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Nusantara Islam: Seeking a New Balance in the Muslim World

It is not uncommon for people to refer to Indonesia as the largest, most tolerant, and most moderate Muslim country in the world. Indonesian officials and diplomats often use such expressions in their speeches. However, what is the origin of this tolerance and moderation, and how have they been retained all these decades? Clearly, their continuing presence has involved a complex social-historical struggle.

At a time when many Muslim countries globally have been involved in political conflicts, civil wars, and other strife, Indonesia remains an oasis of pluralism, a model Muslim country. The Indonesian version of democracy not only disproves the myth that Islam and democracy are incompatible, but also demonstrates how Islam can be managed and maintained within a modern nation state. Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country, with 230 million Muslims comprising 87.2 percent of the total population. Yet Islam is not the national religion. In fact, there is no official religion mentioned in the Indonesian Constitution.

Most works studying the Muslim world are Middle East–centric and tend to view Islam in South and Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, as peripheral Islam. This view is common not only among academics, but also among policymakers. Southeast Asia is not viewed as truly representing Islam. Some even call Islam in this region “syncretic Islam,” a term with a negative connotation: Islam that is mixed up with local traditions is considered not pure or even “pseudo-Islam.” Consequently, the dynamics of Islam in Southeast Asia are considered less significant than those of the broader, Middle Eastern Muslim world.

The Middle East—the lens through which the Muslim world has conventionally been viewed—is currently in a bad state, both politically and economically. The Arab Spring of 2010 has not resulted in the hoped-for progress in democracy and human rights. Some parts of the Middle East have witnessed turmoil and fighting, with most of the violence perpetrated by Muslims against fellow Muslims. The emergence of the Islamic State in Syria has caused further troubles for the region. Thus, Islam and the turmoil of the Middle East are often conflated.

This Middle East–centric view of Islam leads some to believe that Islam is a threat to the values of modernity. This view considers the Muslim world as an outlier in the changing global attitudes toward ideas of progress, including democracy, human rights, gender justice, and minority rights. But given that the Muslim world plays an important role in determining the direction of global change, talking about global justice without including the Muslim world is a mistake. Now may be the time to shift from the perspective that sees Islam through an exclusively Middle Eastern prism and to understand the significance of Southeast Asian Islam.

The world religion study released by the Pew Research Center in April 2015 explains why it might be impossible to ignore the Muslim world when examining global change.1 Entitled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections 2010–2050,” the study presents data on age, birth and death rates, migration, and conversion for eight major religions. The largest religious groups by percentage of global population as of 2010 are Christianity (31.4 percent), Islam (23.2 percent or 1.6 billion adherents), Hinduism (15 percent), Buddhism (7.1 percent), folk religion (5.9 percent), Judaism (0.2 percent), unaffiliated (atheism and agnosticism; 16.4 percent), and other religions (0.8 percent).

According to the Pew Center’s projection, by 2050 the global Muslim population will reach 29.7 percent (2.76 billion adherents) and Christianity will be stable at 31.4 percent. The percentage of Muslims and Christians is estimated to be around the same in 2070, at 32.3 percent. By 2100, the percentage of Muslims and Christians will reach 34.9 percent and 33.8 percent respectively. This research also shows that the numbers of atheists, agnostics, and people without religion will likely increase in several countries, including the U.S. and France, but globally their number will decrease, from 16.4 percent (in 2010) to 13.2 percent (in 2050). Meanwhile, other religions—including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism—will not experience much change in the proportion of their followers in the global population over the next four decades. An unanswered question concerns the kind of Islam that will be preeminent in 2050.

