Al-Ahram (The Pyramids)

by Mohamed Abu Al-Fadl

“When I first wrote about ‘Indonesian Islam’ in this newspaper following a trip to Jakarta many years ago, the term — and its political and religious implications — astonished many.…

“The majority of Muslims look to the Arab world for guidance, but the failure of this region’s ulama to keep up with the transformations taking place will lead to the rug being pulled out from under them. For the openness adopted by Nahdlatul Ulama and its new Chairman, Yahya Cholil Staquf, will not stop at borders, nor be confined to one specific country or region. Mr. Staquf is following in the footsteps of the late NU leader and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid. Critical thinking, vigilance regarding the nation state, and overcoming the problems of difference between the heavenly religions is among the factors that will encourage more ijtihad to block the path of extremists…. For the trans-national caliphate desired by ISIS and al-Qaeda — and which subtly appears in the discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood — is viewed by NU as an obstacle in the way of its project and duty to establish a fiqh foundation that may solve a crisis that has continued for many long centuries.” Read the full article (PDF).

How to Make the Islamic World Less Radical
Recontextualize the teachings of Islam to address extremism—and to inspire reform.

by Yahya Cholil Staquf

“Why is the modern world plagued by Islamic extremism? Why do al Qaeda, Boko Haram and Islamic State display such savagery? As I told the United Nations General Assembly recently, the doctrine, goals and strategy of these extremists can be traced to specific tenets of Islam as historically practiced. Portions of classical Islamic law mandate Islamic supremacy, encourage enmity toward non-Muslims, and require the establishment of a universal Islamic state, or caliphate. ISIS is not an aberration from history….

“Classical Islamic orthodoxy stipulates death as the punishment for apostasy and makes the rights of non-Muslims contingent on a Muslim sovereign’s will, offering few protections to nonbelievers outside this highly discriminatory framework. Millions of devout Muslims, including many in non-Muslim nations, regard the full implementation of these tenets as central to their faith….

“The most enduring way to address an extremist religious ideology is to recontextualize its teachings and reform it from within. Four centuries ago, Catholics and Protestants routinely killed each other; now they coexist. I believe the same type of change can occur within Islam in one or two generations. What’s needed is a credible alternative that is consistent with Islamic orthodoxy and developed and promulgated by those with religious and political authority in the Muslim world.

“Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest independent Muslim organization, for which I serve as general secretary, is promoting such an alternative.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Joe Cochrane

“JAKARTA, Indonesia — The imposing, six-foot-tall painting is a potent symbol of modern Indonesian history: the country’s founding father, Sukarno, cradling a dead, barefoot rebel killed by Dutch colonial forces amid rice fields and smoldering volcanoes in late-1940s Java.

“The fighter’s bloodied shirt draws immediate attention — but so does a necklace dangling from the body: a Christian cross, worn by the independence martyr for the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

“The 2006 painting has become the symbol of a global initiative by the Indonesian youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest mass Islamic organization in the world, that seeks to reinterpret Islamic law dating from the Middle Ages in ways that conform to 21st-century norms.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Rüdiger Lohlker | orcid: 0000-0002-3927-0783
Professor of Islamic Studies, Oriental Institute, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

“Developments in the Islamic world outside of the MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region traditionally receive little scientific attention….

“Often ignored because of the preoccupation in Europe with the development in the Arab world, Turkey and Iran, the important, paradigmatic case of Islamic law, to be more precise: fiqh, in Indonesia, may help to answer the following questions: to what extent can religious freedom, universal human rights and the rule of law be integrated in the legal conceptions of religious traditions? Can religions derive argumentative resources thereof against (renewed) political appropriation? In order to understand Islam nusantara, Islam in the Indonesian archipelago, as the living process of adapting to ever-changing circumstances, and not a mere collection of texts dear to any legal historian, there are some crucial texts that we can consult and that will help to conceptualize this living Indonesian Islam. The most important recent document is called the Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam – however, there are other documents to be discussed….

“The last result of this ongoing process is a short statement called Nusantara Statement promulgated by [Nahdlatul Ulama’s 8-million-member young adults organization] Ansor at a mass rally on November 22, 2018, on the occasion of the birthday of the prophet (mawlid) and attended by the Indonesian president Joko Widodo.

