How Islam learned to adapt in 'Nusantara'
April-June 2015
By: Yahya Cholil Staquf

Nearly all of the world’s religions have come to Nusantara without encountering resistance. The people of Nusantara are free to embrace any religion that suits them, and to abandon said religion without harm if and when they desire to do so. And everyone who becomes a citizen within the communal life we share is part of an indivisible unity, regardless of what superficial differences may exist: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

Within the civilization of Nusantara, Islam found its “heaven.” Islam was not burdened with worldly concerns such as rebellion or other internal and external threats. Islam was blessedly free of being instrumentalized to serve as a vehicle for advantage in conflict, because in Nusantara religion has rarely been regarded as a worthy cause for quarrel. Islam thus enjoyed the widest possible opportunity to engage in relaxed dialogue, with social and historical reality.

Within this nonpoliticized atmosphere, Islam has proved more successful at grounding its core teachings in public life than in many parts of the world. This is because of Nusantara Islam’s willingness to empathize with others and engage in dialogue with reality, rather than seek to impose one’s own understanding of reality upon others by force. The success of Nusantara Islam also stems from its conviction that religion should serve as a path to enlightenment for individual souls, and that Shariah should serve to promote the well-being of humanity, rather than function as a tool of repressive authority. In Nusantara, Islam was free to fulfill its mandate in the Koran: to become a source of universal love and compassion.

In our present era, both the civilization of Nusantara and the variant of Islam it has long nurtured are in a state of decline. This is due to a wide range of pressures stemming from globalization, including the spread of a highly politicized and supremacist understanding of Islam. The memories I have tried to evoke in this essay – of Nusantara’s glorious civilization, and its unique expression of Islam – may be rightly viewed as a civilizational plea for help.

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