In addition to these ongoing demographic changes, a “decentering” of Islam’s development has also occurred. The Middle East is no longer seen by the vast majority of Muslims to represent Islam—certainly not politically, and increasingly not religiously. Islam in other world regions has developed its own characteristics. Put another way, no region can be fully considered as the sole representative of Islam; this has been true since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. With the nation state and nationalism entering the Muslim world, Muslim regions across the globe have their specific identities, even if their various identities have a common religious thread that brings them together. These identities and characteristics are shaped by a unique dynamic of Islamization. Indonesia, as one of the most important countries in Southeast Asia, was built under a unique Islamization process that has created a distinctive Islam.

Some recent academic works have sought to justify excluding Southeast Asia in any discussion of the Muslim world. For instance, Ahmet T. Kuru’s noted 2019 book, Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment, attempts to answer why the “Muslim world” is experiencing authoritarianism and underdevelopment, but it deliberately ignores the Southeast Asian region, especially Indonesia, as one of its units of analysis.2 Kuru offers two explanations for this. First, Islam in Indonesia had existed side by side with and mixed with indigenous traditions until the 16th century. (According to Antony Reid, very few sources can be found in Southeast Asia before 1590 AD.3) Second, Kuru argues that in the 19th and 20th centuries, Islam in the Southeast Asian region was mostly influenced by Middle Eastern interpretations, not the other way around. For these reasons, Kuru says Islam in Indonesia is not comparable to Islam in the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.

Indonesian Islam has taken a different historical path from Islam in other regions. In the introduction to the Indonesian edition of his book, Kuru acknowledges that Indonesia is an exception to his big thesis. Indeed, he has since argued Islam in Indonesia should be considered on its own terms, and that its successes and reputation for moderation have not been sufficiently recognized around the world. In addition to the absence of the ulema-state alliance and oil rents, Indonesia has better democratic and economic development indicators than other majority-Muslim countries, although it is still considered a “flawed democracy” rather than a “full democracy” (see below).

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2020 Democracy Index shows that democracy in Indonesia is fairly stable.4 In 2020, Indonesian democracy did face some setbacks, but this was a global phenomenon connected to the global health crisis, not unique to or limited to Indonesia. According to the report, our of 167 countries, Indonesia ranks 64th globally and 11th in the Asia-Australia region. The Indonesian Democracy Index score is 6.48, and the country is classified under the “flawed democracies” category. On a 0–10 scale, Indonesia scores 7.92 for its electoral process and pluralism, 7.14 for government functions, 6.11 for political participation, 5.63 for democratic political culture, and 5.59 for civil liberties. The report also indicates that the development of democracy and the economy in Indonesia is far more advanced than in other Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.

The capacity of Islam to build a distinctive Islamic character in Indonesia should not be taken for granted; this character was not inevitable but rather formed through a long process. It was influenced by the Islamization process that occurred in the country over time, the struggle over national politics, and the existence of a broad base of Islamic community organizations that do not depend upon power politics. This historical experience created social capital and a certain characteristic Islam that is called “Nusantara Islam” by the Nahdatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia with a membership of approximately 60 million.5

Nusantara Islam: Response and Manifesto

The word “Nusantara” is generally used as a designation or name for the entire territory of the Indonesian archipelago. It is a designation of locus (place), not an attribute. As such, Nusantara Islam is Islam that grows, develops, and lives in the archipelago as a result of the dialectical process between the Islamic texts (the Qur’an and hadith) and the local reality and culture. This dialectic eventually forms a sect, identity, value, and culture, along with all of their inherent features. The distinctive features of Nusantara Islam were born from the living traditions and the dynamic struggles of the Indonesian people over a long historical span. By adhering to the fundamental sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the hadith, the Islamization process has allowed 87.2 percent of the Indonesian population to embrace Islam without war or major bloodshed.6

