Indonesia's Nahdlatul Ulama leads charge against ISIS

To counter the terrorist threat, Indonesia has tightened security at airports around the country, including Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, which serves the Greater Jakarta area.
To counter the terrorist threat, Indonesia has tightened security at airports around the country, including Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, which serves the Greater Jakarta area.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
To counter the terrorist threat, Indonesia has tightened security at airports around the country, including Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, which serves the Greater Jakarta area.
MR A. MUSTOFA BISRI (above), spiritual leader of Nahdlatul UlamaPHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

World's largest Muslim group denounces 'shallow, mistaken view' of Islam in new film

JAKARTA • The scene is horrifyingly familiar. Soldiers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) march a line of prisoners to a riverbank, shoot them one by one, and dump their bodies over a blood-soaked dock into the water.

But instead of the celebratory music and words of praise expected in a terrorist video, the soundtrack features former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid singing a Javanese mystical poem: "Many who memorise the Quran and Hadith love to condemn others as infidels while ignoring their own infidelity to God, their hearts and minds still mired in filth."

The powerful scene is one of many in a 90-minute film that amounts to a relentless religious repudiation of ISIS - and the opening salvo in a global campaign by the world's largest Muslim group to challenge its ideology head-on.

The challenge, perhaps surprisingly, hails from Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population but lies half a world away from ISIS' base in the Middle East.

"The spread of a shallow understanding of Islam renders this situation critical, as highly vocal elements within the Muslim population at large - extremist groups - justify their harsh and often savage behaviour by claiming to act in accord with God's commands, although they are grievously mistaken," said Mr A. Mustofa Bisri, the spiritual leader of the group Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Indonesian Muslim organisation that claims more than 50 million members.

EMBRACING LOVE, COMPASSION AND TOLERANCE

The spread of a shallow understanding of Islam renders this situation critical, as highly vocal elements within the Muslim population at large - extremist groups - justify their harsh and often savage behaviour by claiming to act in accord with God's commands, although they are grievously mistaken. According to the Sunni view of Islam, every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature.

MR A. MUSTOFA BISRI (above), spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama

"According to the Sunni view of Islam, every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature," he said.

This message of tolerance is at the heart of the group's campaign against the militants - which will be carried out online, and in hotel conference rooms and convention centres from North America to Europe to Asia.

The film, Rahmat Islam Nusantara (The Divine Grace Of East Indies Islam), was released on Thursday at the start of a three-day congress of the group's youth wing in Yogyakarta in Central Java.

Translated into English and Arabic for global distribution, including online, the film explores Islam's arrival and evolution in Indonesia, and includes interviews with Indonesian Islamic scholars.

In scene after scene, they challenge and denounce ISIS' interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith, the book of Prophet Muhammad's teachings, as being factually wrong and perverse.

As world leaders call for Muslims to take the lead in the ideological battle against a growing and increasingly violent offshoot of their own religion, analysts say NU's campaign is a welcome antidote to Islamic extremism.

"I see the counter-narrative as the only way that Western governments can deal with the ISIS propaganda, but there's no strategy right now," said Dr Nico Prucha, a research fellow at King's College London, who analyses ISIS' Arab-language online propaganda.

And Western leaders often lack credibility with those most susceptible to the radicals' allure.

The campaign by NU for a liberal, pluralistic Islam also comes at a time when Islam is at war with itself over central theological questions about how the faith is defined in the modern era.

In a way, it should not be surprising that this message comes from Indonesia, the home of Islam Nusantara, widely seen as one of the most progressive Islamic movements in the world. The movement - its name is Indonesian for East Indies Islam - dates back more than 500 years, and promotes a spiritual interpretation of Islam that stresses non-violence, inclusiveness and acceptance of other religions.

Such liberalism poses a counter-argument to ISIS, analysts said.

Separately, an Indonesian official yesterday said Japan has arrested two Indonesians allegedly linked to terrorists on suspicion that they have violated local laws on rifle possession and trading.

Police discovered a video of the deceased Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and footage and pictures of radical groups on the Facebook accounts of the two Indonesians

NEW YORK TIMES, THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Indonesia's Nahdlatul Ulama leads charge against ISIS'. Print Edition | Subscribe