Yahya Cholil Staquf

Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf is a distinguished Muslim scholar and the co-founder of a global movement (“Humanitarian Islam”) that seeks to reform obsolete tenets of Islamic orthodoxy that enjoin religious hatred, supremacy and violence, by restoring rahmah (universal love and compassion) to its rightful place as the primary message of Islam. As General Secretary of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—the world’s largest Muslim organization, with over 90 million members and 21,000 madrasahs—Mr. Staquf is bringing the civilizational wisdom and spiritual authority of Islam Nusantara (East Indies Islam) to the world stage, where a harsh, repressive and all-too-often violent understanding of Islam has predominated for decades.

Mr. Staquf is descended from a long and illustrious line of Javanese ulama (religious scholars), including the renowned Bisri family of Rembang, Central Java. Educated from earliest childhood in the formal and esoteric (spiritual) sciences of Islam—by his father, grandfather and uncle—Mr. Staquf later became a disciple of venerated Islamic scholar and Chairman of the NU Supreme Council, Kyai Haji Ali Maksum (1915 – 1989), studying classical Islamic sciences under his direct tutelage at the prestigious al-Munawwir Krapyak madrasah in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. KH. Ali Maksum was himself a disciple of Shaykh Umar Hamdan al-Makki (1858 – 1948) and Shaykh Hasan Masshat al-Makki (1900 – 1979) of Mecca, and mentored several of Indonesia’s most influential modern figures, including its first democratically elected head of state, H.E. KH. Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gus Dur,” 1940 – 2009), and Mr. Staquf’s uncle, the widely revered religious scholar, public intellectual, painter and poet, KH. A. Mustofa Bisri (“Gus Mus,” 1944 – present), who also served as Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council.

Shaykh Yahya and Gus Mus greet followers at their Madrassah, PP Raudlatut Thalibin, one of the most respected Islamic boarding schools in Southeast Asia.

Inspired by President Wahid’s moral and spiritual vision Mr. Staquf co-founded the U.S.-based religious entity Bayt ar-Rahmah li ad-Da‘wa al-Islamiyah Rahmatan li al-‘Alamin (Home of Divine Grace for Revealing and Nurturing Islam as a Blessing for All Creation) in 2014, and the Institute for Humanitarian Islam and Center for Shared Civilizational Values in 2021. These closely affiliated organizations seek to prevent the political weaponization of identity; curtail the spread of communal hatred; promote solidarity and respect among the diverse people, cultures, and nations of the world; and foster the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.

In pursuit of these objectives, Mr. Staquf has mobilized a large body of Sunni Muslim authorities to engage in a wide-ranging, concerted and explicit project of theological renewal (i.e., reform) for the first time since the late Middle Ages. A series of historic declarations drafted by Mr. Staquf form the basis for this renewal, enabling the creation, institutional adoption, publication and widespread dissemination of an extensive theological and sociological framework for the reform of obsolete and problematic tenets within Islamic orthodoxy by Nahdlatul Ulama and its 5-million-member young adults movement, Gerakan Pemuda Ansor.

Mr. Staquf’s vigorous promotion of rahmah as a basis for conflict resolution has been hailed by international experts and cited by sponsors of an international campaign to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the NU and Muhammadiyah. The book Dua Menyemai Damai (Two Peaceful Forces)—published in January of 2019 by Gadjah Mada University in cooperation with Indonesia’s State Secretariat—describes the Islam Nusantara campaign; the ISOMIL Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration; Humanitarian Islam; the Nusantara Manifesto; and Mr. Staquf’s historic trip to Jerusalem, which achieved “the seemingly impossible, in forging a path towards peace [between Israel and the Palestinians], through a mission initiated by Gus Dur and recently continued by K.H. Yahya Cholil Staquf.”

“Yahya Cholil Staquf has bravely shown us an example [of how to tackle Islamism]”

~ Sir John Jenkins
former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Mr. Staquf is regularly consulted on a wide range of domestic and international affairs. From 2020 – 2021 he served on Policy Exchange’s 16-member Indo-Pacific Commission—chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper—whose landmark report was praised by current and former Prime Ministers of Japan; Australia; and the United Kingdom for its compelling vision of “a reinvigorated community of free and independent nations with a single overriding goal, namely: to reinforce a sustainable rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific that is resilient but adaptable to the great power realities of the 21st century.”

A former member of Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s Presidential Advisory Council, with a protocol rank equivalent to Minister of State, Mr. Staquf also serves as GP Ansor’s Emissary to the Islamic World and as the Emissary for Indonesia’s largest Islamic political party, PKB (which is rooted in the spiritual wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama), to Centrist Democrat International (IDC – CDI) and the European People’s Party (EPP)—the largest political network in Europe and the world. Mr. Staquf is increasingly regarded, by international observers, as a potential linchpin in efforts to forge a global, values-driven alliance dedicated to strengthening the rules-based international order at a time of rising geopolitical uncertainty and widespread human rights abuse.

“I don’t see any other Muslim leaders coming to Europe, standing up like a tower and saying, ‘Look, we’re prepared to take this on’. . . breaking new ground by proposing to make changes to Islamic law to better fit the modern era.”

~ Terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp on CNN

Delivering a “Message of Compassion” in Jerusalem

“We need to find a new, moral, interpretation of religion that will guide people of different faiths to have more harmonious relations with one another.”

Watch the Video

“One Love” in Jerusalem

In honor of the historic visit to Israel by Yahya Cholil Staquf, Jews, Christians and Muslims who had never met before gathered at midnight, after the final day of Ramadan, to sing one song in three languages and in three-part vocal harmony.

Watch the Video

EU Council Terrorism Working Party

“You cannot win if you do not fight back.”

Watch the Video

“[A]mong the Muslim world’s most incisive and outspoken reformers”

~ Paul Marshall
Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University

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

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)?

Amid a siege of brigands
do you have the strength
to endure the torment still longer,
to sacrifice yet more,
for the sake of human dignity and self-respect?
Or do you prefer to survive as best you can,
allowing criminals to grab whatever they please (from others),
so long as they toss a few scraps your way?

Later, standing before a mirror
will you have the courage
to look at yourself,
or will you turn away
in order to sleep better at night?

Will your great-grandchildren
be slaves who curse you
(for having sold their future to tyrants)?
Or will they be indomitable men and women
who shed tears whenever they recall
your bitter tribulation and service (to God and humanity)?

“Muslims, Jews, and Christians should take their cue from Yahya Cholil Staquf. . . Moderates have to find the moral courage to speak out when their own religions are hijacked by extremists, just as Mr. Staquf has. When his courage and clarity become the norm we may have the chance to slay the dragon of hate.”

~ Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Biography and Profile Photos

Download Yahya Cholil Staquf’s one-page or three-paragraph biography.