In the history of Islamic intellectualism in Indonesia, the term Nusantara Islam has deep roots. In 2007, the Ministry of Religious Affairs published a book entitled Nalar Islam Nusantara, which contains research on the diversity of Islamic movements by several prominent Indonesian Islamic organizations, including NU, Muhammadiyah, PERSIS (Persatuan Islam), and al-Irsyad. In the same year, the scholar Nor Huda published an article entitled “Islam Nusantara: Sejarah Sosial Intelektual Islam di Indonesia” (“Nusantara Islam: The Social History of Islamic Intellectuals in Indonesia”). In 2008, the Wahid Foundation published Ragam Eskpresi Islam Nusantara/Various Expressions of Nusantara Islam, a book that grew out of an opinion column published in two influential Indonesian magazines (Gatra and Tempo) on the diversity of Islam in Indonesia. Also in 2008, several articles on the characteristics of Islam in Indonesia were published by Taswirul Afkar, a journal of the Institute for Human Resources Study and Development at Nahdatul Ulama; these included a cover feature on Nusantara Islam. Notwithstanding these publications, however, adequate discussion about the term has yet to take place.

The first public discussion of the term Nusantara Islam in Indonesia finally occurred when it was used as the theme of the 33rd NU Congress in Jombang, East Java, in early 2015. Criticism of Nusantara Islam as the theme of the NU Congress emerged soon after.

One criticism came from groups such as Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender Front) and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which view Islam and nationalism as being contradictory and seek to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state. They also justify violence in the name of spreading Islam and reject all kinds of local cultures as contradicting what they deem to be Islamic values. They faulted Nusantara Islam for seeing no contradiction between Islam and national identity or between Islam and local traditions; for carrying out the Islamization process peacefully, without involving and justifying violence as a way of spreading Islam; and for reinforcing tolerance and anti-radicalism.

These critiques are inseparable from Indonesia’s national politics. Most of the groups that have criticized Nusantara Islam as an ideal and a reality are, in fact, political opponents of President Joko Widodo; their opposition has increased since the president’s opening speech at the NU’s Alim Ulama National Conference at Istiqlal Mosque (on June 14, 2015). In that speech, he praised Nusantara Islam and even said, “Our Islam is Nusantara Islam.”7 The government and NU have been very close since then, as both seek to stop the spread of radical Islamist groups.

In an effort to disseminate the ideas of Nusantara Islam, NU held an International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders (ISOMIL) on May 9–11, 2016. The summit, called “Nusantara Islam as Inspiration for World Peace,” was attended by around 400 participants from Sudan, Libya, Algeria, India, Russia, Morocco, Thailand, England, Senegal, Lithuania, Spain, Greece, South Korea, Jordan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries; it resulted in the Nahdatul Ulama Declaration.8 The declaration, which has become known as the “Manifesto of Nusantara Islam,” offered Nusantara Islam to the world as an Islamic paradigm worthy of emulation. It argued that Islam contributes to universal civilization by respecting and appreciating the existing cultures and promoting harmony and peace. It also invited Muslim communities around the world “to recall the beauty and dynamism that emerged from the historic encounter of the spirit and teachings of Islam with the reality of local cultures . . . , which have given birth to numerous great civilizations,” including in the archipelago.9

The declaration offers the perspective of Nusantara Islam, which does not see any contradiction between religion and nationality. The perspective is expressed in its memorable adage hubbul watan minal iman, meaning “love for the motherland is part of faith.” Whoever does not have a nationality will not have a homeland. Whoever does not have a homeland will not have a history. In Nusantara Islam’s perspective, Islam does not mobilize its adherents to conquer the world, but encourages them to continually strive to become ahlaqul karimah (noble characters). This way, Islam can truly manifest itself as a blessing or a mercy to all creation (rahmatan lil ‘alamin). Nusantara Islam strictly follows and lives up to the teachings and values of fundamental Islam, including tawassuth (the middle way, the moderate path), tawaazun (balance, harmony), tasaamuh (gentleness and compassion, not violence and coercion), and i’tidaal (justice).

