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NAHDATUL ULAMA.Established in 1926, the Nahdatul Ulama (or Nahdlatul Ulama, abbreviated NU; from Ar., nahdat al-`Uama’) is one of the two largest Islamic social organizations in contemporary Indonesia. It embodies the solidarity of traditionalist `ulama’ and their followers who hold to one of the four schools of Sunni Islam, among which the Shafi’i school has been dominant. The social basis of NU has been and still is largely the pesantren or traditional institution of Islamic learning, where santri (religious students) live and learn classic Arabic texts (kitab kuning) under the tutelage of a kyai (the head of pesantren, and a respectful Javanese term for a spiritual leader).

There are reportedly about six thousand pesantren, with more than one million santri, mostly in rural areas throughout the country. Most pesantren are affiliated with NU, and almost all of them follow orthodox Sunnism. The best-known NU pesantren are largely concentrated in eastern and central Java. The NU’s presence over the past three generations, with members and supporters currently estimated at thirty million, is a testimonial to the resilience, adaptability, and vitality of Islamic traditionalism in Indonesia.
The name of the organization-“awakening of `ulama’ “-reflects two aspects of its origin. It was part of the wave of nationalist awakening spearheaded by Sarekat Islam (SI), which was formed in 1912. Abdul Wahab Hasbullah (1888-1971), a later cofounder of NU, is said to have formed a branch of the SI in Mecca in 1913. Upon returning to Indonesia, he established an educational organization named Nahdlatul Wathan (“awakening of the nation”) in Surabaya in 1916, and this became a forerunner of the NU.
At the same time, the challenge of reformism represented by Muhammad `Abduh of Egypt was influencing Indonesian `ulama’ in the form of the Muhammadiyah, the second major Islamic organization in twentiethcentury Indonesia. The abolition of the caliphate in Turkey and the fall of the Hejaz to the Wahhabi Ibn Sa’ud in 1924 caused open conflicts in the Indonesian Muslim community. These changes profoundly disturbed the mainstream Javanese `ulama’ to which Hasbullah belonged. For him and like-minded `ulama’ recognizing and taking measures against these threats of bid’ah (improper innovation) was an urgent need. Hasyim Asy`ari (1871-1947), kyai of the pesantren of Tebu Ireng, Jombang, East Java, who was then the most revered of Javanese `ulama’ approved their request to form the NU in 1926 and became its first president or rois akbar.
The NU’s original charter of 1926 stated its purposes as follows: to enhance the relationships among `ulama’ of the various Sunni schools; to examine textbooks to determine whether they are appropriate for ahl al-sunna wal jama’a (people who follow the customs of the Prophet and the Muslim community) or constitute bid `ah; to propagate Islam based on the teachings of the four schools; to establish madrasahs; to manage mosques, prayer houses, and dormitories (pondok); to look after orphans and the poor; and to organize bodies for the advancement of agriculture, trade, and industry that are lawful in Islamic terms. The emblem of the NU, adopted in 1927 explicitly symbolizes its traditionalism. A large star over the globe represents the prophet Muhammad; four small stars, two on each side of the large one, stand for the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, and four small stars beneath indicate the four schools of Sunni Islam; these nine stars together also signify the nine saints (wali songo) who first spread Islam in Java. The green globe is to remind humanity of its origin, earth, to which it will return and from which it will eventually be recalled on the day of judgment. The golden rope surrounding the globe with ninety-nine twists represents the ninety-nine beautiful names of God through which the worldwide Muslim community is united. Thus the emblem embraces the NU’s Sunni traditionalism, Sufism, and specifically Javanese Muslim elements.
The NU has had distinct features from the beginning that reflect the subculture of pesantren on which it is based. Central is the charisma of the kyai as a spiritual leader inheriting the authority of the Prophet. This authority derives primarily from the kyai’s intellectual and spiritual powers-his command of Arabic, often acquired during a long stay in Mecca, and his profound classical scholarship, usually exemplified by his memorization of the entire Qur’an and several other texts, his ability to quote from them relevant phrases or passages in Arabic, and his eloquence in interpreting and explaining them in the vernacular. Buttressing these abilities is his biological and/or spiritual genealogy (isnad, silsiah), often going back to the Prophet himself through a series of renowned `ulama’ or Sufi masters (mursyid; Ar., mursyid), from whom he has received the authority to teach (ijazah). His genealogy also often includes local cultural heroes such as the Javanese nine saints or indigenous rulers. He is not only learned in Islamic science (ilmu; Ar., `ilm) but is also regarded as endowed with divine power (keramat; Ar., kardmah). Generally, the lifelong loyalty of a santri to his kyai is established in the pesantren, while absolute obedience of a disciple (murid; Ar., murid) to his master is formed in a pesantren operated by a Sufi brotherhood (tarekat; Ar., tariqah).
