Webinar on “Muktamar NU 2021: Nahdlatul Ulama towards Self-Reliance and World Peace”

In this webinar, Mr Yahya Cholil Staquf shared his plans for Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) while our two discussants, Dr Azhar Ibrahim and Dr Philips Vermonte, shared their opinions on the potential challenges as well as future considerations for NU under its new leadership.

Jointly Organised by Indonesia Studies Programme and Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (UIII)

Thursday, 3 February 2022 – Jointly organised by Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (UIII), Mr Yahya Cholil Staquf (General Chairman of the Executive Council of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)) was invited, as our keynote speaker, to share about NU’s plans and future directions under his leadership. Our two discussants, Dr Azhar Ibrahim (Senior Lecturer at the Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS)) and Dr Philips Vermonte (Dean of the Faculty of Social Science at Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (UIII)) were also invited to share their perspectives on NU and its prospects moving forward.

Mr Yahya Cholil Staquf was the keynote speaker. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Yahya began his speech by providing a brief historical view of Nahdlatul Ulama, how NU was founded before the birth of Indonesia and how it emerged out of various tragedies impacting humanity (from World War I to World War II). Mr Yahya also elaborated on how the world wars led to the development of the new international order, established by the foundation of the United Nations and the dedication of human rights in 1948. Since then, NU has demonstrated its position towards this “new order” by supporting critical revolutionary ideas, such as universal human rights and equality between races and genders. In line with these ideologies, NU had also chosen to modify the Islamic teachings from the old order to the new order, which led to the development of Islam Nusantara – a new distinctive brand of Islam crafted according to the socio-cultural reality of Indonesia. NU officiated this in 2015. They also issued a fatwa reiterating the notion of equality in 2019, underscoring the rule of law and equality among citizens. Therefore, Mr Yahya believed that NU would continue to contextualise its teachings according to the new international order, through promoting harmony and sustainable peace. Indonesia must also establish its own religious authority contextualised within the new order in order to become a universal global structure for the Muslim community in Indonesia. Under his leadership, Mr Yahya hopes to create a more dynamic movement within the ulama (Islamic religious scholars) and produce new ideas aligned to the aspirations of the new international order, founded by equality and fundamental human rights.

Dr Azhar Ibrahim shared his observations of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and suggested ways of increasing NU’s outreach to the wider international community. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Azhar Ibrahim continued the webinar by sharing his observations of NU over the years. He began by illustrating the organization’s strengths as a moderate and an organic link with the community. NU also aids in nurturing intellectual traditions and fostering a cosmopolitan outlook with its santri and rural background. Dr Azhar also believed that NU’s cosmopolitanism could assist in bridging its embracement to the global community. NU has played multiple roles throughout Indonesia’s history, from being the interpreter and defender of truth, the moral voice during a crisis, and affirming traditions without succumbing to traditionalism or totalitarian system. With its key contributions to nation-building, NU is in a good position to continue to push forth unity and solidarity in Indonesia. NU could thus explore more into nurturing universalism which includes bringing forth this vision of humanity of peace to the international world. However, Dr Azhar believed that there could be potential challenges and had proposed suggestions. One would be to become more proactive in the public sphere, including the digital world, to counter the spread of certain ‘fundamentalists’ ideas. He also mentioned the need to open up to the broader international community, and this process includes translating NU works to other world languages and collaborating with other religious congregations. Lastly, Dr Azhar believed that NU should push Islam Nunsatara beyond its rhetorical status to more concrete actions. The organisation would also need to reach out to the young people in Indonesia, especially those who are active in community organisations and critical of the effects of neoliberalism within the fraternity.

Dr Philips Vermonte said that NU should work closely with the state as far as it concerns industrialisation and democracy. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Philips Vermonte, our second discussant, shared his opinions about NU and elaborated on some key pointers that NU could focus on in the coming years. Dr Vermonte agreed on the importance of NU to Indonesia, stating that NU has always been a part of Indonesia’s nationalism and assisted in the foundation of Indonesia’s strong social capital. Based on that, Dr Vermonte believed that NU should work closely with the state as far as it concerns industrialisation and democracy, despite both parties facing some struggles in dealing with these new upcoming areas of development. NU would also continue to protect Indonesia’s position as a pluralist state and will seek to maintain this balance between religion and the state. With Indonesia possessing multiple identities (maritime democracy, Islam democracy, etc.) throughout its development. Dr Vermonte argued that NU would need to reflect these identities within their organisation progressively. He also discussed the need to continuously bring in new young scholars who are well-versed in global issues faced by Indonesia. NU would have to depart from being seen as a traditional organisation and explore new contributions to the global world by addressing global issues such as climate change.

Mr Yahya Cholil Staquf, Dr Azhar Ibrahim, and Dr Philips Vermonte shared their thoughts on Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and discussed key issues on the role & prospects of NU in Indonesia. The session was moderated Dr Norshahril Saat. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The webinar drew an audience of 94 participants from both Singapore and abroad. The panel then discussed a range of topics during the Question-and-Answer segment, which included topics such as radicalism, promoting world peace under the new order, the concerns of new global issues from a religious standpoint, the re-contextualisation of the ‘old order’ belief system, reattracting young people back towards NU and the contestation between NU’s interest and Indonesia’s interest in foreign policy. This webinar ended with some concluding statements from our discussants who commented on the outreach of Islam Nusantara to a wider community and the separation of politics from religion.

Access the webinar recording here.

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