“The statement reads:

“‘We call upon people of goodwill of every faith and nation to join in building a global consensus to prevent the political weaponization of Islam, whether by Muslims or non-Muslims, and to curtail the spread of communal hatred by fostering the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.’

“Thus, we witness a seemingly technical debate on the methodology of fiqh in Indonesia turning into a religio-political statement with a potentially global impact. We may understand this statement as the final proof of indigenization cum globalization cum universalization of fiqh in Indonesia.

“Hence, it is possible to understand this process of indigenization as the development of a genuine Indonesian school of thought beginning to operate at a global level and claiming Islam as part of the universal values of humanity and not excluding other Islamic and non-Islamic parts of the global society.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Muddassar Ahmed

“A remarkable transformation has been taking place in the Muslim world, a years-long shift towards pluralism and tolerance belying common assumptions about Islam.

“Maybe we missed this earlier: A lot has been going on, after all. But last week in Bali, at the G20’s ground-breaking Religion Forum, the R20, that transformation took center stage. Not only is it an epochal moment in modern Islam, but this moment also helped create the world’s most important interfaith conversation.

“By expanding beyond the G7 to the G20 — the world’s 20 largest economies — the developed world has created more space for non-Western populations to enter the space of global governance and bring their perspectives and insights with them. That extends to The Hill 2 India, with the world’s largest Hindu population and a massive Muslim minority, as well as three Muslim-majority countries: Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

“Over the course of a week in Bali, I watched, spellbound…” Read the full article (PDF).

A Muslim pilgrim prays on top of the rocky hill known as the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat, during the annual hajj pilgrimage, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

by Madhuparna Das

Organised by an Indonesian Islamic think tank, G20 Religion Forum (R20) aims to ‘prevent political weaponisation of identity’. It will be held in Bali 2 weeks before G20 summit.

“Organised and hosted by one of Indonesia’s most influential Islamic think tanks, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the two-day R20 summit will take place on 2 and 3 November in Bali, around two weeks before the G20 summit is scheduled to be held there on 15 and 16 November.

“In an exclusive email interview with ThePrint, Muhammad Najib Azca, vice-secretary general of Nahdlatul Ulama and spokesperson of the R20, said that the religious summit would leverage the G20 ‘to help ensure that religion in the 21st century functions as a genuine and dynamic source of solutions, rather than problems.’

“‘The R20 will seek to accomplish this by creating a global platform through which religious leaders of every faith and nation may express their concerns and give voice to shared moral and spiritual values,’ said Azca….

“‘The G20 Religion Forum constitutes a natural outcome of NU’s efforts over the past decade to prevent the political weaponisation of identity, curtail the spread of communal hatred, and promote solidarity and respect among the diverse peoples, cultures and nations of the world,’ said Azca.

“The R20 this year will focus on four major topics — historical grievances, truth-telling, reconciliation and forgiveness; identifying and embracing values shared by the world’s major religions and civilisations; recontextualisation of obsolete and problematic teachings of religion; and the values we need to develop to ensure peaceful co-existence.” Read the full article (PDF).

Credit: Prajna Ghosh, ThePrint team

by Jonathan Benthall

“This article argues that the concept underpinning the R20, and the extent of its support, are new and deserve attention from those who study the intersection of religion and geopolitics in our day. It would be truly a game changer, I will suggest, if the R20 were to stimulate the world’s most important religious authorities to reform their traditions from within and become forces for peace, carrying along with them the huge number of adherents that each of them could mobilize. A more modest aim, with higher chances of being successful, would be for the NU to show that Indonesian Islam, more flexible and humanistic than the interpretations emanating from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has its own authenticity and popular backing, and hence need not defer to the Middle East….

