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....

The campaign by Nahdlatul Ulama, known as N.U., for a liberal, pluralistic Islam also comes at a time when Islam is at war with itself over central theological questions of how the faith is defined in the modern era.

In a way, it should not be surprising that this message comes from Indonesia, the home of Islam Nusantara, widely seen as one of the most progressive Islamic movements in the world. The movement — its name is Indonesian for “East Indies Islam” — dates back more than 500 years and promotes a spiritual interpretation of Islam that stresses nonviolence, inclusiveness and acceptance of other religions.

The challenge, perhaps surprisingly, comes from Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population but which lies thousands of miles away from the Islamic State’s base in the Middle East.

“The spread of a shallow understanding of Islam renders this situation critical, as highly vocal elements within the Muslim population at large — extremist groups — justify their harsh and often savage behavior by claiming to act in accord with God’s commands, although they are grievously mistaken,” said A. Mustofa Bisri, the spiritual leader of the group, Nahdlatul Ulama, an Indonesian Muslim organization that claims more than 50 million members.

“According to the Sunni view of Islam,” he said, “every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature.”

Read the full article here. View a trailer of the film here.



-“They are not afraid to take up the fight against IS. It is important to support that kind of initiative,” says Swedish terrorism researcher.

The renowned terrorism expert, Magnus Ranstorp, will cooperate with the world’s largest Muslim organization in the global ideological struggle against the Islamic State (IS). Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) is an Indonesian organization with 50 million members.

- “They’re going to create a platform against IS, and I’m going to be involved in it. My role will be clarified in a few weeks,” says Ranstorp, who is a terrorism researcher at the Swedish National Defense Academy.

- “I’ve had a relationship with prominent NU figures for many years. A project for the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) first brought me in contact with the organization’s top leadership,” says Ranstorp.

During the fall of 2010, the NU’s preeminent spiritual leader, Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri, visited Sweden to attend a seminar on Islam and terrorism held at the Swedish Defense Academy.

- “He came to Europe because he was concerned about the rapid spread of extremism, and he promised to not only help limit [ethnic and religious] polarization, but also to demonstrate that Islam [as understood and practiced by the world’s largest Muslim group] opposes religious extremism.

- “Since 2010, they have continued the fight against extremism,” says Ranstorp.



When the head of Indonesia’s largest and most moderate Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, joked that men with beards tend to be stupid — and the longer the beard the more stupid the man — there was apparently method in his madness.

Just as there was in an unflattering observation about those Indonesians wearing trousers above their ankles in the Arab style of conservative Muslims.

“It was just a joke but actually it works in a very effective way because the fact is those people already infected by extremist ideology usually wear beards,” NU Supreme Council general secretary Yahya Cholil Staquf said of chairman Kyai Said Aqil Siradj’s inflammatory comments.

“Not everyone who wears short trousers is radical but most radicals wear short trousers. Some people didn’t like it but it helps ordinary people in villages easily identify who is to be avoided.”



"In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim group has embarked on an international effort to repudiate the jihadist teachings and ideology of the Islamic State. The group is Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, a 90-year-old Sunni social organization with 50 million members and a reputation for progressive pluralism. It recently kicked off a new anti-extremist campaign, a multipronged ideological drive, as The New York Times reported, to be 'carried out online, and in hotel conference rooms and convention centers from North America to Europe to Asia.'

"Last month, NU released a 90-minute film that vigorously refutes ISIS and its Wahhabist-rooted fundamentalism. The grisly massacres celebrated in so many jihadist videos are denounced in this film as an appalling perversion of Islam that the Muslim world must not tolerate. NU is also training Arabic-speaking students, both male and female, to disseminate its antiradical values and challenge Islamist supremacism.

"It is a great mistake to blame the evils committed by jihadi extremists on the Muslim religion. Radical Islam — not Islam itself — is the menace that must be defeated. Ultimately, that defeat can only be administered by Muslims passionately committed to moderation and tolerance. Those moderate Muslims need all the support we can give them as they battle for the soul of their faith.”



Al-Arab (The Arabs)
London’s first daily Arabic newspaper, founded in 1977

“Political Horizons for Indonesian Islam”
by Muhammad Abul 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."



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 (The Pyramids)
(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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