Monday, July 16, 2018

NU, Traditional Islam and Modernity in Indonesia ~ Nahdlatul Ulama, with a membership said to number around 80 million (2017), is the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia. It is also, as Martin van Bruinessen has observed, without parallel in the Islamic world as a genuinely mass-based organisation under the leadership of ulama (religious scholars). Despite the organisation's size and distinctiveness this is the first Englishlanguage book on NU to be published.

NU was founded on 31 January 1926 in Surabaya by a group of eminent ulama (religious scholars), most of whom were leaders of pesantren (rural Islamic boarding schools). Their aim was to give organisational voice to the interests of traditional Islam, and particularly the pesantren system. During the 1920s many ulama felt concern over the rapid growth of Islamic modernism and its success in attracting Muslims away from the traditionalist sphere of learning and practice.  NU's history can be divided into three broad phases: an initial period as a socio-religious organisation; a middle period when it functioned either as a political party or formal component of a party; and most recently, its return to social-religious activities. NU was founded as ajamiah diniah or religious organisation. Its original constitution committed the organisation to a range of religious, social, educational, and economic activities, including improving communication between ulama, upgrading Islamic schools, vetting texts for use in pesantren, and establishing bodies to advance Muslim farming and trading ventures. NU grew rapidly throughout the pre-war period. In 1933 it claimed a membership of 40,000; by 1938 this had swelled to 100,000 spread across 99 registered branches. It also grew in organisational complexity. In 1934, a youth wing was founded under the name Ansor. Four years later, a separate women's division, Muslimat NU, was formally established, along with an educational institute, Lembaga Pendidikan Ma'arif. During this period, it also set up a trading cooperative known as Syirkah Mu'awanah. 

NU's involvement in political activities came gradually and reluctantly. From the late 1930s, it joined with other Islamic organisations in campaigning against colonial government regulations which were seen as inimical to Islam. It also supported the formation of GAPI (Gabungan Politik indonesia or Indonesian Political Association) and its call for the establishment of an Indonesian parliament in 1939. It was not until 1945, however, that NU entered formal politics as an organisational member of the Islamic party Masyumi. Increasing frustration with modernist domination of Masyumi led to NU's withdrawal from the party in 1952. It transformed itself into an independent party and emerged as the third-largest contestant at the 1955 general election with 18% of the national vote (only 4% behind the first-ranked party). NU maintained this level of support at the following general election in 1971. It also participated in every cabinet from 1953 to 1971.  During the Sukarno period NU acquired a reputation for political flexibility and accommodation. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, NU reversed or modified earlier policies and undertakings in order to maintain its position within the government. The most notable of these was its acquiescence to the dismantling of parliamentary democracy and introduction of Sukarno's Guided Democracy from 1957 to 1959. Following the attempted coup of 1965, NU joined with the army in the bloody elimination of the Indonesian Communist Party, and supported the rise to power of the New Order government under MajorGeneral Soeharto. Although it had expected to be a significant partner in the new regime NU soon found itself a victim of the New Order's de-Islamisation of politics. It became the target of government restrictions and intimidation during the 1971 general election campaign and in 1973 was compelled to amalgamate with three other Islamic parties to form the United Development Party (PPP). During this period NU became a major source of opposition to the government.

 NU's involvement in party politics ceased in 1984. Increasingly marginalised within PPP and worn down by government harassment, NU left the PPP and reverted to its original socio-religious status. A new leadership team came to power, the principal figures of which were Kiai Achmad Siddiq and Abdurrahman Wahid. They proclaimed NU's return to the khittah 1926, that is the strategy of activity set out by the organisation's founding fathers, and embarked on a range of community welfare and economic development programmes. Relations with the government improved markedly after NU agreed to its demands to accept the national ideology, Pancasila, as the organisation's sole foundation. 

