Historic Nahdlatul Ulama Congress
a Battleground Between Opposing Forces:

Wide Range of Human Nature, and “Religious Impulse,” on Display

“In Indonesia, the congress was a major event. It opened with a speech by the country’s president; each day it was the lead item on TV news and in national newspapers. But apart from the presence of diplomats at the opening and reporting by specialized academics, it mostly passed unnoticed in the West.

“This is tragic, since a few days spent at the congress of the world’s largest Muslim organization would reshape most Westerners’ perception of Islam. While groups such as ISIS demand a many-sided, including military, response, long-term antidotes to growing Islamic extremism can only be found in organizations such as NU.

“Historically, NU, like Indonesia, has rarely sought a bigger place on the Islamic or world stage. But now, with the nation’s economy the largest in the Muslim world, and after eight successful democratic elections, both are reaching out, sponsoring reconciliation and educational programs in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. There are even NU branches in the United States.

“As we continue to struggle with bloody chaos in much of the Middle East, Indonesia, and especially Indonesian Islam, needs our careful attention.”

~ Paul Marshall, The Weekly Standard, “Among the Believers:
A century-old mass organization cultivates an adaptable Islam”


From the perspective of Muslim extremists, the 33rd NU Congress held in Jombang, East Java, was a disaster. An opportunist/extremist alliance painstakingly assembled over the past five years not only failed to secure control of the NU Central Board; its members were completely shut out of any positions of authority. Future selection of the NU’s leadership will be in the hands of senior ulama who are (hopefully) insulated from money politics. The new board has embraced the concept of Islam Nusantara (East Indies Islam), and will seek to promote its values both domestically and internationally, as a living, breathing alternative to radical Islam.

Also of great significance were decisions made by the NU’s Bahtsul Masa‘il Commission, which deliberates major issues from the perspective of Islamic law. In an article entitled “Gus Mus’s Charisma and the Secret Behind the Greatness of the NU’s 33rd National Congress,” a participant describes how the Bahtsul Masa‘il Commission overcame Wahhabi-tinged objections to reaffirm a crucial decision made during KH. Abdurrahman Wahid’s term as NU Chairman: that is, to reopen the doors of ijtihad (“independent reasoning”) and engage in istinbath (“digging into the source—i.e., the Qur’an and Sunnah—so that new interpretations of Islamic law may emerge”).

The importance of this decision, in light of current world developments—including ISIS and al-Qaeda’s use of Islamic law to justify their actions—should not be underestimated. With over 14,000 pesantren (madrasahs) and an enormous network of ulama trained in the classical traditions of Sunni Islam, both formal and spiritual, the NU represents the largest single body of religious scholars in the Muslim world positioned to address this vital issue.



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


“Indonesian Islam”
by Muhammad Abul Fadl

The vital role of the Nahdlatul Ulama stems from its success as a mediator between the Indonesian government and its people. The NU can maintain a harmonious relationship between the government and the people due to its spiritual values, political engagement and mass following, which combine a profound understanding of Islam with respect for the inherent variety of Indonesia’s countless local cultures. That is why the Nahdlatul Ulama has consistently nurtured the values of Islam Nusantara (East Indies Islam) for over a century, and is now poised to export its collective wisdom and experience throughout the world, for the benefit of humanity."




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