Further, the declaration highlights the factors behind rampant religious extremism, terrorism, and conflicts in the Middle East and the tidal wave of Islamophobia in the West. This extremism is the fallout from a misinterpretation of Islam. For decades, many governments in the Middle East have exploited the religious differences—and the history of hostility—between existing schools of Islam, without considering the consequences for humanity at large. By promoting sectarian differences or discrimination, these countries pursue soft power (influence over opinion) and hard power (political, economic, and military influence) and spread their conflicts to the world. Such sectarian propaganda deliberately fosters religious extremism and encourages the spread of terrorism throughout the world. This directly contributes to creating the tidal wave of Islamophobia among non-Muslims. The threat of religious extremism and terrorism can be overcome only if these governments are willing to open up and construct alternative sources of political legitimacy.

Moreover, economic and political injustice as well as mass poverty in many Muslim countries also plays a significant role in the growth of religious extremism and terrorism. The persistence of injustice is constantly used as propaganda by extremist and terrorist groups to justify their existence and utopian claims that they, and they alone, will build a better future. Therefore, the issues of injustice and poverty are inseparable from extremism and terrorism.10

The NU Declaration is said to be a manifesto for realizing Nusantara Islam based on historical experience. This manifesto is highly relevant to ongoing global challenges, especially religious-political conflicts in various parts of the Muslim world and the growing radicalism that presents a threat to world security. Although Indonesia is affected by the problems and challenges of the larger Muslim world and cannot be considered separate from it, it has so far been able to face various challenges with its own social capital.

Nusantara Islam: Social Capital and Characteristics

Nusantara Islam is not, as some critics charge, a theological syncretism that incorporates various beliefs. It is instead Islam that is aware of itself, where it stands, and its place in history. The awareness of this historical reality means that Nusantara Islam recognizes the basic plurality of human civilizations; it opposes cultural imperialism and does not wish to impose one society’s culture on another different society. Islam is basically inseparable from Arab culture, but Arab culture is not always synonymous with Islam. This historical understanding allows Muslims in the archipelago to distinguish Islam as a series of teachings from elements of Arab culture.

Nusantara Islam’s awareness of itself is inseparable from the Islamization process that historically shaped the Islam of the archipelago. Compared to the Islamization process in some other regions of the world, the process in Indonesia and Southeast Asia is relatively new; according to studies by historians, the Islamization process in Indonesia occurred just as Islam in the Middle East suffered from decline.

Historians of Islam present several informed theories—and occasionally a lot of speculation—about the early history of Islam in Indonesia, how it entered the archipelago, and how the subsequent Islamization process unfolded there. Some argue that Islam was introduced in the archipelago in the century after Hijra (an event of the seventh century), when Arab traders arrived in Banda Aceh. This theory claims that the Islam that came to Indonesia was the most authentic Islam since the early days of Islam’s development in Arabia. This “Arab theory” is acknowledged by earlier writers such as John Crawfurd, who maintained that the interaction between Indonesians and Muslims from the east coast of India played an important role in the spread of Islam in the archipelago. Similarly, Jansje Keijzer held that Nusantara Islam came from Egypt because of its similarities with the Shafi’i school of thought, while G. K. Niemann and J. J. De Holander held that Islam in the archipelago did not originate from Egypt but from Hadramaut in Yemen.11

In contrast, many writers explicitly argue that Islam came to Indonesia right from Arabia (not India) in the seventh century (not the 12th or 13th century) through Arab traders who traveled to the ports of the archipelago. Abdul Rahman Haji Abdullah, for example, mentions a camphor business contract between the Indonesians and Arab traders in the seventh century.12 This theory is shared by many Islamic historians who are willing to say that Islam in the archipelago is genuine and authentic Islam coming directly from its original center and clearly not a peripheral and syncretic Islam. However, this Arab theory is unable to explain how the religious conversion took place and how the Islamization process was involved in it. This difficulty is understandable, however, if we bear in mind that the Arab traders did not solely aim to spread Islam.

