Egypt’s largest newspaper — state-owned al-Ahram — publishes call for the world to acknowledge and cooperate with Indonesia and Nahdlatul Ulama

“It is important for us to note, and draw the attention of the entire world, to the fact that from 1945 to the present day… Indonesian leaders have steadfastly resisted Islamist efforts to transform their nation into the center of an Islamic state encompassing much of Asia.”
~ Hisham al-Najjar,
al-Ahram (The Pyramids)

CAIRO, Egypt — On Christmas Day 2023, one of the oldest and most influential newspapers in the Arab world, Egypt’s state-owned al-Ahram, published an article highlighting the vital role Indonesia has played, for nearly 80 years, in blocking the spread of Islamist extremism in the Muslim world and beyond, and the similar role played by Egypt.

Had the governments of Egypt and Indonesia not prevented the establishment of transnational Islamic states in Egypt, North Africa, and the Levant, and in Southeast Asia, the world would be faced with a situation in which religious extremists had consolidated political and military power in the heartland of the Arab world and in much of Southeast Asia, as political Islam spread from Indonesia to Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma, Singapore, and beyond. These geopolitically strategic regions would threaten non-Muslims worldwide in a manner that would make the church bombings of Christmas Eve 2000, the 2002 Bali bombings, the 1997 Luxor massacre, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 appear trivial in comparison.

The article’s author, Hisham al-Najjar, enjoys a close relationship with the Egyptian military. In May 2023, he was awarded the title of Distinguished National Leader by Egypt’s highest military educational facility, Nasser High Military Academy for Strategic Studies, whose Supreme Council is headed by the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Mr. al-Najjar has also been honored by Egypt’s National Defense College.

Lieutenant General Osama Askar (front row, center), Chief of Staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces, attends a discussion of a primary research topic at the Nasser High Military Academy for Strategic Studies in Cairo

In his article, Hisham al-Najjar states that for generations Europe and America have failed to recognize or constructively engage with Nahdlatul Ulama, or with leaders of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority and Arab nations — Indonesia and Egypt — in their efforts to address the threat of Islamist extremism in a responsible manner. Rather, the West has cooperated in the spread of religious extremism in the Middle East, including that fostered by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Palestinian affiliate is Hamas, and by Jewish extremists in Israel.

The article concludes with a damning observation:

What is occurring today in Gaza has reached the peak of the Western world’s insanity, indifference, and disregard for the consequences of sowing extremism and empowering it to kill and destroy without borders.

Mr. al-Najjar’s article marks the second time in 2023 that Egypt’s al-Ahram has published a major analytical piece in support of Nahdlatul Ulama and calling upon the nations of the world — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — to back its efforts to promote a humane understanding and practice of Islam worldwide.

The complete text of Hisham al-Najjar’s article may be read below in English translation and in both English and the original Arabic via PDF.

Every December Nahdlatul Ulama followers commemorate the death of Riyanto — a member of Banser, NU’s youth wing militia — who sacrificed himself to protect Christians. The 25-year-old died when a terrorist bomb exploded in his hands, ripping his body to shreds. Riyanto had discovered and was removing the bomb from a Protestant church in East Java just before its congregation gathered for Christmas Eve services in 2000.

al-Ahram (The Pyramids)
(est. 1875), one of the oldest and most widely-read newspapers in the Arab world

Indonesia and Egypt Offer a Path to International Peace and Security

by Hisham al-Najjar  |  25 December 2023  |  Cairo

Both President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and Indonesia’s eighth president — who will be elected by over 200 million voters in early 2024 — shall begin their new terms in office with a strategic approach to geopolitics and a message to the world that has been systematically conveyed by their respective nations since the 1950s: “We Muslims, and Arabs, are peacemakers.”

