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“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 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 Yahya Cholil Staquf

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).

JAKARTA: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is determined to strengthen the efforts of the world’s largest Islamic mass movement to reform the faith’s prevailing religious discourse. The Secretary of State will be visiting Indonesia during the last leg of a tour of three Asian nations, as U.S. strategy increasingly focuses upon supporting tajdid (renewal) movements capable of accomplishing Islamic reform and mobilizing Muslim communities against radicalism and terror. 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).

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).

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 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).

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.

Click to view the video.

by Rizki Nugraha

After visiting Israel and meeting with PM Netanyahu, Indonesian cleric Yahya Cholil Staquf has received criticism at home. In a DW interview, he said that a “reinterpretation” of Islam is necessary for peace.

“I ask clerics from all religions to think about what solutions religion can offer to various conflicts that are engulfing the world today. Religion is often used as justification and even weapon for conflict. Is religion really just for this or does it offer a solution?” Read the full article (PDF).

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).

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 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 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).

by Paul Marshall

“The 50-mile route from Surabaya airport to this East Java city was lined with tens of thousands of banners wishing peace and success to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest Muslim organization, as participants gathered in August for its latest five-year congress. . . .

“In Indonesia, the congress was a major event. It opened with a speech by the country’s president; each day it was the lead item on TV news and in national newspapers. But apart from the presence of diplomats at the opening and reporting by specialized academics, it mostly passed unnoticed in the West.

“This is tragic, since a few days spent at the congress of the world’s largest Muslim organization would reshape most Westerners’ perception of Islam. While groups such as ISIS demand a many-sided, including military, response, long-term antidotes to growing Islamic extremism can only be found in organizations such as NU.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Muhammad Abul 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).

Al-Ahram (The Pyramids)

by Muhammad Abul Fadl

“The vital role of the Nahdlatul Ulama stems from its success as a mediator between the Indonesian government and its people. The NU can maintain a harmonious relationship between the government and the people due to its spiritual values, political engagement and mass following, which combine a profound understanding of Islam with respect for the inherent variety of Indonesia’s countless local cultures. That is why the Nahdlatul Ulama has consistently nurtured the values of Islam Nusantara (East Indies Islam) for over a century, and is now poised to export its collective wisdom and experience throughout the world, for the benefit of humanity.” Read the full article (PDF).

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