The ILN Post: Nahdlatul Ulama , Indonesia: A Muslim Model of Religious Tolerance and Moderation

Author: Fida Ur Rahman, lecturer at the University College of Zhob, BUITEMS, Baluchistan, Pakistan.

Being one of the most populous countries of the Muslim world, Indonesia is home to religious and cultural diversity. Although Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country consisting of 87.17% Muslims, it is constitutionally not an Islamic state. Apart from the six officially recognized religions, there are more than 245 religious and cultural denominations that make the Indonesian society colorful and diversified despite the common phenomenon of sectarian violence. The credit goes to the inclusive policies of the Indonesian state which ensure a vibrant and peaceful attitude towards other religions and cultures.

Religious organizations are very common in Muslim societies. They primarily aim at propagating specific ideologies and interpretations of Islam. Similar to other countries, many Muslim organizations contribute to the prosperity, welfare and peace of the Indonesian society through educational and charitable services. Nahdlatul Ulama is a prime example of these organizations. It was established on January 31st, 1926 as a response to the growing trends of Salafism in Indonesia. Having more than 90 million members, NU is the largest organization in the Muslim world. It has an effective and wide range of influence due to its engagement in socio-economic, educational and political spheres. NU established hospitals and similar other entities of humanitarian aid that serve the poor, thus contributing to poverty alleviation initiatives. It also has the largest chain of boarding schools comprising 6830 schools and 44 universities. The boarding schools namely Pasentren, have an entire local education system that is deeply embedded in Javanese traditions. This system ensures a high quality education and training with a deep understanding of the Arabic literature and other Islamic sciences. The scheme of studies is composed of a modern and secular curriculum that produces well-rounded, well-informed and erudite young scholars. The graduates are neither literalist like Salafists nor solely and exclusively inclined to spirituality like Sufis. It is a blend of spiritualism and rationalism that is considered as a middle path.

NU does not believe in gender segregation. It has actively engaged girls and women in its cause of religious moderation and tolerance. Fatayat Nahdlatul Ulama is the female wing of NU. This dynamic female wing is devoted to striving for ensuring women’s rights, and it has been creating very positive and productive impacts on the lives of Indonesian women.

As mentioned earlier, NU was established as a reaction against the Salafist and modernist thoughts like Wahabism and another Indonesia-based Muslim organization called Muhammadiyah. The founding fathers and most of the workers of Muhammadiyah were graduated from the educational institutions of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia. Muhammadiyah believes in what they call ‘Pure Islam’. They try to rid Indonesian Islam of the local socio-cultural norms and traditions. NU reacted to Muhammadiyah’s purge of tradition in an effective and peaceful way, by presenting a more accommodating and inclusive alternative grounded in the Islamic traditions. Although both have radical ideological differences, NU maintained a working relationship with Muhammadiyah and established the Supreme Islamic Council of Indonesia, a discussion forum that represents an opportunity to jointly work in religious and political sphere.

NU has a rich political history full of ups and downs , which shows its commitment to and dedication for democracy and democratic ideals. As a supporter of plurality, NU has always distanced itself from the exclusivist and separatist tendencies and conflict-ridden political approaches. It advocates for and supports Pancasila, which means democracy as a founding principle of the Republic of Indonesia. Islamists organizations like Hizb Ut-Tahrir are banned in Indonesia because of their exclusivist ideology of ‘Islamic Caliphate’ that is considered a threat to the Indonesian religious and cultural diversity.

NU is an advocate of ‘Islam Nusantara’ which means a “distinctive brand of Islam that has undergone interaction, contextualization, indigenization, interpretation and venularization in line with the socio-cultural conditions in Indonesia. These conditions promote compassion, moderation, anti-radicalization, inclusiveness and tolerance.” Due to its moderate and tolerant religious approach, NU is considered as an antidote to the conservative and militant movements of the Middle East and other parts of world like Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al Shabab, Boko Haram etc. NU has established a Prevention Center where Arabic speaking students and Indonesian theologians are trained for combating the Jehadist rhetoric. Terms like ‘Kafir’ are widespread in this rhetoric, and the center calls for their abolishment as they negatively affect the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Religious exclusivism is one of the consequences of Saudi Arabia’s global export of Salafism, also known as Wahabism. Salafism is usually defined as a “puritanical and intolerant movement founded in the 18th century in Saudi Arabia that focuses on the literal interpretation of the Qur’an and seeks to eradicate ‘deviant’ regional traditions”. Salafism was exported to Indonesia through the graduates of Saudi-based universities, Salafist literature and charitable activities. The erudite and educated young scholars affiliated with NU have been successfully engaged in countering the Saudi proselytization through the true understanding of Islam that teaches inclusiveness, tolerance and moderation. The Saudi proselytization created an atmosphere of hatred and harassment against Christians. It also established anti-Shia and anti-Ahmadiyya leagues. It was also reported that those involved in the Bali bombings in 2002 were all inspired by the Salafist thought and were actually students of a Salafist school in Indonesia.

