Our Inspiration


Situated on Islam’s eastern periphery, the Indonesian island of Java has long been known to have the most liberal, tolerant version of that religion practiced anywhere on earth.

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Its religious traditions are not the result of accident, but rather of precise historic circumstances, which offer invaluable lessons for us in the struggle against religious extremism and terror today.




The sixteenth century was a time of great upheaval and bloodshed on the island of Java, as newly Muslim city-states along its northern coast destroyed local Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, and extended their power to the island’s interior.

Flush with victory, fanatical adherents of the new religion—many of Arab or Chinese descent—spread terror as they sought to eradicate the island’s ancient cultural heritage in the name of the One True God, Allah.

Opposing them were indigenous Javanese—now led by Islamic saints and political figures, such as Sunan Kalijogo (shown left)—who sought continuity and a common ground between religions, based on the precepts of tolerance and mysticism.

For nearly a hundred years, the opposing forces struggled for the soul of Java—and, ultimately, for that of Islam—in a war whose decisive engagements occurred not only on the field of battle, but in the hearts and minds of countless individuals scattered across the lush, tropical landscape of Java.


In the end, a new dynasty arose, which established religious tolerance as the rule of law, and guaranteed freedom of conscience to all Javanese. The founder of that dynasty was a Javanese Sufi Muslim and disciple of Sunan Kalijogo named Senopati ing Alogo (shown right). The basis of his victory was the popular appeal of Senopati’s message of freedom, justice and profound inner spirituality, in contrast to the fanaticism and tyranny of his political opponents.

Today, more than four centuries later, Kalijogo’s and Senopati’s legacy remains, in the form of Java’s distinctly tolerant and pluralistic culture.  Their ideological descendants continue to resist the tide of religious extremism, now funded by Gulf petrodollars and entrenched local elites, who use radical Islam for personal advancement, or to attack and undermine the process of reform in Indonesian society.

Contemporary leaders—such as Senopati’s lineal descendant, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuono X; Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia's former president; Amin Abdullah, the rector of Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State University; and rock superstar Ahmad Dhani—are not alone in their efforts, but supported by tens of millions of Indonesians, who wish to preserve their culture’s enlightened embrace of religious tolerance and diversity.

By applying the lessons of Java’s historic struggle, we can help to reduce religious extremism and discredit the use of terror worldwide. That means promoting the cause of liberty, tolerance and justice in other Muslim countries, and encouraging true inner spirituality as an antidote to religious fanaticism. The appeal of these ideas is evident, with calls for political reform now echoing throughout the Middle East.  They are also essential to counter the growth of hard line fundamentalist parties that seek to exploit the desperation engendered by decades of economic and political corruption, and the emerging process of democratic reform, in order to dominate their respective societies—much as Hitler rose to power by cleverly exploiting the suffering and resentments of the German people in a newly democratic Weimar Germany.


Lebanese demonstrators calling for freedom and democracy on the streets of Beirut.
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