Former Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council (Rais ‘Aam Syuriah PBNU), Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri (“Gus Mus”) is often called Sang Kyai Pembelajar—the Great Religious Scholar Devoted to Learning—by members of the world’s largest Muslim organization.
Widely revered as a religious scholar, poet, novelist, painter and Muslim intellectual, Gus Mus has strongly influenced not only the 90-million-member NU, but also the social, cultural and political development of Indonesia over the past forty years—facilitating its transition from decades of authoritarian rule to an open, vibrant and successful democracy.
Descended from a long line of charismatic religious leaders, Gus Mus heads the prestigious Raudlatuth Tholibin Islamic boarding school in Rembang, Central Java, where he was born in 1944. As a child, he received a thorough education in Islamic studies, first from his parents, and then from other preeminent Muslim scholars—including the renowned Kyai Haji Ali Maksum at al-Munawwir Krapyak Islamic boarding school in Yogyakarta—all of whom encouraged artistic development and critical thought among their students.
This influence—combined with a unique set of native abilities, cultivated through a lifetime of devotion to God, humanity and the arts—has produced a distinctive fusion of spirituality and artistic expression widely admired in Indonesia, where Gus Mus is regarded as both a religious and a cultural icon. Often called the “President of Poets,” he is also celebrated for his courage in defending artistic and religious freedom in the face of radical onslaughts.
A graduate of al-Azhar University in Cairo, which regards him as a highly-distinguished alumnus, Mustofa Bisri’s personal philosophy can be seen in the “Mata Air” (“Living Spring”) interfaith community that he founded, whose membership is open to all who share its essential values: “Worship God; respect elders; treat those who are younger with loving kindness; open your heart to all humanity.”
Numerous books and doctoral dissertations have been written exclusively about Gus Mus, in addition to thousands of articles that reference his achievements in fields ranging from Islamic spirituality, theology, literature and the arts, to education and social politics.