A 50-million strong Sunni movement in Indonesia just launched a global anti-extremism campaign.
Each time the Islamic State, al Qaeda or another terrorist group commits violence in the name of Islam, a familiar refrain arises: What’s the Muslim world doing about it?
In fact, anti-extremism efforts abound in the global Muslim community: Muslim leaders and scholars have denounced the Islamic State group, the U.K.’s Muslim Youth League has declared “ideological holy war” against extremism, and YouTube has even tried to recruit American Muslims to counter extremist content.
And in Indonesia, home of the world’s largest Muslim population, a massive anti-extremism movement is underway.
Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, is the largest independent Islamic organization in the world, with 50 million members. Part Sunni religious body, part political party and part charity, it was founded nearly 90 years ago, in 1926, as a response to another Sunni movement, Wahabbism.
Wahhabism is the ultra-conservative reform movement based in Saudi Arabia that advocates for puritanical laws from the time of Islam’s origins. It rejects the modern notion of “religion as a purely private activity” and the separation of church and state. The Islamic State is highly committed to Wahhabi principles, using its religious textbooks and embracing its hardline tradition of killing unbelievers.
NU’s stated goal is to “to spread messages about a tolerant Islam in their respective countries to curb radicalism, extremism and terrorism,” which, it claims, “often spring from a misinterpretation of Islamic teachings.” It launched its global anti-extremism initiative in 2014.
Its work was recently magnified by the Paris terror attacks, which Indonesia’s Vice President, Jusuf Kalla, who serves on the NU Advisory Board, condemned at a three-day conference last week in Malang, Indonesia. The conference was held by the International Conference of Islamic Scholars, another Indonesian anti-radicalism project that its Foreign Ministry started in 2002, in wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Kalla said, “There is nothing religious about such attacks because Islam never justifies them.”