A second theory has been proposed by Dutch scholars, including Pijnappel and G. W. J. Drewes,13 who claimed the origin of Islam in the archipelago was from the Indian subcontinent, specifically the Gujarat and Malabar regions, and not Persia or Arabia. According to them, the Arabs who were subject to the Shafi’i school of thought immigrated and settled in India and then brought Islam to the archipelago. This theory was later developed by Snouck Hurgronje, an Indonesianist from the Netherlands, who argued that once Islam was firmly established in several port cities of the Indian subcontinent, Indian or Deccan Muslims came to Malay Indonesia as the early propagators of Islam. Only then did the Arabs claiming the titles of Sayyid and Syarif and descent from Prophet Muhammad accomplish their mission in spreading Islam in the archipelago by becoming priests or sultans. This process occurred in the 12th century—the most likely period for the beginning of Islam in its true sense in the archipelago.14

A third theory, developed by S.Q. Fatimi15 and based on the fact that most prominent people or their descendants in Pasai were Bengalis, states that Islam came from Bengal (Bangladesh): Islam first arrived in the Malay Peninsula from the east coast, not from the west (Malacca), and traveled through Canton, Phanrang (Vietnam), Leran, and Trengganu. He argues that the doctrine of Islam in the peninsula resembles the one in Phanrang, and finds the inscription elements in Trengganu similar to the ones in Leran. Drewes, a historian of Indonesia, criticizes this theory, particularly the claim about the inscriptions, which he considered was not well-substantiated. In addition, the dominant school of thought in Bengal is the Hanafi school, not the Shafi’i school as in Indonesia.16

Regarding the question of who spread Islam in the archipelago, most Western scholars argue that the first propagator of Islam was a Muslim trader who began trading in the area and married a local woman. This is in contrast to the opinion of A. H. Johns, who in an article entitled “Sufism as a Category in Indonesian Literature and History” questions this view. 17 Johns finds it difficult to believe that Muslim traders were propagators of Islam. If they were actively involved in spreading Islam, why did Islam not spread before the 12th century, given that it had been present in the archipelago since the seventh century? In other words, despite the fact that the natives had met and interacted with Muslims since the seventh century, there is no evidence showing large numbers of local people converting to Islam or substantial Islamization taking place in the archipelago before the 12th century.

A. H. Johns proposes a theory that the wandering Sufis, with their charismatic authority and spiritual power, spread Islam in the archipelago and finally succeeded in Islamizing a large population beginning in the 13th century. Their success was due to their ability to present Islam in a moderate manner, especially in emphasizing the compatibility between Islam and local culture.18 As a result of this approach, Islam in the region—especially on the island of Java Island—is called syncretic Islam by Western researchers,19 including Harry J. Benda,20 Clifford Geertz,21 W. F. Wertheim, 22 Robert Jay, 23 Howard M. Fiderspiel,24 and others. The word “syncretic” tends to be used pejoratively, to argue that Indonesian Islam is somehow not “authentic” and is mixed up with outside elements. However, this assumption (or accusation) is not entirely true, as the basic aspects of constructing Islam in Indonesia are no different from those operating in other parts of the world. The only distinction is the way of expressing Islam; local traditions are opposed and wiped out in other places, but Islam in Indonesia actually embraces them. This is the reason why more than 200 million Indonesians profess Islam.

The phase when wandering Sufis were actively involved, which began in the 13th century, is inseparable from the development of Islam. The Sufi order became a dominant force in the development of the Muslim world, right after the fall of Baghdad in 1258 (corresponding to 656 AH). The Sufi order gradually became a stable and disciplined institution, and developed an affiliation with the trade and handicraft groups that had helped shape urban society. The dominant role played by the Sufis in spreading Islam in the archipelago has shaped the characteristics of Indonesian Islam.