The kyai’s role as spiritual leader is not confined to the compound of the pesantren. He usually serves the local community at large, giving Friday sermons and public lectures and leading ritual prayers on major festivals of the Islamic calendar. If he is a Sufi murshid, he leads prayers (do`a; Ar., du’a’) and recitations (dzikir; Ar., dhikr) on such occasions as Manaqiban-a monthly gathering in praise and commemoration of `Abd alQadir al-Jilani, the founder of the Qadiriyah order-and haul, the anniversary of the death of the founder of the pesantren.
The blessing of God (barakah) possessed by the kyai is overwhelming in the eyes of ordinary Muslims. They join in these gatherings in hundreds and thousands to receive God’s blessings through him. Kissing the hand of a kyai to obtain a share of his barakah is customary in the NU. He also receives a constant stream of visitors requesting advice (nasehat; Ar., nasiha) and legal judgment (fatwd) on such personal matters as seeking marriage partners for their children, solving family dispute over inheritance, and improving business.
In appreciation of the kyai’s guardianship, villagers and parents of santri usually contribute rice and other food, poultry and livestock, fuel and building materials, and cash. Often land and buildings are donated to a pesantren as wakaf (Ar., waqf). Thus most pesantren are financially independent.
The NU has instituted an organizational framework to tap and augment popular religiosity under a kyai’s guidance. One of its primary activities is the lailatul ijtima`, a monthly meeting hold by the kyai on the eve of the fifteenth day of every lunar month; this begins with salat ghaib (ritual prayers) for the recently decreased of the local community, followed by speeches explicating the NU’s policies and activities, and a session for questions and answers. The NU thus provides a forum for personal piety and spiritual solidarity through face-to-face communication. These activities centering on the local kyai reflect the grass-roots character of the NU, embedded in close-knit interpersonal relationships imbued with the ethics of mutual help among neighbors. Each kyai thus has his own umat (ummah), or local Muslim community under his spiritual guardianship.
The kyai is independent of secular rulers, standing on his own religious authority and economic resources. Secular rulers, however, often ask for his consent and support to enhance their legitimacy and control of social order. In this situation, he often assumes the role of mediator or broker between secular rulers and his umat. This relationship gives bargaining power to the kyai visa-vis secular rulers. In turn, secular rulers often reward the kyai by giving him position or wealth. This adds to his resources for patronage within the umat. Nonetheless, unless he maintains his charisma in religious terms, political or economic patronage alone is usually insufficient to support his power; moral corruption of `ulama’ by association with secular rulers is one of the most despised situations in Sunni tradition. The NU is thus ultimately a federation of independent realms of kyais with distinctive characteristics of autonomy, independence from secular rulers, and populism.
From 1930 until the outbreak of World War II the NU grew rapidly, not only as a movement to counter the advance of reformism, but also as an agent for the internal transformation of the pesantren. Most prominent in this effort was Wahid Hasyim (1900-1957), son of Hasyim Asy’ari, who introduced a modern educational system of madrasahs with graded classes and girls’ education into the pesantren; he also established NU’s youth (Ansor) and women’s (Muslimat) organizations. He represented the NU in the MIAI (Majlisul Islamil A’laa Indonesia), a federation of Islamic organizations formed in 1937; Hasyim Asy’ari served as its chairman. Through Wahid Hasyim the NU also joined a political campaign initiated by secular nationalists in 1939, demanding parliamentary representation for Indonesian people. Through these activities the NU organization grew nationally, extending its membership to the Outer Islands.
In the brief but turbulent years of the Japanese occupation (1942-1945) the NU, together with other Islamic organizations, experienced a major change in its relationship with the government-from being the object of hostile colonial control by the Dutch to acting as a tool of mass mobilization for the Japanese. After an initial period banning their activities, the Japanese military authorities not only allowed the NU and the Muhammadiyah to operate but actually encouraged them to mobilize their members and followers in support of Japanese war efforts. The MIAI was soon transformed into Masyumi (or Masjumi; Majlis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia), a comprehensive federation of Islamic organizations that vowed to wage a jihad against the Allies under Japanese leadership. Officially, Hasyim Asy’ari continued to head Masyumi.
Masyumi organized its own paramilitary corps, Hizbu’llah, while recruiting a number of young Muslim activists to join the voluntary military troops or PETA. Japanese soldiers provided military training. The Japanese military government also restructured the Dutch Bureau of Native Affairs into the Department of Religious Affairs, and to head it appointed first Djajadiningrat, a Dutch-educated scholar, and later Hasyim Asy’ari.
