The 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.’”
“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.”