Aside from some individual incidents of religious discriminations, the overall atmosphere in Indonesia is peaceful. NU and its female and students’ wings are an example to follow for the Muslim world when it comes to ensuring religious freedom, tolerance, moderation and inclusiveness. This conveys a lesson that indigenous socio-cultural norms coupled with an erudite religious understanding should not be disregarded and declared ‘deviant’ just because of the Arabization project.

Democracy and human rights are the founding principles of any civilized human society. NU is an example for the Islamists to learn that a prosperous, vibrant and pious society can also be established without the exclusivist ideology of Islamism. Religiously conscious and morally awaken Muslims can be groomed in a natural setting without imposing the ideology of Islamism and Salafism. Moreover, the success of NU played an effective role in preserving religious and cultural plurality and local wisdom. Borrowing exclusivist and intolerant ideologies at the expense of indigenous socio-cultural values leads to social disintegration and chaos. It eventually shrinks space for religious freedom and peaceful co-existence.

The aim of religion and culture is to unite human beings without compromising their uniqueness and diversity. As per the Divine Scheme and Creation Plan, every human being is free to express and practice a certain religious ideology without hurting fellow human beings. NU is a beacon of inspiration for other Muslim organizations when it comes to religious freedom, tolerance and moderation. Muslims organizations need to learn the art of inclusiveness, tolerance, moderation and anti-radicalism from the NU experiences and approaches.

Many religious organizations are working in Muslim-majority countries without necessarily paying attention to the fact that every society has its own cultural norms, traditions and identities. Not taking this reality into account could create hate, extremism and polarization within any society.

 To conclude, Nahdlatul Ulama is an excellent alternative for other organizations in Muslim-majority countries that champion plurality, democracy and religious freedom.

44 comments

  1. For the first time I’ve read and knew about such a united and peaceful organization of muslim clerics…
    I hope so that scholar like you can play vital role for peace and spreading soft image of Islam.
    By the way your article is absolutely meaningful and clearly introduced the NU without any confusion and chaos.
    Thanks
    Thumb up bro ✌️✌️❤️❤️

  2. It’s like a breeze of openness and tolerance. I wish we had a branch in every village and town in pakistan

  3. A useful article, describing the services of NU. Which could perform a role model for other Islamic organizations of the muslim ummah

  4. My partner and I stumbled over here from a different web
    page and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following
    you. Look forward to looking at your web page yet
    again.

  5. Great beat ! I wish to apprenticе ѡhile you amnd your wеbѕite, how can i sսbscriЬe f᧐r a
    blog site? The account helped me a acceptable deal.
    I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast
    provided bright clear concept

  6. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a
    blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and
    let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.
    Now i’m very happy I stumbled across this during my search for something regarding this.

  7. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets I
    could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.

    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was
    hoping maybe you would have some experience
    with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything.
    I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your
    new updates.

    my page http://continent.anapa.org/

  8. My programmer is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong
    none the less. I’ve been using WordPress on a number
    of websites for about a year and am anxious about switching to another
    platform. I have heard good things about blogengine.net.
    Is there a way I can import all my wordpress content into it?

    Any help would be really appreciated!

    Look into my site :: patimood.net

  9. I am really impressed with your writing skills
    as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?

    Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to
    see a nice blog like this one these days.

    Feel free to surf to my website: Breeze Tech Review

  10. Good day! Do you know if they make any plugins to protect against hackers?
    I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve
    worked hard on. Any suggestions?

    my web blog – Super Shot Keto Pills Review [Penney]

  11. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted
    to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.

    After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I
    hope you write again very soon!

    Here is my website :: Elevate Neuro

  12. Hi I am so grateful I found your site, I really found you by error, while I was browsing on Google for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks
    a lot for a remarkable post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read it all at the minute
    but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have
    time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the fantastic job.

    my website: kebe.top

  13. Appreciating the dedication you put into your blog and detailed
    information you present. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.
    Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google
    account.

  14. Needed to write you that very little observation so as to say thanks a lot once again for all the beautiful basics you
    have documented on this page. This is certainly shockingly generous of you to make easily all that a lot of folks could possibly have offered for
    sale as an e book in making some dough on their own, particularly
    seeing that you might well have done it if you desired.
    These concepts also worked to be a easy way to fully grasp that other individuals have similar fervor
    just like my own to understand a whole lot more with regards to this
    matter. I think there are lots of more fun moments up front for those who go through your website.

    Take a look at my homepage: Sylvia

  15. I’ve been exploring for a little for any high quality articles or weblog posts in this kind of house
    . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this site.
    Reading this info So i’m satisfied to show that I
    have an incredibly just right uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what
    I needed. I such a lot for sure will make certain to don’t
    disregard this website and provides it a glance regularly.

    my homepage; Ultra Cut Keto Review

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *