“A Firewall Against Terror in Islam’s Name”

Nahdlatul Ulama/LibForAll Delegation Visits Europe
to Help Bridge Misunderstanding
and Build “A Firewall Against Terror in Islam’s Name”

In September, 2010, Senior LibForAll Advisor Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri—a revered Muslim theologian and former leader of Indonesia’s 40-million member Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) organization—prepared to travel with C. Holland Taylor to Europe, to inaugurate a long-term, systematic effort to fulfill LibForAll co-founder President Wahid’s strategy, developed with CEO Holland Taylor, that details “how America, and the West, can help Islam.”

Weeks before their departure, a group of prominent security experts from the U.S. published a provocative article, and study in the Washington Times, which heavily criticized those who wish to enforce medieval Islamic jurisprudence in the 21st century, while praising the late President Wahid and the Nahdlatul Ulama as exemplars of a spiritual and “libertarian” understanding of Islam.

On the eve of Mustofa Bisri and C. Holland Taylor’s trip, a press conference was held in Jakarta to announce the upcoming European tour, which featured meetings and lectures in Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri, flanked by Rainer Heufers of Germany’s Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (left) and LibForAll’s C. Holland Taylor (right), at a press conference held at the Nahdlatul Ulama’s headquarters, announcing the NU/LibForAll delegation’s visit to Europe

“Scholar to challenge the views of extremists”

“JAKARTA, 24 September 2010 – Today, a delegation led by Kyai Haji Achmad Mustofa Bisri, a prominent Indonesian cleric, will fly to Europe for a two-week trip to meet with government officials and civil society figures in Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. He will also give lectures during his tour. Bisri (pictured) is a revered Islamic scholar and senior leader of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the largest Muslim organisations in the world. The group follows the centuries-old traditions of Islamic pluralism, tolerance, and spirituality.

Bisri, a leading Muslim theologian, will directly and publicly challenge extremist interpretations of the Koran and Islamic teachings – but not just by fringe Muslim extremist and terrorist groups, but also those being espoused by extremist Christian groups and others….

“Geert Wilders’ understanding of Islam is very similar to that of Osama bin Laden,” [LibForAll CEO] Taylor, who is traveling with Bisri to Europe, said. “They agree on the obligations of Muslims [to wage violent jihad]. They just disagree on whether it’s a good thing.” Read the full article (PDF).

Stockholm, Sweden

Aftonbladet is Sweden’s largest newspaper,
with a circulation of 1,425,000 daily readers,
circa 15% of the Swedish population

“A Firewall Against Terror in Islam’s Name”

STOCKHOLM, 28 September 2010 – “How many people in Sweden have heard of Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri? Guaranteed almost none. Yet he is the leader of one of the world’s largest Muslim organizations, and the hope of reducing terrorism.

“However, no one is in the dark about who Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri or Mullah Omar are.

“Which is a problem. We constantly hear about the extremists, but never about the moderate Muslims. Many people in the West get a very skewed picture of what Islam stands for. An image that creates fear and prejudice….

“Mustofa Bisri can quote the Qur’an forwards and backwards. The beginning of his answer to a question is often a Qur’anic verse. On point after point, Bisri argues that the militants misinterpret the Qur’an. That one has to take into account that it was written many centuries ago in a totally different society, when seeking to apply its principles today.

“Instead of talking about jihad and shari’a, the Indonesian leader speaks of love.” Read the full article (PDF) in German.

A LibForAll Media Center film crew accompanied Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri to Europe, where they recorded his visit, conducted interviews and shot scenes for two new episodes in LibForAll’s Ocean of Revelations film series: “The Rule of Law” and “The International Institute of Qur’anic Studies.”

The Ocean of Revelations curriculum will address the topic of shari’a in two distinct episodes. “The Path” will examine the roots of Islamic spirituality in Qur’anic use of the term shari’a, whose etymological meaning is “the path to water” (i.e., God); while “The Rule of Law” will demonstrate how human beings’ limited understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah (the example of the Prophet Muhammad’s life) have been falsely divinized, by conflating Islamic jurisprudence (the product of said human understanding) with Divine Will itself.

KH. Mustofa Bisri (center) filming for the episode on shari’a at Sweden’s royal palace, accompanied (left to right) by Kyai Haji Adib Chattani; producer Emilie Taylor; cinematographer Yoyok Santoso; LibForAll CEO Holland Taylor; and LibForAll Director of Programs, Kyai Haji Hodri Ariev.

The NU/LibForAll delegation consulted with Muslim figures in each of the European countries they visited. Here, KH. Mustofa Bisri discusses conditions in Europe with the leadership of the Muslim Council of Sweden, and with the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s top expert on Islam, Mr. Jan Henningsson.

