God Needs No Defense

H.E. KH. Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gus Dur”)

“Omnipotent, and existing as absolute and eternal Truth, nothing could possibly threaten God. And as ar-Rahman (the Merciful) and ar-Rahim (the Compassionate), God has no enemies. Those who claim to defend God, Islam or the Prophet are thus either deluding themselves, or manipulating religion for their own mundane and political purposes.”

“People who are convinced that they know more than anyone else about Islam, and yet are full of hatred towards any of God’s creatures who do not travel the same path as they; and those who claim themselves to be in possession of the absolute truth, and for that reason entitled to act as God’s vice-regents on earth (caliphs) and to dictate how everyone else must live—clearly, their words and behavior will not lead us into the presence of God. Their dream of an Islamic state is merely an illusion, for the true Islamic state is not to be found in the structure of any government, but rather, in hearts which are open to God and all His creatures.”

~ H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, from his introduction to The Illusion of an Islamic State

“The Divine Grace of Islam Nusantara”

“In the East Indies, Islam did not face the enormous political and military challenges that existed in the Middle East. As a result, those who proselytized Islam in the Malay Archipelago could immediately address the very nature and essence of religion itself: that is, spirituality… the immense richness of the inner life. . . the life of the soul. As it so happened, this was perfectly compatible with the pre-existing Nusantara civilization, which viewed religion as a means to develop human potential in its entirety, not merely in a physical or material sense, but rather, and above all, our spiritual potential.”

~ KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, The Divine Grace of Islam Nusantara

  1. For thousands of years, Nusantara (the Malay Archipelago) has been a civilizational crossroads and home to a wide array of peoples, cultures and religious beliefs. In their collective wisdom, the inhabitants of these islands developed a unique civilization founded upon the principle of “unity amid diversity” (bhinneka tunggal ika), which inspired the creation of Indonesia as a multi-religious and pluralistic state.
  1. A key element of this ancient “civilizational wisdom” is the ability not only to grasp but also prioritize, individually and collectively, the spiritual essence of religion, rather than purely formal and dogmatic elements that readily lend themselves to weaponization and, in the wrong hands, foster conflict rather than social unity.
  1. This distinguishing characteristic of Nusantara society—i.e., the impulse to position spiritual wisdom, rather than dogma, as the central pillar of socio-cultural, religious and political life—enabled Nusantara civilization to embrace the essence of newly arrived religions; neutralize their potentially divisive effects; and transform religious pluralism into a source of social unity and strength, by cultivating humility, compassion and respect for others, rather than fear and hatred. By fostering social harmony and peaceful co-existence among and between those of widely varying ethnicities, cultures and faiths, religion served Nusantara inhabitants as a path to attain spiritual nobility, rather than a pragmatic means to claim privilege and/or supremacy vis-à-vis others.”

~ Nusantara Manifesto, October 25, 2018

It was this “civilizational wisdom” that inspired the creation of Indonesia as a multi-religious and pluralistic state in 1945, and enabled KH. Abdurrahman Wahid—backed by Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization—to transform it into the world’s third largest democracy following the overthrow of President Suharto’s authoritarian regime in 1998. Drawing upon his unshakable faith in Islam as rahmah (universal love and compassion), President Wahid established a free press; liberated Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese population from severe discrimination and the denial of basic civil and political rights; restored civilian control of the military; eliminated the Indonesian army’s role in politics, after 32 years of dictatorship; established regional autonomy; and preserved the political foundation of Indonesia—as a multi-religious and pluralistic state—in the face of serious challenges posed by extremist political parties and their opportunistic allies.

During the final months of his life, President Wahid expressed a keen desire to mobilize the concentrated energies of America and the West to “help Islam,” by joining people of good will of every faith and nation in the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategy, designed to marginalize and discredit Islamist extremism among Muslim populations worldwide. This “big idea” exemplifies the values of Islam Nusantara, and lies at the heart of our strategic vision.

Co-founders of Bayt ar-Rahmah and the “Humanitarian Islam” movement (above) — Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri (center) and C. Holland Taylor (center left) — with KH. Muhammad Yusuf Chudlori (left), KH. Dian Nafi (center right) and Hussein Syifa (right) at the Indonesian launch of The Illusion of an Islamic State on May 16, 2009. Edited by H. E. KH. Abdurrahman Wahid, the book derailed the political aspirations of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party PKS and other transnational Islamist groups hostile to Indonesia’s tradition of religious pluralism and tolerance.

Below, spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama and former Chairman of its Supreme Council, KH. A. Mustofa Bisri (“Gus Mus”). Called “Sang Kyai Pembelajar” — the Great Religious Scholar Devoted to Learning — by followers of the NU, Gus Mus is also a distinguished public intellectual, painter and poet.

Strategic Vision

Towards a Reform of Islamic Teachings, and Principles, Regarding Muslim/Non-Muslim Relations

by Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf
Remarks delivered at the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents’ Club
December 13, 2016

Dalam Dunia Fana

In This Perishable World

by Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf

Published and widely distributed in July 2014, amid blatant attempts to steal Indonesia’s presidential election.
A vibrant and courageous civil society movement
—rooted in a profoundly spiritual understanding of Islam—
succeeded in preserving the nation’s democracy.

Dedicated to H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid and all who share in his struggle for good governance and democratic reform

In this savage, transitory world,
will you strive to create your own destiny
or delegate that authority to someone else
who promises to fight on your behalf?

Amid a sea of competition,
where so many seek a comfortable resting place,
will you join hands (with others who are upright)
and participate in the desperate (struggle),
for the cause of human dignity?
Or will you eagerly join the stampede,
stretching out your hands
as you scramble and fight to grab
(politicians’) handouts
and (attract their grudging) benevolence (to you)?