 There have been surprisingly few studies made of Nahdlatul Ulama. In the vast scholarly literature on Indonesia which emerged from the 1950s and 1960s, there was not a single article, monograph or doctoral dissertation devoted exclusively to NU. This was in marked contrast to the quantity of writing on other major social and political organisations such as Muhammadiyah, Masyumi, the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party. This lack of academic interest reflected the ideological and intellectual preoccupations of scholars of Indonesian Islam during this period. Most were either modernist Muslims or western researchers who favoured investigating and promoting those elements in Indonesian society which were seen as'modem-minded', 'rational', and technically or professionally
skilled. Traditionalist Muslims, with their emphasis on classical Islamic learning and observing cultural traditions, tended to be regarded with scepticism and disdain. They were portrayed as Politically naive and opportunistic, administratively inept, and venal. For most scholars of this period, NU's traditionalist leaders were dismissed as largely irrelevant to the task of modernising Indonesia.  
It was not until the early 1970s that foreign scholars Undertook serious study of NU. The writings of Ken Ward, Ben Anderson and Mitsuo Nakamura did much to stimulate academic interest in the organisation, as also did the work of emerging traditionalist intellectuals such as Abdurrahman Wahid, Zamakhsyari Dhofier, Choirul Anam and Arief Mudatsir (see the select bibliography). The quantity and variety of research on NU-related topics has grown rapidly since the mid-1980s. This book is representative of the recent research on NU by nonIndonesian scholars.  The nine chapters in this volume are arranged in approximate chronological order and span the period from the early traditionalist organisations which preceded NU in the 1910s through to 1995. The focus of all but two chapters, however, is on the period from the late 1970s.  NU congresses form the basis of four chapters. These quinquennial congresses have supreme decision-making authority within NU and their proceedings reveal a great deal about the organisation's thinking and culture. They witness often frank debate about its activities since the previous congress and determine NU leadership and policy on a wide array of religious, political and social issues for the ensuing five-year period. Given NU's size and influence, congressional decisions frequently have a significance that extends far beyond the organisation itself. Unlike many other major Indonesian organisations, NU has generally weIcomed outside observers to its congresses and imposed few restrictions upon access to delegates or proceedings. As a result, the authors of these chapters have been able to observe the four congresses from 1979 at close hand. There are several related themes and issues which recur throughout the book. The first of these concerns the nature of NU's political ideology and behaviour Critics have often accused the organisation of being motivated by material and social advancement rather than by religious principles. Various contributors to this collection argue, however, that NU's political outlook is greatly shaped by classical Islamic thought. They consider the content of this classical heritage as well as differences of opinion within NU over interpretation and application- This discussion serves to explain NU's swings from political pragmatism and accommodation to militancy and idealism.

 A second theme concerns the nature of leadership and distribution of power' within NU? An analogy is often drawn between leadership of a pesantren and that of NU: just as the kiai enjoys absolute authority within his pesantren so too are a relatively small number of kiai said to dominate decision-making in NU. Although few scholars would dispute the hegemony of ulama, the more vexed issue is the degree to which NU's leadership reflects the interests and aspirations of the broader traditionalist community. There are three NU leaders who are subject to close study in this book: Wahab Chasbullah, Achmad Siddiq and Abdurrahman Wahid. Wahab and Abdurrahman, in particular, have frequently been portrayed by their detractors as autocrats who have imposed their will upon a reluctant or uncomprehending mass membership. In examining the role of these leaders, contributors have analysed their bases of power and use of traditionalist concepts and symbols to attract support.  The final theme is that of NU's response to social change and modernity. Traditionalist Muslims have commonly been portrayed as innately conservative and suspicious of change. Adjectives used to describe NU have included kolot (oldfashioned) and jumud (unbending, resistant to change). It is apparent in many chapters of this book, however, that traditionalists have adapted quickly and, at times, creatively to changed social and political conditions. Considerable evidence is adduced, moreover, to show that NU's attitudes to change and modernity are not monolithic. Indeed, for much of the organisation's history the struggle between reformist and conservative streams has dominated its internal dynamics.  In chapter one Greg Fealy examines the life and thought of Kiai Wahab Chasbullah, a co-founder of NU and one of the most influential traditionalist leaders of this century. In describing  Wahab's formative years, he identifies those elements which typified the educational and career experiences of young traditionalist ulama and those which deviated from them. Particular attention is given to exploring the nature of Wahab's  authority within the organisation and the manner in which he drew upon Sunni traditions of political quietism in leading NU towards pragmatic and accommodationist policies during the 1950s and early 1960s.  

Andree Feillard analyses NU's political behaviour during the transition from Guided Democracy to the Soeharto regime in the mid- to late 1960s. She looks at the changing relationship between army and NU, especially in the context of the growing controversy over the formal role of Islam within the emerging New Order political system. The divisions within NU's leadership during this period are also closely examined.  The two contributions by Mitsuo Nakamura deal with the period from 1979 to 1984. His article on the 1979 Congress in Semarang (chapter three) was originally published in 1981 and is notable as the first scholarly account of an NU congress. In addition to describing the proceedings and ambiance of this congress, Nakamura analyses the relationship between NU's political behaviour and its religious ideology. He is especially interested in explaining NU's shift from 'opportunism' during Guided Democracy to radicalism in the New Order. He argues that the organisation's demeanour is contingent upon whether it perceives general social and political conditions to be favourable or antipathetic to Islamic values. Hence, NU cooperated with a Sukarno regime which granted concessions to Muslims, but opposed what it saw as the repressive and anti-Islamic aspects of the Soeharto government. He also provides a reflective critique of the prevailing academic bias against traditional Islam.  Nakamura's second contribution (chapter four) complements the first. It focuses on the three critical events of the early 1980s: the 1982 crisis surrounding Idham Chalid's leadership; the 1983 National Ulama Conference; and the 1984 NU Congress in Situbondo. Nakamura also analyses the formulation and intellectual foundations of NU's pemulihan Khittah 1926, the restoration of NU's founding program of social and religious activity, and considers the organisation's plans for using pesantren as launching points for village-level socio-economic development activities.