The delegation’s visit to Sweden was jointly hosted by the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies (CATS) at Sweden’s National Defense College, and the nation’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Here, Sweden’s Ambassador for Democracy, Maria Leissner (center), discusses the need for theological arguments to bolster democracy promotion in the Muslim world, and the possibility of including such a topic in the Ocean of Revelations curriculum. To her right (in blue shirt and jacket), CATS Director Dr. Lars Nicander.

The delegation also met with the Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador for Human Rights, Mr. Hans Dahlgren; Ambassador for Counter-terrorism, Mr. Tomas Rosander; Director, Security Policy Department, Mr. Peter Ericson; and Director, Asian Department, Mr. Klas Molin.

“The largest lecture theatre (Sverigesalen) was almost filled when Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri, the de-facto leader of the world’s largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama visited the Swedish National Defence College on Tuesday. The topic of the seminar was Islam and terrorism.

“The State Secretary at the Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality (Christer Hallerby, right), provided introductory remarks. [“It is with great interest that we follow the activities of the Nahdlatul Ulama and of LibForAll Foundation in preventing extremism, and breeding tolerance, in Indonesia and around the world.”]

“During his lecture Bisri emphasised that Islam was a humanistic religion. ‘In reality most people live today according to the principles of Islam if we respect our fellow human beings’, said Bisri.

“Furthermore he underscored that many Muslims today feel or perceive injustice. In an analogy, he likened the world to a family where Muslims often feel like a powerless little brother. But he underlined that even if a big brother acted unjustly it did not provide justification for a little brother to throw stones and carry out destruction. ‘Two wrongs do not make a right’, said Bisri.”  ~ Swedish National Defence College website

View the seminar here.

Dr. Magnus Ranstorp (left) moderated the seminar. His report, Preventing Violent Radicalization and Terrorism, praised LibForAll as “exceptional in… communicating the message of anti-extremism. One guiding star in these efforts has been selecting methods with maximum impact and that reach the largest possible audience.” The report, which received widespread international publicity, was requested by the White House library in Washington DC, and the U.S. National Security Council.

Svenska, Dagbladet, est. 1884

“Islam is not the monolith many want to see”

STOCKHOLM, 1 October 2010 – “Sweden is an Islamic country. Thus says Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri, the second highest leader of the world’s largest Muslim organization – the Nahdlatul Ulama, with 40 million adherents in Indonesia. He believes that Sweden’s view on human rights and freedoms are fully in line with Islam.

“‘Extremists have misunderstood Islam,’ he says. Religion does not legitimize violence…. Islamic jurisprudence, [often referred to as] Shari’a, is the product of fallible human understanding rather than the word of God…. Shari’a must be constantly reinterpreted to fit modern society. Furthermore: Palestinian violence is just as wrong as Israeli.

“These views would probably cause the gentle Indonesian leader to meet with a grim fate if they were presented during a normal Friday prayer service in Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Gaza Strip, instead of during a lecture at the National Defence College in Stockholm on Tuesday. Nor are his views fully consistent with those expressed by the leadership of the largest Swedish Islamic umbrella organizations. But what he says is noteworthy: religion is not the monolithic phenomenon that everyone from [Muslim] Salafists to Sweden’s [right wing populist] Democrat [party] proclaim it to be. When you listen to Mustofa Bisri, you see before you a Muslim who not only accepts the existence of the secular state, but who also expresses a belief system compatible to democracy, similar to that found in our churches….

“The Nahdlatul Ulama—which, in its current form, has the support of about one-fifth of the Muslim population [of Indonesia]—gives hope that there is a way for democratic reform.

“Large parts of the Islamic world suffer from a reform movement in the opposite direction, as evidenced by a wide range of phenomena, from the global Muslim Brotherhood to local murder threats against [the Swedish artist, Lars] Vilks. But 40 million supporters should not be despised. That is more people than live in Saudi Arabia.”

Copenhagen, Denmark

In Copenhagen, the NU/LibForAll delegation met with State Secretary for Foreign Policy Michael Zilmer-Johns (right), who asked Mustofa Bisri to “quickly return” to Denmark, and deepen his efforts to promote mutual understanding and tolerance between Islam and the West.

Denmark’s TV-2 broadcast an interview with KH. Mustofa Bisri on the day Flemming Rose—the editor of Jyllands-Posten—published a new book on the Muhammad cartoon controversy.

“Muslims and non-Muslims alike must learn to co-exist. We [LibForAll and the Nahdlatul Ulama] are under no illusion that this will be a quick or easy process. In fact, it will take a long time, and enormous effort. But Western democracies—which prize freedom of thought, expression and human rights—need to learn how Muslims think, while Muslims should also come to understand, and appreciate, why Westerners value these principles so highly.”