In 1940 — eight years before the establishment of Israel [and five years before Indonesia’s declaration of independence] — Nahdlatul Ulama voiced its support for Sukarno to become Indonesia’s first president: proof of the Islamic group’s support for a modern, republican system of government. At the famous 1936 Banjarmasin Congress, Nahdlatul Ulama declared that Indonesia was Dar al-Islam (the “House of Islam”), by which NU meant to convey that the still-colonized people and nation of Indonesia sought liberty, prosperity, and independence, rather than to establish an expansionist Islamic state and/or caliphate [as required by classical Islamic law].

Even before its birth as an independent nation state, Nahdlatul Ulama defined the identity of the incipient Indonesian state as multireligious, pluralistic, and “quasi-secular”: i.e., one that respects and sustains religious faith without imposing religious doctrine or teachings from the top down. Rather, imams, religious institutions, mosques, and schools are encouraged to propagate religious values, so that these become part of society’s moral fabric.

Sukarno proposed the final formulation of Indonesia’s state ideology of Pancasila following extensive discussions that led to its inclusion in the nation’s 1945 Constitution. Over time, many elements of Islamic personal law were introduced to address issues specific to Muslims, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance. From 1945 until the present — that is, for nearly eight decades, as Indonesia has been governed by seven different presidents — Indonesian society has remained firmly rooted in the principle of unity amid diversity and coexistence between different faiths.

It is important for us to note, and draw the attention of the entire world, to the fact that from 1945 to the present day, from Sukarno to Joko Widodo, generations of political and religious leaders, public intellectuals, and educators have, with enormous effort, contributed to Indonesia’s development as a modern nation state — indeed, the most populous Muslim-majority nation on earth — while steadfastly resisting Islamist efforts to transform their nation into the center of an Islamic state encompassing much of Asia. Beginning in 1948, the same year Israel was founded, a group named Darul Islam sought to establish a trans-national Islamic state. Nearly all subsequent extremist groups in Indonesia emerged from the Darul Islam movement, as occurred with its counterpart, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood [which directly or indirectly gave birth to countless extremist groups, including Hamas, al-Qaeda, and ISIS].

Sukarno broke ties with Kartosoewirjo, the founder of Darul Islam, due to their disagreement regarding the identity of the Indonesian state. Kartosoewirjo went on to plan Sukarno’s assassination, and every Indonesian president since Sukarno has had to battle Darul Islam’s ideological descendants, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, al-Jama‘a al-Islamiyya, and local branches of al-Qaeda and ISIS, among others. Had the governments of Egypt and Indonesia not prevented the establishment of transnational Islamic states in Egypt, North Africa, and the Levant, and in Southeast Asia, the world would be faced with a situation in which religious extremists had consolidated political and military power in the heartland of the Arab world and in much of Southeast Asia, as political Islam spread from Indonesia to Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Burma, Singapore, and beyond. These geopolitically strategic regions would threaten non-Muslims worldwide in a manner that would make the church bombings of Christmas Eve 2000, the 2002 Bali bombings, the 1997 Luxor massacre, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 appear trivial in comparison.

From the time of Sukarno, Indonesia has performed the same remarkable service to humanity as Egypt from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The Arab and Islamic world — from Jakarta to Cairo — chose not to establish theocratic states, but instead to receive repeated hammer-blows to protect the world from the madness of Islamist extremism. Political leaders have been assassinated [e.g., Anwar Sadat], while armed takfiri groups [who declare their Muslim opponents to be apostates, and thus legitimate targets] have attacked government institutions and personnel in both Egypt and Indonesia. Arab and Islamic nations have fought and sacrificed not only to defend their own societies from Islamist extremism, but also to foster peace among the world’s nations.

Europe and America, however, have neither acknowledged nor returned this favor. Rather — from the establishment of Israel upon a foundation of religious supremacism and colonial settlement until today — the West has treated the Muslim world with scorn, abuse, systematic wars of extermination, the plunder of nations, the seizing of private property, and violation of holy sites, while consistently empowering an expansionist religious entity that acts with savage force [against its opponents]. What is occurring today in Gaza has reached the peak of the Western world’s insanity, indifference, and disregard for the consequences of sowing extremism and empowering it to kill and destroy without borders.

English translation (from Arabic) by Thomas G. Dinham.

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