02/09/2023, 17.18
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Moderate Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama marks its first centenary

by Mathias Hariyadi

Catholic leaders express appreciation for its contribution to good relations with minorities. Indonesian President Joko Widodo praises the group, which now has more than 95 million members. Its idea of Islam is one of dialogue and openness to the challenges of today's society.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Celebrations for the centennial of the Nahdlatul Ulama[*] (NU), Indonesia’s largest moderate Islamic organisation, began this week in Sidoarjo Regency (county), East Java province, in the presence of senior political and religious leaders.

Archbishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI[†]), released a video message expressing gratitude on behalf of the Catholic Church for the genuine and fraternal relations between the KWI and the NU.

“We are very grateful to the NU for its huge contribution to genuine ‘religiosity’ and good communal life based on humanitarian values,” the prelate said.

"For us, the NU has always been the backbone of social tolerance and peace. We cannot imagine what Indonesia would have looked like without the NU,” he added.

With more than 95 million members, the Nahdlatul Ulama is an important strategic partner for Indonesian authorities to preserve social cohesion and peaceful relations with minorities.

In a speech yesterday, President Joko Widodo said that the NU promotes positive values in Indonesian society and brings out the true Indonesian form of Islam.

Over the years, various NU leaders have promoted Islam Nusantara, an indigenous form of Islam that is adapted to Indonesia’s sociocultural context.

Islam Nusantara encourages moderation, pluralism and, to some extent, syncretism. According to the NU, as long as local cultures do not contradict Islamic teachings, it is acceptable.

By contrast, Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organisation, follows a more literal interpretation of the Qurʾān and the Sunnah.

“I really appreciate the fact that for years the NU has shown strong courage, without bias,” said Archbishop Agustinus Agus of Pontianak, West Kalimantan province. “I hope that NU’s magnificent members will never stop doing this.”

“In 2019 I wrote an official note to the Vatican Secretariat of State, urging the Holy See to invite Nahdlatul Ulama leaders to meet the pontiff in person,” he added. “Fortunately, the Holy See welcomed the proposal and relations have blossomed since then.”

Indeed, Archbishop Agus noted that, “Cardinal Guixot, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will be awarded an honorary doctorate by the main Indonesian Muslim organisations. I hope this great relationship can last forever.”

The Nahdlatul Ulama was founded in the city of Surabaya by Hasyim Asy'ari and some Muslim businessmen in order to defend traditionalist Islamic practices and the economic interests of its members.

Hasyim Asy'ari, who headed an Islamic school in East Java, is the grandfather of the NU’s late chairman Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid.

When Indonesia held its first parliamentary elections on 29 September 1955, the NU came in third with almost 7 million votes or 18.4 per cent of the total, behind the Indonesian National Party and Masyumi, an Islamic party banned in 1960 by President Sukarno for supporting a regional rebellion.

In 1984 Abdurrahman Wahid took over leadership of the organisation until 1999 when he was elected president of Indonesia.

Today the Nahdlatul Ulama runs a network of 6,830 boarding schools (pesantren), and 44 universities. It is involved in economic and agricultural studies and provides some social services such as family planning.

In December 2014, it launched a global campaign against religious extremism, creating a prevention centre where NU theologians teach students to fight jihadi rhetoric.

[*] Revival of the Ulama (Islamic religious scholars).

[†] Konferensi Waligereja Indonesia.

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