2022_12_12_A Curious Courtship

As G20 Presidency moves to India, the R20 “is part of a larger Muslim struggle that is likely to define Islam in the 21st century”

“India is not where the battle for the soul of the world’s major religions, including Islam and Hinduism, will be decided, but it is the battle’s next arena.”
~ James M. Dorsey

R20 participants from India observe a Hindu ritual at Prambanan Temple on the Indonesian island of Java

BANGKOK, Thailand, 12 December 2022 — Geopolitical expert and commentator James M. Dorsey has written an extensive, 1,300-word analysis of the intensifying soft power competition surrounding the G20 Religion Forum, or R20, the results of which will determine whether Muslims “choose between taking the high or the low road to coming to grips with history.

“The high road involves confronting painful truths in a quest for a healthier, more pluralistic, and socially cohesive society. The low road allows autocrats to either rewrite history or sweep it under the table and opportunistically bend it to their will.”

Founded by Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf in 2022 in conjunction with Indonesia’s Presidency of the G20, the next R20 Summit will occur in India in 2023. At stake, observes Dr. Dorsey, is whether the event will retain its original focus “on coming to grips with the problematic histories of various religions, including Islam, to generate genuine religious reform” or follow other interfaith summits and become “geared towards themes likely to curry favour in Western capitals.” Continue reading full communiqué. . . 

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2022_12_01_The Muslim 500

NU Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf recognized as one of the 20 most influential Muslims in the world

AMMAN, Jordan, 1 December 2022 — The Muslim 500, the world’s premier index of Muslim power and influence, has acknowledged KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf as among the world’s 20 most influential Muslims in its newly released 2023 edition. This comes amid a rising tide of international recognition for the Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman and organizations that he has founded, including Bayt ar-Rahmah, the Humanitarian Islam movement, the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, and the G20 Religion Forum, or R20.

At number 19, Mr. Staquf is ranked just nine places below Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia — an indication of Nahdlatul Ulama’s enormous influence. The Muslim 500 describes Nahdlatul Ulama as “the world’s largest Muslim organisation, [which] teaches that the primary message of Islam is universal love and compassion.” Continue reading full communiqué. . . 

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2022_11_29_India-Indonesia Strategic Partnership

High-level Ulama Delegation of “National Treasures” Visits India in the Wake of R20 Summit

“We take pride in our relations with Indonesia, which have been elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in recent years.”
~ India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval

NEW DELHI, India, 29 November 2022 — The India Islamic Cultural Center hosted a day-long dialogue on the role of ulama, or Muslim scholars, in fostering interfaith peace and social harmony in India and Indonesia, as part of a comprehensive strategic partnership emerging between the world’s largest and third largest democracies.

India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and his Indonesian counterpart, Mahfud MD, held two days of high-level discussions that included meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its Minister of External Affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. As Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, the Honorable Mahfud MD led a 25-member Indonesian delegation that included senior Muslim scholars and representatives of other faiths including Roman Catholicism and Hinduism. Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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2022_11_22_The Times of Israel

Geopolitical Analyst Dr. James M. Dorsey, writing in The Times of Israel:

“Major Muslim and Hindu organisations are battling to define the role of religion in global politics”

WEST JERUSALEM, Israel — On 22 November 2022, leading international affairs expert Dr. James M. Dorsey published an in-depth analysis of the recently concluded G20 Religion Forum (R20) and its geopolitical ramifications. Writing in The Times of Israel, a multi-language newspaper that documents developments in Israel, the Middle East, and around the Jewish world, Dr. Dorsey argued that the R20 “positioned Nahdlatul Ulama. . . . as a leading force in defining moderate Islam and promoting concepts of genuine religious reform not only of Islam but also of other major faiths such as Hinduism.”

Dr. Dorsey went on to observe that “from Nahdlatul Ulama’s perspective, jurisprudential reform of religious law is the key to positioning religion ‘as a source of solutions, not problems.’”

The article, titled “Behind lofty declarations, major Muslim and Hindu groups compete for power,” describes Nahdlatul Ulama’s engagement with the Muslim World League — which NU invited to co-host the R20 — as “a bold but risky strategy that also underlies Nahdlatul Ulama’s engagement with Hindu nationalism.” Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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2022_11_09_The Hill

German Marshall Fund scholar hails the G20 Religion Forum (R20) as “the world’s most important interfaith venue”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On 9 November 2022, The Hill, a top U.S. political newspaper that is widely read by Washington insiders, published an article describing the newly established G20 Religion Forum (R20) as “hugely significant” and “in just its first year, the world’s most important interfaith venue.”

According to the author, Muddassar Ahmed, a visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund:

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 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. Three hundred senior leaders from the world’s major faith traditions explored how to interject religious frameworks into questions of global governance. . . .

It’s not only the world’s many people of faith who gain from having their religious leaders exposed to high-level political conversations that connect the West and other parts of the world. The same can be said for secular leaders enriched by the insights of faith leaders they might never have otherwise interacted with — how, after all, can Western leaders pursue global challenges without understanding what shapes most global sentiments?

