Indonesia’s largest Muslim youth group plans to tackle extremism through humanitarian declaration


Nahdlatul Ulama is the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia. (Photo: AFP/Adek Berry) 

KUALA LUMPUR: An Indonesian doctor on Sumatra island and a teenager in Jakarta fled from their homes last month in fear of vigilantes from the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who threatened and harassed them.

A video of the 15-year-old male being surrounded and slapped by FPI members went viral online. Indonesian police have said the teen and his family are now in a “safe place”.

Both the teenager and the female doctor had posted comments on Facebook on FPI’s leader, Habib Rizeiq Shihab, who is wanted by police in a pornography case. Rizieq had fled Indonesia for Saudi Arabia to avoid being questioned by the authorities.

“If (Rizieq’s) innocent, why run? Doesn’t he have 300 lawyers and 7 million supporters by his side? Don’t run away, bib (Habib),” Dr Fiera Lovita wrote on her Facebook page, according to Indonesian online media Liputan6.

Rizieq’s followers were outraged and accused her of insulting Islam. They threatened to kill, stone and burn her alive, Dr Fiera was quoted as saying by Liputan6.

Dr Fiera has since fled her hometown in Solok, West Sumatra for Jakarta.

However, her passage to Jakarta was guarded by members of Indonesia’s largest Muslim youth organization, Gerakan Pemuda Ansor (GP Ansor). It is the youth wing of the country’s largest moderate Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has around 50 million followers.

“NU is the only organisation in this country right now who cares about NKRI (Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia), the minorities,“ a Jakarta resident, who declined to be named, told Channel NewsAsia.

“NU is the only one doing something to counter the radicals,” said the resident, referring to pro-Islamic State groups wanting to set up an Islamic caliphate in Indonesia.


Dr Fiera’s case came just days after Ansor held a congress to call for a re-examination of Islamic text to adapt it to modern civilization. It also issued a Declaration on Humanitarian Islam last month in Jombang, East Java.

“Civil discord, acts of terrorism, rebellion and outright warfare – all pursued in the name of Islam – will continue to plague Muslims and threaten humanity at large, until these issues are openly acknowledged and resolved,” Ansor said during the declaration.

Ansor’s move comes in the wake of rising intolerance and extremism in the country which has long been the face of moderate Islam.

One prominent case showcasing the trend is the jailing of Jakarta’s first ethnic Chinese Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – also known as Ahok – for blasphemy, raising concerns that extremists are gaining an upperhand.

“This (Declaration of Humanitarian Islam) came about because of the rise of groups of people who claim monopoly over what is the ‘truth’ that is reflected in their attitude of playing the judge, intimidating and stepping on the dignity of others,” Yaqut Qoumas, the head of Ansor, told Channel NewsAsia.

Yaqut Qoumas, head of GP Ansor. (Photo: Amy Chew)

According to Yaqut, lack of firm action from the government and police have served to embolden such groups.

“If they (government and police) are firm, I am sure they will not dare to commit acts that overstep legal boundaries,” Yaqut added.

Asked whether the declaration will help to reduce and prevent extremism, he said: “The Declaration on Humanitarian Islam will help. It does not just stop with a declaration but we are pushing for concrete action, calling for the religious clergy to re-contextualise Islamic Orthodoxy to adapt to modern times.”


The 22-page Declaration on Humanitarian Islam provides a strategic road map for a coordinated, long-term effort to address issues in the Islamic world.

Key elements in the strategy include a new theological discourse to recontextualise Islamic teachings for the modern era, the development and adoption of new educational curricula throughout the Islamic world and ensuring that grassroots movements build societal consensus and political will.

“Our goal is to develop an international network leading to the emergence of a global movement which shall be dedicated to the well-being of humanity as a whole – and to the fostering of a truly global civilisation inspired by ‘humanitarian Islam’, likened to Islam rahmatan li al-‘alamin, which serves as a blessing for all creation,” said Ansor.

Ansor’s initiative raises the question – will it gain support within and outside of Indonesia for it to become mainstream?

Analysts believe that Ansor and its parent NU could face many challenges as Indonesia is seldom seen as a major player in the Islamic world, despite being the most populous Muslim nation.

“I think this initiative is very noble in its intent but I am doubtful that it will have much impact outside NU circles in Indonesia, not to mention the broader Muslim world,” said Associate Professor Grey Fealy from the Australian National University.

“Overseas, NU and Indonesian Islam have little influence, sadly. There have been lots of attempts to gain a higher profile for Indonesian Islamic thinking but with little success. Many in the Middle East and South Asia think of Indonesia as being on the periphery,” Assoc Prof Fealy added.

Assistant Professor James Hoesterey from Emory University, who attended the Ansor congress, welcomed the declaration but also admitted it faces many challenges.

“I think this is an interesting, and generally positive, development in NU and GP Ansor’s attempts to articulate a conceptual and theological model that makes room for local traditions and national attachments,” said Asst Prof Hoesterey.

“Unfortunately, Indonesia continues to suffer from a lack of leverage when it comes to religious authority on a global scale. I cannot imagine the global forum in which Ansor can recalibrate political theology more globally,” he added.

“The most recent 22-page document is a start, yet the hard work of actually articulating the theology has yet to be done. Indeed, that is what they are calling for. However, even if the theological argument is sound, on-the-ground political realities make the cause of moderate Islam much more daunting,” he said.

“In terms of the extent to which the wider world will recognize NU as the voice of moderate Islam, NU would have to change the positions of several senior ulamas (clerics) who have expressed intolerant views of Shias, Ahmadiyahs, and LGBT communities,” he said.

“Whether right or wrong, much of the wider Western world would want to see greater tolerance towards such communities before championing NU as the model for moderate Islam.”

While the conservative clerics of NU are in the minority, they nevertheless have made headlines as they are vocal in their views. NU has in the past protected the Ahmadiyahs in East Java when they were attacked by radicals who view them as apostates.

Within Indonesia, Ansor’s initiative has the support of one prominent and influential Muslim activist – Alissa Wahid, the great grand-daughter of NU’s founder Hasyim Asy’ari. Her father, Abdurrahman Wahid, led NU for 15 years before stepping down in 1999 when he was elected as the country’s president.

“I strongly support this initiative as the current times needs it. Re-contexualisation does not mean rewriting (the holy text of the Quran) but to explore to development of Islamic thoughts that are more in line with current times,” Alissa told Channel NewsAsia.

Source: CNA/ac/am

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