Special advisor to Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman performs haj — one of the five “pillars of Islam” — for the first time, in the company of NU spiritual leaders

“Because of his devoted service to Nahdlatul Ulama, Gus Yahya bestowed a ‘special gift’ upon Mr. Taylor: an invitation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform the haj pilgrimage”
~ Suara Merdeka (The Voice of Freedom)

C. Holland Taylor (aka Muhammad Kholil) at Mount Arafat with senior NU leaders including KH. Miftahul Akhyar, Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council; KH. Afifuddin Muhajir, Deputy Chair of the Supreme Council; and the heads of prominent pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) KH. Abdul Hamid Wahid; KH. Ahmad Jauhari; and KH. Ubaidillah Faqih

MINA (MECCA), Saudi Arabia — On 30 June 2023 (12 Dhuʻl-Hijjah, 1444 H) senior leaders of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization, held a selamatan ceremony (traditional meal accompanied by prayer) to formalize the awarding of an Arabic name to C. Holland Taylor, following his successful completion of the haj for the first time. Mr. Taylor serves as Special Advisor for International Affairs to the General Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board, Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf. At Mr. Staquf’s request, Mr. Taylor assumed the name Muhammad Kholil during his pilgrimage to Mecca in the company of more than forty Nahdlatul Ulama leaders.

Still image from a short TVNU film about Mr. Taylor and his pilgrimage to Mecca

Mr. Staquf personally selected each member of this group of Nahdlatul Ulama leaders. They traveled to Saudi Arabia with all expenses paid, using special haj visas issued under the royal authority of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and the Saudi Minister of Religious Affairs. Under normal circumstances, the haj waitlist for residents of Central and East Java, the heartland of Nahdlatul Ulama, is over 40 years.

It is common practice among Javanese Muslims, and Nahdlatul Ulama leaders in particular, to assume an Arabic name following their completion of the haj. KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf requested that Holland Taylor adopt the name of his father, KH. Muhammad Cholil Bisri, a preeminent religious scholar. Kyai Muhammad Cholil Bisri was the scion of an illustrious line of Javanese ulama, including Mr. Staquf’s paternal grandfather, KH. Bisri Mustofa, and Mr. Staquf’s great-grandfather, KH. Kholil Harun. Kyai Kholil Harun was himself a close associate of those who, with the blessing of Shaykh Kholil Bangkalan, founded Nahdlatul Ulama in 1926.

Senior NU leaders outside Masjid al-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina, prior to entering the oldest section of the mosque, and performing pilgrimage to the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad (saw.)

In the days immediately following his return to Indonesia, thousands of people visited Mr. Taylor at his home in Borobudur, Central Java, as reported in the newspaper Suara Merdeka (Voice of Freedom):

The practice of visiting people who have returned from the haj is normal. But this visit to receive prayers and blessings was by KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board (PBNU), to Nahdliyin [NU member] Charles Holland Taylor at his home in Borobudur, Magelang.

Mr. Taylor is not just any returning pilgrim. In Borobudur, the American man who became Javanese is now known as Haji Muhammad Kholil.

Who is the pilgrim visited by PBNU Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, accompanied by NU’s Deputy General Secretary H. Najib Azca, who himself recently completed the haj alongside Mr. Taylor?

The man originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, United States, converted to Islam in 2003….

“PBNU Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf visiting Charles Holland Taylor, who had just returned from haj (photo by Wahyu Atmadji)” ~ Suara Merdeka

One of Nahdlatul Ulama’s media arms, TVNU, produced a short biographical video about Mr. Taylor titled Pak Kaji Muh, as Mr. Staquf requested NU followers to address Mr. Taylor upon his return from the haj. Mr. Staquf’s father, KH. Muhammad Cholil Bisri, was affectionately addressed as “Pak Kaji Muh” (“Uncle Haji Muhammad”) by relatives following his completion of the pilgrimage to Mecca in the 1960s.

The biographical video (which may be viewed below) traces Mr. Taylor’s friendship and close working relationship with former NU Chairman and Indonesia’s first democratically elected president H.E. KH. Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gus Dur”); with Mr. Staquf’s paternal uncle and former chairman of the NU Supreme Council, KH. A. Mustofa Bisri (“Gus Mus”); and with Mr. Staquf himself (“Gus Yahya”). The film also highlights Mr. Taylor’s years-long immersion in the study and practice of Javanese mysticism, including the Babad Tanah Jawi (History of the Land of Java) and Surat Cabolek, classics of Javanese literature that were of profound interest to President Wahid as well.

Haji Muhammad Kholil and family visiting KH. A. Mustofa Bisri (“Gus Mus”) — former Chairman of the NU Supreme Council, as well as co-founder and Chairman of the Center for Shared Civilizational Values — at his home in Rembang, Central Java. Gus Mus is accompanied by his daughter Raabiatul Bisyriyah. “Pak Kaji Muh” is accompanied by his wife, Nining Niluh Sudarti, and their children: Charles Bhagaskara, Carolina Bhanurasmi, and Renate Elianne Vameshvari Taylor.

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