Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest moderate Islamic organisation in Indonesia and the world with 90 million members, is demanding more leeway in Indonesian politics and hopes “the victory of its representative in the next presidential election,” said yesterday NU President Said Aqil Siradj, at an event marking the 73rd anniversary of Muslimat NU, the movement’s women branch.
During the meeting, attended by thousands of NU members at Jakarta’s Soekarno Sport Stadium, Siradj said that the reasons for NU’s greater involvement in the country’ political life “are contained in the Qurʾān”.
“The Prophet Muhammad was called to form a mass organisation that played an important role in society,” the NU president explained. “NU leaders should take on important positions in the country’s religious life. The minister for Religious Affairs should be one of us. Otherwise, many mistakes will be made.”
Since Indonesia’s independence, a NU representative has always headed that ministry.
Presidential elections in April will see the president Joko Widodo and NU member (picture 3) run for re-election against Prabowo Subianto, backed by Islamist political groups.
Widodo chose as vice presidential candidate Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the Council of the Indonesian ulema (MUI) and former NU chief advisor (he resigned after he was chosen).
Until an hour this was announced, former Justice Minister Mohammad Mahfud Md was expected to be his pick.
According to some sources, the president’s political advisers persuaded him to drop Mahfud since he is not well liked by the NU nor the president’s party, the National Awakening Party.
Siradj’s statement has been controversial. However, for Helmy Faishal Zaini, NU’s secretary general, the remarks by the NU president should be seen as “words of encouragement” to the members of the organisation.
“Prof Siradj’s message,” Zaini notes, “is that ‘Those who are not experts in the Qurʾān cannot speak about Islam’. This is his response to Indonesia’s current situation, where more and more Muslim clerics are delivering sermons in mosques that threaten social harmony.”