesia under the dynamic leadership of its chairman Yahya Cholil Staquf aka Pak Yahya, must be the way forward for them.
“The reaction of sections of Hindus, including some wearing saffron robes, is also utterly un-Hindu. Violent language and talk of annihilation of an entire community smack of their attempt at semitisation of Hinduism. It is pertinent to note that mainstream Hindu organisations like the RSS have distanced themselves and disapproved of such rants.
“Talk of polarisation may be premature but the Indian social leadership needs to stand up to the forces of hatred and violence by invoking peace, inclusivity and a nation-first narrative. India’s narrative of the decade should be ‘it’s the economy, stupid!’ The onus lies on all of us.” Read the full article (PDF).
by Thomas K. Johnson, WEA senior theological advisor
“Giving a speech at the Nation’s Mosque in Washington, DC, was not something I was expecting to do when I graduated from a traditional Protestant seminary 40 years ago. But back then, I did not expect to spend years on religious freedom, I did not comprehend that Muslim-Christian conflicts dating back centuries would become an issue of global importance again, and I did not imagine that the world’s largest Muslim organization would want to work with the world’s largest evangelical organization to set a new direction in interfaith relations.
“The occasion for my speech, on 13 July, was the launch of a book I coedited with C. Holland Taylor, a Muslim counterpart. The book, called God Needs No Defense: Reimagining Muslim-Christian Relations in the 21st Century (available as a free download here), was introduced during the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington. It was published jointly by the Institute for Humanitarian Islam, the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, and the WEA Theological Commission.” Read the full article (PDF).
by Jonathan Benthall
“This article argues that the concept underpinning the R20, and the extent of its support, are new and deserve attention from those who study the intersection of religion and geopolitics in our day. It would be truly a game changer, I will suggest, if the R20 were to stimulate the world’s most important religious authorities to reform their traditions from within and become forces for peace, carrying along with them the huge number of adherents that each of them could mobilize. A more modest aim, with higher chances of being successful, would be for the NU to show that Indonesian Islam, more flexible and humanistic than the interpretations emanating from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has its own authenticity and popular backing, and hence need not defer to the Middle East. . . .
“[I]t seems achievable that the hold over Sunni Islamic orthodoxy currently exercised in Mecca and Medina and in Cairo, linked to autocratic governments, will be challenged by NU’s ideological assertiveness and popular support. As a follow-up to the R20 meeting in Bali, Islamic scholars will gather in February 2023 in Surabaya, Indonesia, to discuss ‘Islamic jurisprudence for a global civilization’. James Dorsey writes that this initiative is designed to undercut the interpretations of Islamic law that justify human rights abuses and enjoin absolute obedience to the ruler. These interpretations, still prevailing in Mecca, Medina and Cairo, are not challenged by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which with its 57 member states claims to be the collective voice of the Muslim world; and they offer insufficient protections against the rogue theologies that have underpinned Al-Qa`ida and ISIS. The consequences of Nahdlatul Ulama’s success could be far-reaching, although it is threatened by some political interests in Indonesia that for the last decade have set out to revert to the country’s authoritarian past.” Read the full article (PDF).
Recontextualize the teachings of Islam to address extremism—and to inspire reform.
by Yahya Cholil Staquf
“Why is the modern world plagued by Islamic extremism? Why do al Qaeda, Boko Haram and Islamic State display such savagery? As I told the United Nations General Assembly recently, the doctrine, goals and strategy of these extremists can be traced to specific tenets of Islam as historically practiced. Portions of classical Islamic law mandate Islamic supremacy, encourage enmity toward non-Muslims, and require the establishment of a universal Islamic state, or caliphate. ISIS is not an aberration from history. . . .
“Classical Islamic orthodoxy stipulates death as the punishment for apostasy and makes the rights of non-Muslims contingent on a Muslim sovereign’s will, offering few protections to nonbelievers outside this highly discriminatory framework. Millions of devout Muslims, including many in non-Muslim nations, regard the full implementation of these tenets as central to their faith. . . .
“The most enduring way to address an extremist religious ideology is to recontextualize its teachings and reform it from within. Four centuries ago, Catholics and Protestants routinely killed each other; now they coexist. I believe the same type of change can occur within Islam in one or two generations. What’s needed is a credible alternative that is consistent with Islamic orthodoxy and developed and promulgated by those with religious and political authority in the Muslim world.
“Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest independent Muslim organization, for which I serve as general secretary, is promoting such an alternative.” Read the full article (PDF).
by James M. Dorsey
“Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, has garnered international respect and recognition with its embrace of a Humanitarian Islam that recognizes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principles enshrined in it and has taken tangible steps to address Islamic concepts that it considers outdated. In doing so, Nahdlatul Ulama has emerged as a formidable challenger to powerful state actors in the battle for the soul of Islam.” Read the full article (PDF).
Award-winning music video created in honor of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) General Secretary’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. Read the communiqué.
Click to view the video.
Terrorism and Islam are Intimately Connected: A Conversation with Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, General Secretary of Indonesia’s Largest Muslim Organization
by Marco Stahlhut
“Many Western politicians and intellectuals say that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. What is your view, as leader of the world’s largest organization of Sunni Muslims, the Nahdlatul Ulama of Indonesia?
“‘Western politicians should stop pretending that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with Islam. There is a crystal clear relationship between fundamentalism, terror and the basic assumptions of Islamic orthodoxy. So long as we lack consensus regarding this matter, we cannot attain final victory over fundamentalist violence within Islam. Radical Islamic movements are nothing new. They’ve appeared again and again throughout our own history in Indonesia. The West must stop ascribing any and all discussion of these issues to ‘Islamophobia.’ Or do people want to accuse me—an Islamic scholar—of being an Islamophobe, too?’” Read the full article (PDF).
World’s largest Muslim group denounces Islamist extremism
by Ivan Watson
“It starts with a prayer, and then the world’s largest Muslim organization declares ideological war on groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. ‘We are like traditional opposition to supremacist Islamism’ (Yahya Staquf, Nahdlatul Ulama). Here in the world’s most populous Muslim country, senior Indonesian clerics like Yahya Staquf argue that the global jihadi movement cannot be defeated until world leaders and Muslims first acknowledge a basic fact. ‘We keep denying the source of the problem, namely, some elements within Islam itself.’
“‘I don’t see any other Muslim leaders coming to Europe, standing up like a tower and saying, ‘Look, we are prepared to take this on.” Terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp (Swedish National Defense College) says these Indonesian Muslim leaders are breaking new ground by proposing to make changes to Islamic law to better fit the modern era. . .”
Click to view the video.
by Manfred Gerstenfeld
“Few European politicians know that the world’s largest Muslim organization is a moderate one. The Indonesian Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) has more than 45 million members and tens of millions of additional sympathizers. Its secretary-general, Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, in a 2017 interview with the German daily Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, said Western politicians should stop saying extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with orthodox Islam. . .
“It would have been logical for Western governments to have looked for contacts with major moderate Muslim organizations abroad and incentivize them to set up representations in their countries. A recent visitor to Germany who met with senior officials in ministries told me, however, that ministry officials knew nothing or next to nothing about the NU.
“Trying to promote and support a representation of NU in Germany should have been a priority, as it has a consolidated view of what moderate contemporary Islam should be. Such an NU presence could be vocal and provide courses and literature, provided its security is assured. Even if the NU only served as a powerful focal point for Muslim moderates in the country, that would be a great gain.” Read the full article (PDF).
by Ram Madhav
The question of integrating immigrant Muslims into mainstream societies as equal citizens is bothering many countries today, writes BJP’s Ram Madhav.
“The question of integrating immigrant Muslims into mainstream societies as equal citizens is bothering many countries today. Rising lawlessness, street violence and gangsterism, mushrooming growth of madrasas and Arabic schools, increasing insistence on speaking in Arabic, wearing head-to-toe Burqa and occupying large public spaces for daily prayers have been seen by many in the West as deliberate acts of defiance to nation-state ideology. . . .
“One country that presents an interesting and emulative example is Indonesia, which also happens to be the world’s largest Muslim country. Indonesia has largely insulated its almost 240 million Muslim population from radical Islamist ideologies. It is the world’s third-largest democracy too, proving that Islam and democracy can go together.
“Besides its progressive leadership, from President Sukarno downwards, one organisation that has played a pivotal role in this reformist crusade was the Nahdlatul Ulama NU, Indonesia’s largest Muslim body. Starting in 1926, the NU has grown into a 90-million member strong organisation over decades and its leadership has fearlessly championed the cause of Islamic reform. . . . Unless serious efforts for greater integration on the lines of NU are made, the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims is bound to grow. Fundamentalism breeds fundamentalism. In India and Europe, Islamist exclusivism is giving rise to anti-Islamist radicalism.” Read the full article (PDF).
To prevent another Christchurch, Islam must confront the attacks in its name that have radicalised the West
by Yahya Cholil Staquf
“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).