“[I]t seems achievable that the hold over Sunni Islamic orthodoxy currently exercised in Mecca and Medina and in Cairo, linked to autocratic governments, will be challenged by NU’s ideological assertiveness and popular support. As a follow-up to the R20 meeting in Bali, Islamic scholars will gather in February 2023 in Surabaya, Indonesia, to discuss ‘Islamic jurisprudence for a global civilization’. James Dorsey writes that this initiative is designed to undercut the interpretations of Islamic law that justify human rights abuses and enjoin absolute obedience to the ruler. These interpretations, still prevailing in Mecca, Medina and Cairo, are not challenged by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which with its 57 member states claims to be the collective voice of the Muslim world; and they offer insufficient protections against the rogue theologies that have underpinned Al-Qa`ida and ISIS. The consequences of Nahdlatul Ulama’s success could be far-reaching, although it is threatened by some political interests in Indonesia that for the last decade have set out to revert to the country’s authoritarian past.” Read the full article (PDF).

by James M. Dorsey

“Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, has garnered international respect and recognition with its embrace of a Humanitarian Islam that recognizes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principles enshrined in it and has taken tangible steps to address Islamic concepts that it considers outdated. In doing so, Nahdlatul Ulama has emerged as a formidable challenger to powerful state actors in the battle for the soul of Islam.” Read the full article (PDF).

The Voice of Moderate Muslims
In Indonesia, the renewal of Islam is easier than in the Arab heartland

by Rainer Hermann

“The encounters were important simply because of their symbolism. However, they have not produced a sustainable Christian-Islamic dialogue. In 2019, Pope Francis issued a declaration on the fraternity of all people with the Egyptian Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and in 2021 he visited the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Iraq. As early as 2007, the then Saudi King Abdullah was a guest of Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican State. However, this has not led to theological cooperation.

“Greater hopes are attached to the dialogue currently led by two large independent organizations: the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), whose national member organizations include several hundred million Christians, and the Indonesian Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the world’s largest independent Islamic organization with more than 90 million members. A year ago, they founded a joint working group that wants to be a voice against religiously motivated violence and religious persecution.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Timothy Samuel Shah and C. Holland Taylor

“Leaders of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization, are working to consolidate South and Southeast Asia as an alternate pillar of support for a rulesbased international order founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being. Integral to this effort is a regional strategy called the ‘Ashoka Approach,’ which seeks to reawaken the ancient spiritual, cultural, and socio-political heritage of the Indianized cultural sphere, or ‘Indosphere’—a civilizational zone that pioneered, long before the West, key concepts a nd practices of religious pluralism and tolerance.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Thomas K. Johnson, WEA senior theological advisor

“Giving a speech at the Nation’s Mosque in Washington, DC, was not something I was expecting to do when I graduated from a traditional Protestant seminary 40 years ago. But back then, I did not expect to spend years on religious freedom, I did not comprehend that Muslim-Christian conflicts dating back centuries would become an issue of global importance again, and I did not imagine that the world’s largest Muslim organization would want to work with the world’s largest evangelical organization to set a new direction in interfaith relations.

“The occasion for my speech, on 13 July, was the launch of a book I coedited with C. Holland Taylor, a Muslim counterpart. The book, called God Needs No Defense: Reimagining Muslim-Christian Relations in the 21st Century (available as a free download here), was introduced during the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington. It was published jointly by the Institute for Humanitarian Islam, the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, and the WEA Theological Commission.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Yahya Cholil Staquf

“How can we – Muslims and non-Muslims together – prevent another atrocity like the one in Christchurch? As I have watched New Zealanders of all faiths mourn, this has been the question on my mind. So far, few of the answers offered have come close to the truth.

“What the massacre revealed was the need for a clear understanding of the weaponisation of ethnic, religious and political identities that is going on throughout the world. This was Brenton Tarrant’s evil aim: to contribute to a polarisation of the West – and to a parallel phenomenon in the Muslim world. His actions, which eerily resemble those of Isil and other Islamist terror groups, were calculated to intensify the hostility and suspicion that already exist towards Muslims in the West. They were also designed to elicit a response from Islamists and so encourage a cycle of retaliatory violence.

“We must not let him, or anyone else, succeed. Solidarity across racial, religious, cultural and political lines to address this global crisis is the only answer. But this means resolutely acknowledging the causal factors of the violence that we are seeing in so many parts of the world. As a Muslim, this leads me to questions that require difficult but honest answers.” Read the full article (PDF).