The Islamization process in Indonesia formed the characteristics of Nusantara Islam in six main ways:

1. Promoting dialogue and the way of peace. Dialogue and the way of peace are characteristics originating from the Sufis’ teachings and Islamization processes in the archipelago. The Sufis put forth an example of how to preach and spread Islam into the heart of the society, and in doing so produced a much stronger Islam than one spread by violence and intimidation. Acceptance is a choice—not compelled—based on the principles of Islamic teachings.

2. Adapting to local traditions. The presence of Islam in the archipelago does not involve opposition to or destruction of local traditions or their physical and nonphysical symbols. This adaptive attitude is in line with the characteristics of dialogue and the way of peace. Here, adaptation is not syncretism, but the ability to incorporate Islamic teachings within social customs to create a harmonious relationship between Islam and the traditions and customs of the society. The traditions and customs of the people are kept and maintained, but the worldview is replaced with the Islam-based worldview. This adaptive approach leads Islam in the archipelago to avoid coercion and become part of the belief and culture of the people themselves.

3. Relying on the power of civil society. Nusantara Islam is not an Islam that depends on political power. If it did, then the collapse of political power would mean that it, too, collapsed. Even though Nusantara Islam needs to engage in and support political life, political power is not the main foundation of its social power and influence. The true power of Islam is the cultural power that exists in society under the guidance of religious scholars, the ulema. Here, the power of Islam in civil society means that Muslim scholars, especially under religious organizations such as Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, play a significant role in protecting society on the one hand and guarding the integrity of the Republic of Indonesia on the other. The ulema do not live in ivory towers. They live within society to fully understand people and their activities, and so become their spokesmen and the anchor of their lives. They play a role in handling any political or social chaos and disturbances due to change. This is why, no matter how big the social and political changes are, they do not cause extraordinary shocks that threaten the life of society, nation, and state. This situation in turn ensures economic, social, and cultural independence, that is, sovereignty and freedom from foreign control and malign influence.

4. Seeing no contradiction between Islam and nationalism. Nusantara Islam does not see any contradiction between Islam and nationalism. The integrity of the nation is understood in Nusantara Islam as a collective and individual responsibility. The love for the homeland is an awareness of the importance of securing a foothold. There is a memorable adage in Indonesia, “hubbul wathan minal iman” — “love for the motherland is part of faith”—that suggests Nusantara Islam’s religious-creative approach to encouraging Muslims to love their homeland. This is what inspired the Muslims in Surabaya, East Java, and its surroundings to promote the “Resolution of Jihad” and defend Indonesian independence in 1945. Muslim scholars in Indonesia loved and defended the country; to preserve its integrity, they were unwilling to make Indonesia an Islamic state. The Jakarta Charter agreed by Indonesia’s founding fathers on June 22, 1945 stated that there was an obligation to carry out Islamic law for its adherents, but this was removed from the Constitution at the beginning of the formation of the Indonesian state. However, this did not lessen their love for Indonesia in the slightest. The love for the nation and the state did not diminish their love for Islam. In fact, the love for Islam and effort to build a civilization would not be possible in a country that could not be managed independently. Hence for Nusantara Islam and NU, nationalism is an important prerequisite to building an Islamic civilization.

5. Believing in citizen equality. Nusantara Islam recognizes the equality of all Indonesian citizens; no citizen is privileged over another. Each and every one of them is treated equally without discrimination regardless of their religion, ethnicity, and race. Their equality is a result and continuation of the nation-state ideology, which views ties to the state as a social contract that includes the state’s duty to protect all its citizens. The state’s protection of its citizens without discrimination is a form of loyalty to the basic principles of Islam, as human beings are God’s most noble creatures. The state offers its protection to citizens solely as human beings who are willing to become citizens, not for anything else. In the National Alim Ulama Conference in 2019, Nahdatul Ulama emphatically rejected the idea that non-Muslims should be called kafir. Instead, they are citizens. This approach embodies the principle of equality for all citizens.

