The world’s largest Islamic group wants Muslims to stop saying ‘infidel’

2019-3-8-kafirThe largest Islamic organization on the planet has a request for all Muslims.

Quit calling people kafir, an Arabic word for infidels or nonbelievers.

This proclamation was issued by Nahdlatul Ulama or NU, an Indonesian collective claiming more than 90 million adherents — from clerics and politicians to shopkeepers and farmers.

One of the group’s core tenets is promoting a more tolerant brand of Sunni Islam. Its leaders aim to uphold a secular state. They preach coexistence with Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Shia Muslims. And the word kafir, NU says, undermines that mission with “theological violence.”

“When someone calls you a kafir, that means you’re considered someone who is godless,” said Alex Arifianto, an Indonesian political scientist with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“The largest Muslim organization in the world is saying, ‘Look, we have to treat non-Muslims as equals.’”

Alex Arifianto, political scientist, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore

“Or you’re someone whose religion is considered inferior to the Islamic belief,” he said. “That’s why this is so significant. The largest Muslim organization in the world is saying, ‘Look, we have to treat non-Muslims as equals.’”

The group is hardly progressive by American or European standards — its leaders’ views on sex, family and piety are conservative — but NU does define itself in opposition to hyperorthodox Islam.

Its leaders believe their teachings are an antidote to fundamentalism, exemplified by the Wahhabism theology exported by Saudi Arabia.

In one of NU’s promotional films, a cleric intones that “genuine Islam … has been supplanted by a coarse, cruel and savage Islam. I am absolutely certain that our understanding of Islam is shared by the majority of Muslims worldwide.”


Reforming the Faith: Indonesia’s battle for the soul of Islam

Nahdlatul-UlamaNahdlatul Ulama, with 94 million members the world’s largest Sunni Muslim movement, is bent on reforming Islam.

The powerful Indonesian conservative and nationalist group that operates madrassahs or religious seminaries across the archipelago has taken on the ambitious task of reintroducing ijtihad or legal interpretation to Islam as it stands to enhance its political clout with its spiritual leader, Ma’ruf Amin, slated to become vice president as the running mate of incumbent President Joko Widodo in elections scheduled for next April.

In a 40-page document, argued in terms of Islamic law and jurisprudence and scheduled for publication in the coming days, Nahdlatul Ulama’s powerful young adults wing, Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, spells out a framework for what it sees as a humanitarian interpretation of Islam that is tolerant and pluralistic in nature.

The initiative is designed to counter what many in Nahdlatul Ulama, founded in 1926 in opposition to Wahhabism, see as Islam’s foremost challenge; the rise of radical Islam. The group that boasts a two million-strong private militia defines as radical not only militants and jihadists but any expression of political Islam and asserts that it is struggling against the weaponization of the faith.

While it stands a good chance of impacting Islamic discourse in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, it is likely to face an uphill battle in making substantial headway beyond Indonesia despite its links to major Muslim organizations in India, the United States and elsewhere. It also could encounter opposition from the group’s more conservative factions.


Christian community to build house of interfaith dialogue to fight hatred in Berlin

2018_07_19_49512_1531963536._mediumIn Germany, followers of minority faiths have often faced the bitter experience of hatred and persecution, none more so than the Jewish community, which suffered under one of the darkest times in the world’s history. Today, Muslims are often portrayed negatively in the media, driven by narratives pushed by right-wing politicians.

A Christian community, however, has stepped in to eliminate hatred and to educate society about the peaceful nature of religion, particularly Judaism and Islam. The Berlin-based Evangelical congregation St. Peter (also called St. Mary), along with several Jewish organizations, has founded the House of One where members of different faiths can learn to live together and tackle common challenges in the secular society of Germany.

The concept of the House of One is simple. An iconic pavilion will be built in the center of Berlin, with three sections to function as a Church, Mosque and Synagogue, respectively. Each section will be connected to the others by a chamber at the center of the building where inter-religious dialogues can be held.

“We will put them [the three prayer sections] under one roof but not in one room. All three will live together like a community,” Rev. Eric Haussmann, a pastor at St. Peter, said on Wednesday to a group of visiting Indonesian intellectuals hosted by the Goethe Institut.


What the Arab world can learn from Indonesia

Currently many Arab states are attempting to cement the links, by force if necessary, between the state, creed and civil society. This has been the top priority for rulers in the region ever since the Arab Spring broke out in the Middle East in 2011. The mass uprisings altered the political landscape in the Arab majority world and sent dictatorial regimes a clear message: if they wanted to remain in power, they would need to discover a middle ground, reaching political decisions that benefit the common good.

gebet_in_einer_moscheeIndonesia – an enormous archipelago of a country in Southeast Asia – is the world’s fourth most-populous state and the largest Muslim-majority nation. Yet many are unaware that, regardless of the size of its Muslim population, Indonesiaʹs state religion is not Islam. It may seem unbelievable, but Indonesia officially recognises five official religions: Islam, Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism), Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Since it achieved its independence from the Netherlands in 1945, Indonesia has become a democracy characterised by cultural diversity and a sensible interpretation of Islam.