Award-winning music video created in honor of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) General Secretary’s  visit to Jerusalem is part of a comprehensive, global campaign to transform religion from a political weapon into a source of universal love and compassion. Read the communiqué.

by Thomas K. Johnson

“Humanity’s ability to live together in peace and harmony—and the very lives of both Christians and peaceful Muslims in many parts of the world—are threatened by radical Islamic elements. The World Evangelical Alliance and a major Muslim organization have agreed to work together to combat threats to their shared values and articulate a positive alternative. This article explains why such an effort is justified and how it hopes to make a global impact.

“On 19 April 2007, as I was preparing to teach a theology class for a low-visibility evangelical seminary in Turkey, I read an email and felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. Terrorists had slit the throats of three men—two Turkish converts from Islam to Christianity, one German missionary. One of them had enrolled in my class.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Joe Cochrane

“JAKARTA, Indonesia — The scene is horrifyingly familiar. Islamic State soldiers march a line of prisoners to a riverbank, shoot them one by one and dump their bodies over a blood-soaked dock into the water.

“But instead of the celebratory music and words of praise expected in a jihadi video, the soundtrack features the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, singing a Javanese mystical poem: ‘Many who memorize the Quran and Hadith love to condemn others as infidels while ignoring their own infidelity to God, their hearts and minds still mired in filth.’

“That powerful scene is one of many in a 90-minute film that amounts to a relentless, religious repudiation of the Islamic State and the opening salvo in a global campaign by the world’s largest Muslim group to challenge its ideology head-on…” Read the full article (PDF).

The future of civilization: Indonesia’s contribution

by H. Muhaimin Iskandar

“When preparing for the establishment of Indonesia as an independent nation state, our founding fathers did not concern themselves merely with the fate of Indonesia, while ignoring the rest of the world. The profound religious, philosophical, ethical and political principles upon which they established our nation were not designed to promote the interests of Indonesia alone. Our founding fathers contemplated the future of the entire world—proffering a set of noble aspirations that others could embrace, while striving to create a more dignified and auspicious future for all human beings, and for civilization as a whole.” Read the full article (PDF).

Humanitarian Islam: Fostering shared civilizational values to revitalize a rules-based international order

by Timothy Shah and Thomas Dinham

“The post-World War II rules-based international order is under severe stress, challenged by the emergence of “authoritarian, civilizationist states that do not accept [this] order, whether in terms of human rights, rule of law, democracy or respect for international borders and the sovereignty of other nations.” What also distinguishes “civilizationist” states—including Communist China and Putin’s Russia—is the weaponization of ethnic, religious and/or cultural identities, including their history and symbols, in order to consolidate and wield power vis-à-vis both internal and external enemies.” Read the full article (PDF).

by Mohamed Abu Al-Fadl

“The great Indonesian Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—which is also the world’s largest, with 70 million followers—has begun to expand its operations internationally, to fill this gap. The NU represents the most tolerant face of Islam, which is compatible with Western societies’ values and traditions, and shows no sign of wishing to engage in conflict with the West.

“The Nahdlatul Ulama holds a view of Islam that its members describe as Islam Nusantara—East Indies, or Indonesian Islam—which emphasizes the adaptation of religion to local culture, and firmly rejects the ideology of extremist movements that have produced such a negative image of Islam in the West. This tolerant face of Islam, in Indonesia, accepts all the different religions and cultures that exist in the Malay Archipelago, and regards them as having a natural right to live side by side with Islam.

“Given the facts described above, the profoundly spiritual and tolerant worldview embodied in the term Islam Nusantara has begun to expand beyond its local framework to a global environment. Many lines of communication have been initiated between the Nahdlatul Ulama and various Western governments. [Spiritual leaders within] the Nahdlatul Ulama have begun to establish working relationships and operational nodes in many countries, operating under the organizational name, ‘Home of Divine Grace (Bayt ar-Rahmah).’ Each operational node propagates the model of tolerance embraced by the Nahdlatul Ulama—such as peaceful coexistence with others and respect for individuals’ right to privacy, including freedom of thought and conscience—and seeks to accomplish this by leveraging the profound humane and spiritual values that underlie and animate all religions.” Read the full article (PDF).