Nahdatul Ulama

Doctrines The Nahdatual (sometimes Nahdlatul) Ulama (NU) represents traditionalist orthodox Sunni Islam in Indonesia. The ulama are the scholar-legists of Islam, trained in the religious sciences such as the Qur'an, exegesis and interpretation of the relgious law, shari'a. Of the four traditional schools of law, the shari'a predominates in Indonesia. Still, the Nu promotes cooperation between scholars of all the schools, and propagates the understanding and practice of Islam in accordance with their doctrines and precepts. Correlatively, it opposes bid'ah, or improper innovation, such as may be found, in its view, in the rival, reformist, organisation of Indonesian Islam, the Muhammadiyah. Its stated purposes further include the scrutiny of textbooks to ensure their orthodoxy, the establishment of madrasas for the training of future generations of ulama, the running of mosques, care for orphans and the poor, and the establishment of bodies to promote trade, industry and agriculture run along Islamic lines in accordance with the shari'a.
The NU also harnasses the energies of the Sufi brotherhoods, for example the Naqshbandiyyah and the Qadiriyyah. The traditional spiritual leader of Muslims locally in Indonesia is known as kyai (or kiyayi), and the kyai may be either a scholar-legist or a Sufi shaykh. In either case the kyai is believed by his followers to be invested with great spiritual power or blessing, barakah, which they seek to share. The NU marshals the resources of the kyais through monthly meetings in which the kyais expound NU teachings and policies, and promote NU activities among their followers. They also exercise social and even political power, through their influence on their followers, when their cooperation is secured by the government.

History The Nahdatul Ulama, meaning the 'awakening of the ulama', was established in 1926 by Javanese ulama concerned to strengthen traditional Islam and unify Indonesian Muslims against the threats posed both by the secular appeals of nationalism and communism, and also the rival religious appeals of the reformist Muhammadiyah and the heretical Ahmadiyah. They were alarmed too by developments outside Indonesia, notably the Turkish ruler Ataturk's abolition, in 1924, of the centuries old symbolic focus of the Muslim world, the caliphate, and the capture of Mecca by the Wahhabis, which potentially threatened the safety of Indonesian pilgrims on the Hajj.
A leading cofounder of the movement was Abdul Wahab Hasbullah (1888-1971), who had earlier, in 1916, set up an educational precursor organization, Nahdlatul Wathan (the 'awakening of the nation'). The NU's first president was Hasyim Asy'ari (1871-1947), the most revered of the ulama in Indonesia at that time. His son, Wahid Hasyim (1900-1957), was subsequently influential in reforming the system of education in the pesantren, the traditional institutions of Islamic learning, whose students, the santri, along with the kyais, form the backbone of the NU. He introduced the education of girls, and further established a women's organisation (Muslimat) and a youth organisation (Ansor). (The name Ansor comes from the Arabic al-ansar, the so-called Helpers of the prophet Muhammad in Medina, when he moved there from Mecca.)
The NU grew rapidly, and during the Japanese occupation of 1942-1945 and also during the subsequent 1945-1949 war of independence the NU became part of an actively anti-colonialist coalition, the Masyumi party; its leaders regarded the latter struggle as a holy war against the Dutch. In 1952, however, the NU decided to campaign as an independent political party, and was represented in a series of coalition governments. In particular the Department of Religion was run by NU leaders from 1949 to 1972, albeit under growing charges of nepotism and mismanagement, until replaced by modern technocrats. Its advocacy of establishing Indonesia as and Islamic state did not, however, enjoy majority public support.
During the last years of rule by President Sukarno it wa seen as sycophantic in its praise of him, and has often been criticised for being for being too pliant in its relations with government. Be that as it may, the NU actively opposed the Communist-inspired coup of 1965, and Ansor members were heavily involved in massacres of Communists in East Java; like many Muslims in Indonesia it regarded the struggle as a holy war, jihad. But in the new order inaugurated by Suharto, attempted government control of the NU led to its forced absorption into the Development Unity Party (PPP), one of only three permitted to function. There followed some confrontations between the NU dominated PPP and government, notably in 1974 over proposed Marriage Laws which would have permitted full freedom of interreligious marriage and required civil law sanction for divorce and polygamy - thus overruling the shari'a; and in 1978 over unIslamic education (although its own educational policies and practices are no longer rigidly traditional). Increased government pressures in the 1980s led to factional divisions, and in 1984 the government opteed (doubtless to government delight) to withdraw from politics under the slogan 'Return to the 1926 Principle', ie return to its original profile as a religious, educational and social organisation. It accepted the govenment policy of basing the state on the Pancasila - five principles, the first of which was belief in one supreme God - and thus renounced its earlier advocacy of an Islamic state.
Since 1984 the NU has been led by Abdurrahman Wahid (born 1940), the son of Wahid Hasyim, and grandson of the first NU president. In 1991 he founded the Democratic Forum, dedicated to promoting greater democracy in Indonesia, including freedom of expression. In 1992 the NU held its first mass rally since 1966.

Symbols The emblem combines symbols of Sunni doctrine, Sufism, and specifically Indonesian Islam. A green globe is surrounded by a golden rope containing 99 twists symbolising the traditional 99 beautiful names of Allah. Above the globe are a large star, symbolising Muhammad, flanked by two pairs of small stars, symbolising the first four leaders of the Islamic community after the death of Muhammad who are known among Sunnis as the Four rightly guided Caliphs; a further four small stars below these symbolise the four schools of shari'a; and the nine stars symbolise the nine 'saints' (a Sufi designation) who are believed to have first introduced Islam to Indonesia.

Adherents The NU is the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia with an estimated 30 million members (Europa Publications Ltd. 1997, ). Its membership is largely rural and peasant-based, with major networks in Central and East Java, in contrast to the largely urban and middle class composition of the Muhammadiyah.

Main Centre
 The headquarters of Nahdtul Ulama is in Jakarta.