 In the fifth chapter Greg Barton provides a translation of and introductory remarks upon the writings and statements of Kiai Achmad Siddiq, NU's rais am from 1984 to 1991. Siddiq was a major force behind the organisation's shift from political to community-oriented activities in the early 1980s. 

The chapter contains excerpts from his seminal 1979 work Khitthah Nahdliyah and also a series of interviews published in 1985 under the title Islam, Pancasila and Ukhuwah Islamiyah. The topics covered include the role of ulama in NU and Indonesian society, traditionalist attitudes towards tawassuth (middle way) and ijtihad (personal interpretation), and the relationship between Pancasila and Islam.

 The first of Martin van Bruinessen's contributions (chapter six) examines the NU Congress. He offers a detailed description of the internal politics surrounding the re-election of Siddiq and Abdurrahman Wahid before considering the debate over policy issues. As part of the latter discussion, he looks at the differing definitions of and approaches to NU's 'social concerns' (syu'un ijtima'iyah) agenda, including attitudes to banking and rural development strategies.

 In the following chapter, van Bruinessen analyses broader religious and intellectual changes in traditional Islam. He challenges the stereotype of immutable traditionalism, arguing that it has a demonstrated capacity for evolution and innovation. The defining elements of NU's doctrine and devotional practises are described and the author notes the growing convergence between traditional and modernist beliefs. Van Bruinessen is particularly concerned to examine ways in which notions of the past and tradition are used by reformminded traditionalists to bring about change in NU. He looks at the reformulation of the khittah by Achmad Siddiq and a new generation of leaders as well as the renewed emphasis upon issues such as community dialogue, social justice and economic development. 

 Chapters eight and nine focus on the thought and career of Abdurrahman Wahid. Greg Barton provides a brief biographical overview of Abdurrahman's early life before analysing his writings and intellectual development during the 1970s and early 1980s. Barton asserts that Abdurrahman can only be fully uderstood as a committed religious thinker, and not simply as an activist and leader. He argues that Ahdurrahman's writings throughout this period display a consistent conviction that Islam, if rightly interpreted and applied, is essentially liberal and progressive, and that reform and adaptation must be the ongoing Concern of Islamic communities.  Douglas Ramage brings a political science perspective to his analysis of Abdurrahman Wahid's philosophy and approach to political issues in the early 1990s (chapter nine). He concentrates on three key issues: democratisation, religious tolerance and Pancasila. Ramage deals with Abdurrahman's objections to the government's use of Islam and Pancasila to  entrench its own legitimacy and sets out his aspirations for a Pluralistic, 'de-confessionalised' Political culture in Indonesia. He examines Abdurrahman's critique of ICMI as an organisation with sectarian tendencies and also his involvement in Forum Demokrasi. This raises fundamental questions about the formal position of Islam and NU in the Indonesian state and the direction of political reform.

 The final chapter deals with the controversial 1994 NU congress at Cipasung and the bitter repercussions of the following year. Greg Fealy places these events in the context of the growing uncertainty over Presidential succession and the future of the New Order regime. He reviews Abdurrahman Wahid's first two terms as NU chairman and his deteriorating relationship with President Soeharto. The alliance between antiAbdurrahman forces within NU and sections of the government, army and ICMI is closely analysed. Fealy concludes that Abdurrahman's victory reaffirmed NU's independence from the government and its potential to influence the transition to a post-Soeharto era.

 The editors wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Centre of Southeast Asian Studies at Monash University, and its Research Director, Professor David Chandler. The genesis for this book was a conference in September 1991 called Contemporary Trends in Indonesian Islam which was organised by Greg Barton and sponsored by the Centre. Papers presented at this conference by Martin van Bruinessen, Mitsuo Nakamura and Greg Barton have formed the basis for three chapters of this collection. We are also grateful to Martin van Bruinessen for his helpful suggestions when the project was in its formative stages. Finally, we would like to thank our colleague Natalie MobiniKesheh for proofreading the text and Daniela Mariani, the Monash Asia Institute's Publications Officer, for her technical advice and patience in helping us prepare this manuscript.
First published 1996 by  Monash Asia Institute'  Monash University, Clayton VIC 3168; Australia

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