Toward the end of the Japanese occupation, Islamic leaders, including NU representatives, joined secular nationalist leaders in the preparation of a constitution for an independent Indonesia. Islamic leaders argued for an Islamic state under the shad `ah, but they finally agreed on the formula of the Pancasila (Five Pillars), in which belief in the one and only God was the first element. The constitution was promulgated on 18 August 1945, the day after the declaration of Indonesia’s independence. Islamic leaders had attained remarkable ascendancy in administration and politics during the Japanese occupation.
In the war of independence fought between 1945 and 1949, regular troops of the new Republic were drawn mostly from former PETA forces, while irregulars and militia were largely recruited from the Masyumi’s Hizbu’llah units whose commanders included a number of NU `ulama’ In addition to their military contribution, NU `ulama’ inspired Republican troops in October 1945 by issuing a fatwa calling on all able Muslim men to join the war as a holy war (jihad fi sabil Alldh) of individual obligation (fard `ayn). This fatwd encouraged the Republican forces in their first major battle against the incoming Allies in Surabaya in November 1945. A fierce war of independence, in which “Allahu Akbar” was a common war cry, continued until 1949 when the Dutch finally recognized Indonesia’s sovereignty.
In the war of independence, Islamic forces were united under the Masyumi Party, which had been an umbrella group for all Islamic organizations, including the NU, since November 1945. In 1952, however, the NU withdrew from the Masyumi party to become an independent political party because of disagreement over the status and role of the `ulama’ in the party. The NU wanted to empower the council of `ulama’ the Syuriyah, as the highest decision-making body of the party; however, the majority of the party leadership, most of them secularly educated, refused to recognize such a special position for the `ulama’ In the first parliamentary general elections and the elections for the Constitutional Assembly in 1955, the NU party received i8.4 percent of the total vote, emerging as one of the top four parties alongside the Nationalist Party (PNI), the Masyumi Party, and the Communist party (PKI). This was an unexpected show of popular support for the NU, which previously had only a handful of individuals prominent in national politics. The election results were also unexpected for other reasons. Not only did the Masyumi party, which had formed the core of a series of coalition cabinets, fail to maintain its pre-election dominance in national politics; in addition, the total votes cast for the Islamic parties fell short of a majority, only 43.9 percent, even though the overwhelming majority of Indonesian people professed to be Muslims.
In the Constitutional Assembly, the NU and other Islamic parties endeavored to adopt a new constitution that would make Indonesia an Islamic state. The PNI, PKI, Christian, and other minor parties preferred a secular state based on the Pancasila. The assembly failed to produce a consensus on the constitution. Meanwhile, rebellions in the name of Darul Islam (Islamic State) continued in West Java, Aceh, and South Sulawesi. Moreover, several leaders of the Masyumi party joined the rebels and formed a countergovernment in 1958. President Sukarno dissolved the Constitutional Assembly, and banned the Masyumi party and the PSI (Socialists) for their involvement in the rebellion. He decreed a return to the 1945 constitution and formed the socalled NASAKOM government, a coalition of nationalists, religious forces (including the NU), and Communists.
In all this the NU recognized Sukarno, in terms of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), as the legitimate head of state to whom Muslim loyalty was due. Since the early period of the Republic the NU had joined a series of coalition cabinets, thus developing a number of its own politicians, the most prominent being Idham Chalid (b. 1921), who occupied ministerial positions beginning in 1952 when he was first appointed vice-premier. The position of minister of the Department of Religion was occupied by NU leaders from 1949 to 1972, making the department a basis for its political patronage. In the NASAKOM government (1960-1965), the NU’s share of power became much greater than before, leading to its deeper entrenchment in the religious bureaucracy.
An unsuccessful Communist-inspired coup attempt in late 1965 transformed the situation. The NU supported the mainstream of the army under Suharto in expelling the Communists and radical nationalists from the national and local political scenes. The NU’s parliamentarians were instrumental in banning the PKI and pressing for the presidents’ accountability for the coup attempt. Suharto replaced Sukarno in 1967 and ushered in the so-called New Order.
The NU party participated in the 1971 general elections as the only major party of the big four of the 1955 elections to have survived the 1965 turmoil. The NU party, through a vigorous campaign headed by Hasbullah, obtained 10.5 million votes (18.3 percent of the total), thus apparently retaining its 1955 strength; it secured the second position behind Golkar, the newly formed government party, which received an overwhelming 63 percent majority.