In an attempt to legitimise their authoritarian regimes, rulers of the Arab world generally contend that their tradition of government was bequeathed by the Prophet Muhammad and that this convoluted blend of religion and the state is inseparable and unquestionable.

“Pancasila”: for peaceful co-existence

While Islam is the state religion of most countries in the Arab world, with constitutions based on the Koran, Indonesia is based on a nationalist ideology – Pancasila – which advocates secular, democratic and nationalist principles.


A Journey Across Differences (Indonesia)

566875_620Rebuilding Peace in Ambon

Various groups have been working to end religious segregation and nurture peace following the 1999 bloody conflict between Muslims and Christians in Ambon.

Iskandar Slamet can now enjoy going on adventures. There is no need for him to leave Ambon, let alone travel overseas. Often he will embark on a solo escape to the mountains, the beachesandAmbon’s backroads, though sometimes he will travel with his peers, nature-loving Pattimura University alumni or other members of Bareksa Aksara-a community of youths who bring non-formal education to children in the Maluku Islands.

The 33-year-old’s wanderlust was kindled in 2006. Before, the segregation that followed the bloody conflict between Ambon’s Muslim and Christian communities made it impossible for him to explore even his own city.

“My world was very limited,” said Iskandar, who studied fisheries and maritime subjects as a university student. “As a Muslim, I was afraid to wander into Christian residential pockets and vice versa.”

In January 1999, riots between Christians and Muslims broke out in Ambon. People in the two camps terrorized and murdered each other, turning Ambon into a battleground. Churches and mosques were destroyed and casualties were claimed from both communities.

Iskandar’s adolescence was far from happy. He grew up exposed to machetes, bombs, screaming, bloodshed and dead bodies. He himself, at the time a 13-year-old ninth grader, became a fighter. His blood had boiled when his brother’s leg was gutted in a bombing. “I also killed. I even became the gang leader at school, commanding my friends to do the same,” said Iskandar. “But at the time we only had two options: killed or be killed.”

Iskandar believes that the tragedy shattered not only harmony between residents, but also the city itself. Although tensions had cooled several years later, there was still apprehension between Muslims and Christians. Muslims were still scared to visit Christian neighborhoods and vice versa.


Religion and conflict: The myth of an inevitable collision

Indonesian Special Forces Police walks by burned motorcycles following a blast at GPPS in SurabayaLeaving aside the almost unimaginable spectacle of parents taking, even training, their children to die for their ideology, the recent attacks in Surabaya raise the issue of conflict between religious communities.

While few Muslims identify with these terrorists, it may nevertheless leave the impression that it is simply the exacerbation of an essential enmity between Christians and Muslims.

Such a thesis would accord with Samuel Huntington’s well-known “Clash of Civilisations” argument, which posited that civilisational boundaries, often marked by religious identities, would define the coming world order.

To exemplify this type of thesis, especially that conflict between religions is prevalent, one may look beyond events in Indonesia, which play into a wider militant neo-jihadi assault on Christianity, to clashes between: Jews and Muslims in Israel-Palestine; Buddhists and Muslims in Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka; Hindus and Christians and Muslims in India; or, many other examples including intra-religious violence, for instance between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

The list of events where we see violence across inter-religious lines in both contemporary and global history seems almost endless.

However, history suggests that this may not be the whole story, indeed peaceful and positive inter-religious relations may be the norm rather than the exception.

The well-known Constitution of Medina alongside the agreement from Prophet Muhammad with the monks of St Catherine’s Monastery are signs that peaceful and harmonious inter-religious relations were endorsed by the founder of Islam.

His battles were not fought against other religions, but against those who had attacked and oppressed the young Islamic community.


Indonesia combines Islam with environmental activism

44032295_303Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), together with Greenpeace and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment are cooperating on an awareness campaign during Ramadan to solve the problem of plastic waste in Indonesia.

Read more: Jakarta restricts nightspots during Ramadan

Together, they have a mission to promote the use of reusable bags to cut plastic bag use in Indonesia. The Indonesian government and clerics from the country’s largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah are seeking to influence the consumer behavior of the groups’ combined 100 million followers.

NU and Muhamadiyah, together with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment, announced the Plastic Waste Reduction Movement in Jakarta on June 6.

According to Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, the waste management director at the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the amount of plastic garbage in Indonesia is continuing to increase significantly.

“We want to encourage citizens to start from small things like carrying a tumbler, instead of disposable plastic bottles, or using non-plastic shopping bags,” she said.