The Economist: “Indonesia wants to export moderate Islam”

The world’s largest Muslim-majority country enters the Islamic debate

WESTMINSTER, London — On 16 August 2023, the world’s most influential English-language news magazine published an article that confirms both Nahdlatul Ulama’s, and Indonesia’s, rising international influence. In a feature titled “Indonesia wants to export moderate Islam,” The Economist credited Nahdlatul Ulama for preserving Indonesia’s traditions of religious pluralism and tolerance, while projecting these values on the world stage.

The news story highlighted NU’s Centennial Proclamation, with its “call for the abandonment of the Caliphate,” and a 2019 fiqh (Islamic-jurisprudential) ruling that Muslims should “accept the reality of the nation state,” as well as “reject the concept of kafir, or infidel, and accept non-Muslims as fellow citizens.”   The Economist also noted the significance of the G20 Religion Forum (R20) and the ASEAN Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue Conference (IIDC), which Nahdlatul Ulama convened in November 2022 and August 2023, respectively.

Indonesia wants to export moderate Islam

The world’s largest Muslim-majority country enters the Islamic debate

Sunni, sea and sand image: angga budhiyanto/zuma press/eyevine

Aug 16th 2023 | JAKARTA

On Christmas eve 22 years ago, jihadist terrorists planted bombs at churches in cities across Indonesia, killing 18 people. Every Christmas since then, members of the country’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), have gathered outside churches in Indonesia to ensure that Christians can worship in safety. Now the powerful Islamic organisation has a more ambitious goal: to spread its moderate views across the Muslim world.

Despite being the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia has long punched below its weight in the big Islamic debates. The dominant Muslim ideas, spiritual and political, long emanated from the conservative Middle East. This is apparent among Indonesia’s 237m Muslims. Demonstrations of Middle-Eastern-style public piety have become much more common in recent decades. Many more women now wear a Muslim headscarf, or hijab. Yet most Indonesians still hew to the region’s syncretic traditions. In East Java, NU’s heartland, they mingle Islam with local Javanese beliefs called kejawen.

The country’s state ideology, known as pancasila, encourages such moderation. It forbids atheism but allows religious freedom. Indonesia has six official religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Its main Muslim organisations are now pushing for a more inclusive, tolerant Islam that reflects the spirit of pancasila.

The views of NU, in particular, have heft. The group claims to have over 100m followers—including several members of President Joko Widodo’s cabinet—and runs 23,000 Islamic boarding schools and over 250 universities. In February over a million of its followers clogged the streets of Sidoarjo, a city in East Java, for the group’s centenary celebrations. Many of the country’s top political figures, including the president (who is known as Jokowi), attended the event. NU used it to formally call for the abandonment of the caliphate, a notional authority that is considered to oversee all Muslims…

Read the full article on The Economist website (paywall).

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