The 1971 elections were, however, the last time NU campaigned as an independent political party. From then on the New Order government denied the NU its share of power. No longer were any cabinet seats given to it. Moreover, the government took a drastic measure to secure political stability-the reduction of political parties to only three, Golkar, the Development Unity Party (PPP), and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). At the same time, day-to-day political party activities below the regency (kabupaten) level were forbidden. The NU Party was forced to fuse with the PPP, while the latter’s top leadership was directly controlled by the government. It vigorously promoted the depoliticization of Islam.
After the advent of the New Order, the government implemented programs for rapid economic development with a massive influx of Western capital and technology. This created a number of social problems, including the concentration of wealth among the urban elite and the weakening of indigenous entrepreneurs. The PPP, and its NU faction in parliament in particular, increasingly assumed the role of channeling popular grievances against the negative effects of economic development. Moreover, blatant attempts at the infringement of Muslim rights-for example, the Marriage Law bill of 1973-and the favoring of Javanese indigenous religion over Islam in 1978 roused widespread resentment in Islamic organizations. As a result, the PPP, under the leadership of the NU’s elderly Bisri Syamsuri (18861980), the last survivor of its founding fathers, even staged a walk-out in parliament. The critical stance of the NU and other Islamic organizations vis-a-vis the government was manifest toward the end of the 1970s. Annoyed by this Islamic militancy, the government initiated comprehensive measures to eliminate potential threats to political stability arising from the revival of Islamic political forces. In 1982 it adopted a policy of imposing the Pancasila as the sole foundation of all political and social organizations. After tense negotiations and some bloodshed, it finally won in 1985 by passing new laws to that effect.
The NU’s consultative assembly of `ulama’ accepted the new government policy as early as 1983 with remarkable positiveness. At the same time, they proposed that the NU severe its relationship with the PPP and return to its original character as a religious, educational, and social organization, with the slogan “Return to the 1926 Principle (Khitthah 1926).” The new direction was to bring the demise of the NU politicians exemplified by Idham Chalid. The National Congress of the NU in 1984 ratified the decisions of the `ulama’s assembly of the previous year.
The most articulate formulator of the new direction was Ahmad Siddiq (1926-1990), who was elected president of the Syuriyah at the Congress. He argued that the Pancasila was not a religion and could not replace religion. The pillar of belief in the one and only God was in accordance with the Islamic creed of tawhid (oneness of God) and represented the Muslim commitment to practice Islam in Indonesia. Therefore, there was nothing in the Pancasila that interfered with Muslim religious faith and Islamic law. The NU should accept the Pancasila as a manmade state philosophy and as a foundation of its organization within the framework of the Republic of Indonesia while retaining Islam as the basis of its members’ religious faith. By stating this, Ahmed Siddiq made it clear that Islam should not confront the state and that the Republic of Indonesia under the Pancasila was the final form with which Indonesian Muslims were to live.
Alongside Ahmad Siddiq’s presidency, the 1984 NU Congress elected Abdurrahman Wahid (b. 1940), son of Wahid Hasyim and grandson of Hasyim Asy’ari, as chairperson of the Tanfidziyah or executive council, while denying Idham Chalid’s effort to regain power. The Ahmad Siddiq-Abdurrahman Wahid team went on to enforce strictly the decision of the Congress severing its organizational ties with the PPP by forbidding NU officers to be PPP officers simultaneously. The active effort to withdraw the NU from practical politics reached a peak when it staged a “deflation campaign” against the PPP in the 1987 general elections. As a result, the latter suffered a drastic decrease in votes. In spite of complaints from dislocated NU politicians and some `ulama’, the team of Ahmad Siddiq and Abdurrahman Wahid was reelected for another five-year term in the 1989 Congress, indicating the strong support they enjoyed among the majority of the Wamd’ and local activists.
Meanwhile, Abdurrahman Wahid attempted to explain the NU’s policies and behavior in theological terms. According to him, the NU was not opportunistic nor accommodationist, as it was often labeled by outsiders. The tradition of Islamic doctrine to which the NU adhered combined both worldly and other-worldly dimensions of life in one ongoing organic whole, thus forming an effective defense against secularism. The NU’s political behavior was to be understood in this perspective. The NU did not recognize the existence of Islamic alternatives outside the status quo. Constant and gradual improvement of a given situation without endangering the existing order was the religiously enjoined guideline for the NU’s behavior, including politics. In NU circles, disagreements in opinion did not endanger the integrity of the organization, for conflicting views were acknowledged as equally valid. Consensus, including agreeing to disagree, was always sought. This decision-making pattern had great bearing upon national unity and integration because it excluded a confrontational approach in pursuit of political alternatives.
