November 6, 2016


Indonesia's Challenge to Radical Islam : The country is emerging as a champion of tolerance amid the rise of the Islamic State. (Keith Loveard and Bastiaan Scherpen, November 04, 2016, The Diplomat)

[T]his vacuum has provided fertile ground for the emergence of the radicalism of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and all of its offshoots, it has also created opportunity for Muslim scholars elsewhere in the world to have their say. Surprisingly, the religious teachers of Indonesia are emerging as the champions of a more moderate and tolerant interpretation of what the Prophet taught, rejecting the austerity of the Salafi and Wahhabi schools and the violence of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
Leading the charge in the nation that has the largest Muslim population in the world but which has typically punched below its weight in Islamic discourse is Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, general secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organization in the country and arguably the world, with at least 50 million adherents.

"Muslims must understand the ultimate ideals, goals, or mission of Islam," he states. "The Prophet Muhammad himself said he had no mission other than to improve the noble character of people. In the textual tradition of Islamic teaching there are five principles that comprise the goal of Shariah - preserve life, preserve mind, preserve religion, preserve posterity, and preserve property - any action that is to be considered in line with Shariah must lead to these five results."

Clearly, ISIS has a totally different interpretation and cares little about preserving life, mind, posterity, or property. The primacy of religion is its only apparent concern. According to Gus Yahya, as he's known to the Muslim faithful in Indonesia, this is the logical outcome of generations of misperceptions about the Prophet.

Yahya is the leading proponent of what Nahdlatul Ulama calls Islam Nusantara, the Islam of the archipelago. He and his allies argue that Islam in Indonesia is different from that in most other parts of the world because it did not arrive at the end of a sword, but peacefully. The preachers who arrived in Java starting in the 15th century - the Wali Songo - were prepared to incorporate local practices, including elements of animism, into the understanding and practice of Islam.

That is the essence of Islam Nusantara: Not that Nahdlatul Ulama's animist-flavored Islam should be a pattern for the rest of the world, but that Islam will naturally adjust to the society in which it exists. The Islam that teaches that Arab society in the 7th century is the only valid Islam is incorrect, it argues.

The gulf between the Salafis, Wahhabi, and more tolerant beliefs is the result of different interpretations of what Islam is. According to Yahya, insistence on what is written and the rejection of anything that is not written in the Quran and the Hadiths is wrong. 

Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword is a nicely balanced look at why that reliance on such undependable sources--the Quran and Hadith--is so problematic.
Posted by at November 6, 2016 11:14 AM