Brussels, Belgium

In Brussels, the EU’s Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, Gilles de Kerchove (shaking hands with Mustofa Bisri), hosted a policy briefing and discussion attended by key figures from the Council (the EU’s policy-making body), the Directorate-General for External Relations (DG-Relex), and various Member State governments.

Separately, a member of one European nation’s security service provided the NU/LibForAll delegation with a discreet tour of Brussels’ “no-go zones,” where criminal gangs and Muslim extremists thrive, thanks to opportunistic politicians who, all too often, have formed alliances with said Islamist organizations.

KH. Mustofa Bisri with Indonesia’s ambassador to the European Union, Arif Havas Oegroseno, discussing Indonesia’s potential to exercise soft power, in exporting its traditions of religious pluralism and tolerance worldwide.

Throughout the visit, LibForAll CEO Holland Taylor stressed the importance of European governments engaging with genuine spiritual ulama (religious scholars) who live the highest values of Islam, rather than with Islamist extremists and/or opportunists.

Leiden, Netherlands

Al-Ahram journalist Mohammad Harbi interviewing C. Holland Taylor for a documentary film on Dr. Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd, the renowned Qur’anic scholar and Academic Director of LibForAll’s International Institute of Qur’anic Studies, who passed away in July of 2010.

Bonn, Germany

At the headquarters of media giant Deutsche Welle (the German equivalent of BBC), along the banks of the Rhine River in Bonn, Germany, Kyai Haji Mustofa Bisri and C. Holland Taylor recorded three interviews for broadcast on the international network.

Osnabrück, Germany

German magazine, Der Spiegel, published an article on imam education headed by LibForAll associate Dr. Rauf Ceylann (right) of Osnabrück University, and KH. Mustofa Bisri’s address to a gathering of German experts on Islam, which was held in Osnabrück to discuss the role Indonesian Islam can play in German education. A 25-minute trailer featuring excerpts from the first 7 episodes of Ocean of Revelations was also screened, followed by an experts’ discussion as to its potential use in educational circles.

“German University Starts Seminars for Imams”

“They intervene in cultural conflicts, marital disputes and dealings with the German authorities: Muslim spiritual leaders deal with the everyday and the soul. Osnabrück University has become the first in Germany to offer seminars for imams. Many hope it will prove a boon for integration….

“The signal sent out by Osnabrück could hardly be more important. The German state is creating partners in its dialogue with Islam: imams trained in state institutions.

“It is a project that is urgently needed. Many of the almost 2,000 imams preaching in the country speak hardly any German. They do not spend long in Germany before returning to their homelands, such as Turkey. They are not integrated in German society and as a religious and social authority they also prevent members of their community from becoming more integrated.

“The pilot project in Osnabrück is aimed at preventing this problem, and demand for the course is running high…. “It is also about respecting other religions, it is about people making it clear that Christians and Jews are also devout,” said Rauf Ceylan (left), professor for Islamic religious education at Osnabrück University….

“Moreover, the course provides a detailed insight into the German constitutional state and the European enlightenment, Ceylan said…. “We urgently need a new generation of scholars. Otherwise we cannot pursue a profound debate on Islam here in Germany – and then we will not see a European-influenced Islam,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the plan at Osnabrück has already attracted interest from across the world. Among those planning to attend a discussion at the university on Thursday is one of the most influential liberal Islamic scholars worldwide: Ahmad Mustofa Bisri of Indonesia, who represents the world’s biggest Islamic association.” Read the full article (PDF).

Fajar Wirawan Harijo (dark suit), First Secretary of the Republic of Indonesia’s Embassy in Berlin, traveled to Osnabrück to attend the event.

After the screening of the films’ 25-minute trailer, Prof. Dr. Wolfram Weiße, Director of the Academy of World Religions at Hamburg University, praised Ocean of Revelations and recommended that it be shown to school children nationwide.

When the head of a local Muslim organization criticized Professor Weiße—saying, “That’s just like you Germans! All you can think about is using a film like this to manipulate young Muslims into believing the way you want them to!”—a woman spoke up and said, “I think every university student being educated to teach in German schools should watch this film series. There’s a tremendous amount of ignorance and prejudice against Islam among German school teachers, which would definitely diminish if they were to see this film.”

Dr. Egon Spiegel, a widely respected author and religious activist in the field of non-violence, holds the Chair for Practical Theology at the Institute for Catholic Theology in Vechta, Germany. Dr. Spiegel describedOcean of Revelations as “unique in its ability to accomplish the much-sought-after, but rarely achieved, goal of transforming human awareness.”

Professor Weiße congratulating KH. Mustofa Bisri on his film series, and lauding the contribution made by his visit to Europe.