The NU is faced with enormous social transformation as the twenty-first century approaches. Industrialization and urbanization are reducing the proportion of rural population and changing rural ways of life at a rapid rate, while the expansion of modern national education is affecting the continuity of traditional Islamic scholarship based on pesantren education. The shape of Islam in the future of Indonesia, as well as that of Indonesia itself, in turn seems to depend much on the direction and behavior of the NU in responding to these challenges. A new generation of NU leadership personified by Abdurrahman Wahid is endeavoring to respond to them by transforming the NU into a massive social movement for a more democratic, prosperous, and religiously harmonious Indonesia.
[See also Indonesia; Masjumi; Partai Persatuan Pembangunan; Pesantren; Sarekat Islam; and the biography of Abdurrahman Wahid.]
Abdurrahman Wahid. “The Nahdlatul Ulama and Islam in Present Day Indonesia.” In Islam and Society in Southeast Asia, edited by Taufik Abdullah and Sharon Siddique, pp. 175-85. Singapore, 1986. A systematic explanation of NU’s orientation and behavior in terms of its religious foundations by its current top leader.
Benda, Harry. The Crescent and the Rising Sun: Indonesian Islam under the Japanese Occupation 1942-1945. Leiden, 1983. A classical study describing the ascendancy of the Islamic movement, including the NU, in Indonesian politics and administration through the Japanese occupation.
Bruinessen, Martin van. “Indonesia’s Ulama and Politics: Caught between Legitimising the Status Quo and Searching for Alternatives.” Prisma (English edition) 49 (1990): 52-69. A useful survey on the recent political trends among Indonesian `ulama’, in the widest sense of the term, for example, inclusive of Western-Educated intellectuals.
Bruinessen, Martin van. “Kitab Kuning: Books in Arabic Script used in the Pesantren Milieu.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 146. 2-3 (1990): 226-269. A report of extensive survey on the so-called “Yellow Books,” that is, textbooks in Arabic script, used in the pesantren in Indonesia today.
Bruinessen, Martin van. “The 28th Congress of the Nahdlatul Ulama: Power Struggle and Social Concerns.” Archipel 41 (1991): 185-199. An informative field report on the 1989 NU National Congress. Geertz, Clifford. The Religion of Java. New York, 196o. Presents a now-classic “traditionalist” versus “modernist” dichotomy of Indonesian Islam observed in East Java in the early 1950s.
Geertz, Clifford. “The Javanese Kijaji: The Changing Roles of a Cultural Broker.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 2 (1960): 228-249. Places Javanese `ulama’, as a mediator between the Jakarta-centered state power and local communities.
Johns, Anthony H. “Indonesia: Islam and Cultural Pluralism.” In Islam in Asia: Religion, Politics, and Society, edited by John L. Esposito, pp. 202-229. New York, 1987. A readable historical overview on the development of Indonesian Islam against the background of nationalism since the turn of the century and a penetrating analysis of ongoing dialectic between Islamic forces and the state power since the advent of the New Order.
Jones, Sidney. “The Contraction and Expansion of the `Umat’ and the Role of the Nahdatul Ulama in Indonesia.” Indonesia 38 (1984): i-20. Reports on the encroachment of the NU constituency by the New Order government.
Mansurnoor, lik Arifin. Islam in an Indonesian World: Ulama of Madura. Jogjakarta, 1990. An anthropological study of `ulama’, in the island society of Madura, northeast of Java, an NU stronghold. Nakamura Mitsuo. “The Radical Traditionalism of the Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia: A Personal Account of the 26th National Congress, June 1979, Semarang.” Tonan Ajia Kenkyu (Southeast Asian Studies) 19.2 (1981): 187-204. An attempt at understanding organizational features of the NU, in which `ulama’, play a decisive role, and their political implications.
Noer, Deliar. The Modernist Muslim Movement in Indonesia 1900-1942. Kuala Lumpur, 1973. A standard work on the development of modernist Muslim organizations up to the outbreak of the World War II, in which the NU is depicted mostly reactive and reactionary.
Ward, Ken E. The 1971 Election in Indonesia: An East Java Case Study. Clayton, Victoria, 1974. One of the earliest reports on the militancy of NU’s criticism against the New Order government. Zamakhsyari, Dhofier. “Kinship and Marriage among the Javanese Kyai.” Indonesia 29 (1980): 47-58. A detailed description of kinship and marriage networks among leading `ulama’, families in Java since the late nineteenth century.

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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/nahdatul-ulama/

  • writerPosted On: March 1, 2017
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