6. Rejecting extremism and radicalism. In its long history, Nusantara Islam has always rejected religious extremism. Extremism is a way of thinking and acting that contradicts the Islamic principles of tawasuth (moderation) and tasamuh (tolerance). Extreme thinking can lead someone to become radical by justifying violence as a way to realize what is considered an ideal. Wherever extremism takes root, it will always bring chaos and disharmony. Nusantara Islam opposes extremism and aims to create the balance that can lead to a harmonious life. In contrast, religious extremism can lead to acts of intolerance and even terrorism, and may justify violence and war to fight for its belief. But instead of defending religion, this approach will only destroy religion.

Given all these characteristics, Nusantara Islam is not allergic to modern ideas and is actually a critical partner for ideas such as democracy and human rights, which are facing challenges globally. Democracy and human rights certainly entail new values that may be in tension with Islam. But under Nusantara Islam, there is dialogue and give and take in cases where Islamic teachings are considered contrary to modern ideas. Such a willingness to make concessions allows a balanced world order and the establishment of a civilization that respects the nature and dignity of humanity.

The experiences of Muslims in Indonesia, where Pancasila25 offers a set of national principles to protect all kinds of beliefs, play a very important role in the growth of Islamic civilization in the country. Although Indonesia is not a country where Islam is the national religion, it does not ignore the importance of religious values in politics or state management. For this reason, NU as the main pillar of Nusantara Islam has always shown its love for the country, considering it as the house of Islam (darul Islam)—the place where Muslims are given the facilities and freedom to practice their religion and belief.

Conclusion

With its unique characteristics and historical experience, Nusantara Islam offers an alternative understanding of the development and future of Islam. Indeed, understanding the development of the Muslim world is not possible without including Nusantara Islam. The world needs to understand this fact, rather than accept a monolithic understanding of Islam. Nusantara Islam is clearly not peripheral Islam, and to say so presupposes the existence of central Islam. Essentially and practically, it is Islam itself. It reminds the world that there are always different ways of expressing Islam, and that it is necessary to contextualize Islamic teachings.

Nusantara Islam is not, as critics charge, a deviation from a single normative “authentic” Islam. Rather, it embodies what has become the norm in the Indonesian archipelago through hundreds of years of Islamic history. It is a cosmopolitan Islam that respects diversity and is open to new ideas without fearing loss of its authenticity—that is, its commitment to the basic principles of the Islamic faith. The real-world experience of Nusantara Islam in maintaining the character of peaceful Islam that is compatible with democracy can be a reference for other nations in the Muslim World as they confront various problems. In short, Nusantara Islam is not a type of Islam trapped under majoritarianism, but the one kind that gives a sense of security and protection to minority groups.

source: Nusantara Islam: Seeking a New Balance in the Muslim World – by Rumadi Ahmad (hudson.org)

Bibliography
1 Pew Research Center, “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010–2050,” April 2, 2015, https://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/

2 Ahmet T. Kuru, Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).  

3 Antony Reid, “Islamization and Christianization in Southeast Asia: The Critical Phase, 1550–1560,” in Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: Trade Power and Belief, ed. Anthony Reid (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 151–79.  

4 Economist Intelligence Unit, “Democracy Index 2020: In Sickness and in Health?,” 2020, https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/democracy-index-2020/. The  Democracy Index Report has been published since 2006. It assesses countries based on four categories—full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes. Indonesia has always been listed as a flawed democracy. This means it has managed to prevent itself from becoming a hybrid or authoritarian regime.  

5 No exact data show the number of NU members. According to a survey conducted by the Alvara Research Center in 2016, 50.3 percent of Indonesia’s Muslim population, or about 79.04 million people, claimed to be affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama. See Hasanuddin Ali, “Menakar Jumlah Jamaah NU dan Muhammadiyah,” January 19, 2017, https://hasanuddinali.com/2017/01/19/menakar-jumlah-jamaah-nu-dan-muhammadiyah/ 

6 By contrast, the Islamization process in other regions usually involved conquest and war. See the classic account by Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 10th ed. (London: Macmillan Press, 1974).  