But what if I told you that’s not the most important thing about the R20? Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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2022_11_03_R20 Bali Communiqué

The G20 Religion Forum (R20)
Final Communiqué

“[T]he R20 is mobilizing religious, social, economic, and political leaders from throughout the world to ensure that religion functions as a genuine and dynamic source of solutions, rather than problems.
~ R20 Bali Communiqué, point 3

BALI, Indonesia, 3 November 2022 — Following two days of intense and substantive discussion among over 400 religious leaders and scholars gathered from around the world and across its major faith traditions, the first annual G20 Religion Forum, or R20, issued a final communiqué. Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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2022_11_03_Handover Ceremony

R20 Plenary Session 7: Handover Ceremony

“See you in India!”

“I think R20 has set in motion a tectonic force here in Bali. From Bali it will go to India, from there to Brazil, from there onwards to wherever G20 is held.”
~ Sri Ram Madhav Varanasi

BALI, Indonesia — Formal deliberations at the R20 Summit in Bali concluded with an official handover ceremony on the afternoon of 3 November 2022. KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, Founder and Chairman of the R20, passed the R20 banner to prominent Hindu leaders, who will host the R20 Summit during India’s 2023 presidency of the G20. Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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2022_11_03_R20 Plenary Session 6

G20 Religion Forum (R20) Plenary Session 6:

Spiritual Ecology:
Fostering Balance within Nature and Society

“A creation-inflected spirituality means that we celebrate the divine presence within all of God’s creatures, however we spell out the details of that presence. A sense of spirituality is precisely that which brings us closer to an appreciation of nature and a sense of awe before its wonders.”
~ Keynote Address by Rabbi Arthur Green

BALI, Indonesia — On the afternoon of 3 November 2022, Nahdlatul Ulama religious leaders announced the launch of the Spiritual Ecology movement during Plenary Session 6 of the R20 Summit. The opening speaker was Kyai Haji Jadul Maula, Chairman of the Institute of Indonesian Muslim Cultural Artists, or Lesbumi — an autonomous branch of the world’s largest Muslim organization.

Established in 1962, Lesbumi was originally intended to safeguard and strengthen traditional artistic communities that were threatened by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), whose “People’s Cultural Institute” (Lekra) sought to harness all artistic expression in the service of an atheistic, Marxist-Leninist agenda.

In recent decades, Lesbumi has vigorously defended traditional artistic communities threatened by the spread of Wahhabi/Muslim Brotherhood ideology, which demonizes the diverse cultural expressions of Islam Nusantara (“East Indies Islam”).

The symbol of Lesbumi (depicted above) is based on the gunungan (“mountain”, a.k.a. kayon, or “tree”), which constitutes an essential element of Javanese shadow puppet theater, or wayang kulit. Its shape reminiscent of a “fire mountain,” or volcano, the gunungan symbolizes the universe. Surrounded by wild animals, the kayon symbolizes the “cosmic tree,” which emerges from the Void (“suwung”) of the “Divine Being that encompasses all things” (“Hyang Maha Segalanya”). Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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2022_11_03_R20 Plenary Session 5

G20 Religion Forum (R20) Plenary Session 5:

What values do we need to develop to ensure peaceful co-existence?

“I believe that we can readily identify shared civilization-building ethical norms… that work against a clash of civilizations in the same way as the right medicine from our doctors can effectively counteract disease in our bodies.”
~ Rev. Professor Thomas K. Johnson

Rev. Dr. Paolo Benanti displaying a “deepfake” video of actor Morgan Freeman, generated by artificial intelligence, during Rev. Benanti’s presentation in Plenary Session 5

BALI, Indonesia, 3 November 2022 — The fifth plenary session of the R20 Summit featured a diverse array of religious leaders, scholars, and activists who discussed “the importance of developing a global consensus regarding shared values that the world’s diverse cultures will need to embrace if they are to co-exist peacefully” (R20 Founding Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf).

Speakers addressed a wide range of topics, including the need to bring moral and spiritual values to bear in institutional and governmental decision making; the threat to human dignity and freedom posed by artificial intelligence; the resurgence of tribalism worldwide; and the 2020 report of the US Department of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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2022_11_03_R20 Plenary Session 4

R20 Plenary Session 4:

What values do our respective traditions need to relinquish to ensure that religion functions as a genuine and dynamic source of solutions, rather than problems?

“Traditional religions travel heavy and do not throw texts away. They may think that they do not use a given problematic text anymore, so they lay it aside, but it returns. And in every generation, we may have to reread it again, and again.”
~ Keynote Address by Rabbi Alan Brill

BALI, Indonesia — On the morning of 3 November 2022, prominent religious leaders and scholars gathered at the R20 Summit to discuss teachings embedded within their respective religions that are, or were, incompatible with peaceful coexistence and a rules-based international order founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.

In his keynote address delivered at the opening plenary of the G20 Religion Forum (R20), NU Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf invited the world’s religious leaders to join Nahdlatul Ulama in an open and honest discussion about “what values our respective traditions need to relinquish, to ensure that religion functions as a genuine and dynamic source of solutions, rather than problems, in the 21st century.” Continue reading full communiqué. . .

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