7 JPNN.com, “Jokowi: Alhamdulillah, Islam Kita Islam Nusantara,” June 14, 2015, https://www.jpnn.com/news/jokowi-alhamdulillah-islam-kita-islam-nusantara

 8 International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders (ISOMIL), “Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration,” Jakarta, May 10, 2016, https://www.baytarrahmah.org/media/2016/Nahdlatul-Ulama-Declaration_05-10-16.pdf 

9   Ibid.  

10 Adopted from the 16 points of the Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration. NUOnline.com, “Inilah Naskah Lengkap Deklarasi Nahdlatul Ulama kepada Dunia,” May 10, 2016,  https://www.nu.or.id/post/read/68092/inilah-naskah-lengkap-deklarasi-nahdlatul-ulama-kepada-dunia. This manifesto was reinforced in an ulema meeting held by the Ansor Youth Movement, the youth organization of Nahdatul Ulama, on May 21–22, 2017, in Jombang, East Java; this resulted in the Ansor Youth Movement’s Declaration on Humanitarian Islam. On October 25, 2018, the Ansor Youth Movement issued the Nusantara Manifesto, which invites people of goodwill of every faith and nation to join in building a global consensus to prevent the political weaponization of Islam, whether by Muslims or non-Muslims, and to curtail the spread of communal hatred by fostering the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being. See Rüdiger Lohlker, “Fiqh Reconsidered: Indigenization and Universalization of Islamic Law in Indonesia,” Interdisciplinary Journal for Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society 7 (2021): 188–208. 

 11 Azyumardi Azra, Jaringan Ulama Timur Tengah dan Kepulauan Nusantara Abad XVIIXVIII, 3rd ed. (Bandung: Mizan, 1995), pp. 28–29.    

12 See Abdul Rahman Haji Abdullah, Pemikiran Umat Islam di Nusantara, Sejarah dan Perkembangannya hingga Abad ke-19 (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1990), pp. 24–30. 

 13 See G.J.W Drewes, “New Light on the Coming of Islam to Indonesia” (1968), pp. 440. http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/pdf_files/117/1178935652.pdf

 14 Azyumardi Azra, Jaringan Ulama Timur Tengah dan Kepulauan Nusantara, pp. 24.    

15 S.Q. Fatimi, Islam Comes to Malaysia, (Singapore: Malaysia Sociological Research Institute, 1963), pp. 31-32.  1

6 See G.J.W Drewes, “New Light on the Coming of Islam to Indonesia, pp. 439.  

17 A.H. Johns, “Muslim Mystics and Historical Writings”, in D.G.E. Hall (ed.), Historians of South East Asia, (London: Oxford University Press, 1961) p. 10-23).  

18  19 “Syncretic” refers first to the integration of Islamic teachings with the local values held by the community since before the arrival of Islam, and second to the integration of Islamic teachings with values ​​and traditions of the Indian and Persian merchant communities who spread Islam. 

 20 Harry J. Benda, The crescent and the rising sun: Indonesian Islam under the Japanese occupation 1942-1945, (the Hague: Nedherland W. Van Hoeve, 1958) 

 21 Clifford Geertz, The Religion of Java, (Glencoe: the Free Press, 1960).  2

2 W. F. Wertheim, Indonesian Society in Transition (Bandung: Sumur, 1956).  

23 Robert Jay, Santri and Abangan: Religious Schism in Rural Java (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957). 

 24 Howard M. Fiderspiel, Persatuan Islam, Islamic Reform in Twentieth Century, (Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur: Equinox Publishing, 2009 ), pp. 1–3.  

 25 Pancasila—the “five principles” that underpin modern Indonesia’s political order—include the belief in one supreme God; humanitarianism; nationalism; democracy; and social justice. 


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Dr. Ahmad Suaedy MA. Hum.