Book: Two Peaceful Forces (The Role and Contribution of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama in Peace and Democracy, from Local to Global Narratives)

Book: Two Peaceful Forces (The Role and Contribution of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama in Peace and Democracy, from Local to Global Narratives)

Writer: Moh. Najib Azca,

Executive Summary

This book  examines the  simple questions: what are and how should the role of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) progress in peacebuilding and democracy at national, regional, and international levels? These questions are exceptionally relevant amidst  widespread violent conflict, extremism, and sectarianism in the Muslim world. It is widely recognised that Islam in Indonesia represents a ‘model’ of Islam that is compatible with democracy, peace, and humanity. After more than three decades since  Suharto’s authoritarian regime, Indonesia had undergone a political transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Indonesia is currently the world’s largest Muslim democratic  nation. One of the key factors behind the success story of Indonesia’s democratisation are Islamic-based mass organisations, namely Muhammadiyah and NU. Their role as the pillars of ‘Civil Islam’ succeeded in establishing a robust foundation for the democratisation process in post-Reformasi Indonesia.  Furthermore, these two prominent Islamic organisations in Indonesia increasingly  contribute to peacebuilding and democracy at the regional and international level.

The achievements of Indonesian Islam in cultivating and nurturing peace and democracy in this archipelagic country, of course, are  still far from perfect. Islam in Indonesia still faces several significant problems and challenges. Nevertheless, the contribution  of both Muhammadiyah and NU in peacebuilding and democracy in the largest Southeast Asian country should be acknowledged, particularly in respect to their roles on the international stage. This book aims to  demonstrate  the peaceful and democratic narratives of Islam —at the national, regional, and international levels— from the world’s two largest Islamic organisations.


The arguments in this book are built on the results of library research and fieldwork research conducted over three months (October-December 2018). The library research commenced  in October 2018 with  the collection of  secondary data related to the roles of Muhammadiyah and NU in peacebuilding and democracy. This secondary data was collected from online and offline media sources. Meanwhile, fieldwork research was conducted in November 2018 by conjoining in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. In-depth interviews were conducted in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Surabaya, and Magelang and focus group discussions were organised three times at the Centre for Security and Peace Studies (CSPS) UGM, Yogyakarta. Seventeen participants attended these three rounds of focus group discussions comprising academics, practitioners, and activists who are involved in the  role of Muhammadiyah and NU in peacebuilding and democracy. Twenty-seven sources were interviewed, the majority of which were  activists and figures within the  Muhammadiyah and NU organisations.

Findings and Arguments

There are three proposed main arguments in this book. First, a democratic transition in Indonesia was only made possible  by the strong and broad support from civil society groups, especially by Muhammadiyah and NU as the biggest Islamic mass organisations in Indonesia. Apart from the internal dynamic and complexity within both organisations, Muhammadiyah and NU were important and strategic actors  at the forefront of dramatic political transition during a turbulent period. Since political transitions from authoritarianism to democracy in many countries in the world are frequently marked by civil war, communal violence and prolonged conflict, the roles of Muhammadiyah and NU in ensuring a peaceful and civilised democratic transition are extremely noteworthy.  Their central role in Indonesia’s democratic transition was largely driven by  the leaders of these two Islamic organisations at the time,  Prof Amien Rais and K.H Abdurrahman Wahid,  two of the most prominent Reformasi figures in Indonesia. Both  had the highest position in Indonesia at the time: Amien Rais as Chair of the MPR-RI and Abdurrahman Wahid as President of the Republic of Indonesia.

Second, Muhammadiyah and NU, through their inherent extensive ‘structural forces’ from the central board in Jakarta to branches board across the archipelago as well as through their ‘cultural wings’, have played a critical and significant role in the democratic consolidation process in Indonesia. Acting as the consolidators of democracy in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah and NU are renowned  for their role in building ‘positive peace’ through various activities at the grassroots level such as in education, healthcare provision, economic empowerment, philanthropy, disaster responses, and dakwah (Islamic proselytism.) activities. Muhammadiyah has demonstrated a remarkable contribution in the provision of social welfare and the promotion of social justice for the community, particularly in education, healthcare, economic, and disaster responses. And, NU promotes and mainstreams a peaceful and tolerant brand of Islam throughout Indonesia. Their cadres have been progressive in countering and combatting the growing religious intolerance and violent extremism narratives, both online and offline. In addition, both organisations have promoted a particular brand of Islam that is compatible with progress, democracy, and peace. Muhammadiyah has promoted ‘Islam Berkemajuan’ (Islam with progress) since its 47th national congress in Makassar 2015, while NU has campaigned ‘Islam Nusantara’ (Islam in the Archipelago) since its 33rd national congress in Jombang 2015. Both ‘Islam Berkemajuan’ and ‘Islam Nusantara’ have the potential to become a template of peaceful, tolerant, and democratic Islam that can be emulated by Muslims across the world.

Third, Muhammadiyah and NU have also contributed to peacebuilding processes at the national, regional, and international level. Although their peacebuilding  efforts have yet to bring significant and brilliant impact/outcome, their active role in peacebuilding could be regarded as the ‘antidote’ to the face of Islam at the international level where some Islamic figures and movements have been   involved in violent conflict  in the Middle East, Central and South Asia. At the regional and international level, Muhammadiyah has delivered its philanthropy and humanitarian assistance in conflict zones including building hospitals in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and Palestine; providing full scholarships for local communities in Mindanao in the Philippines and Pattani in southern Thailand; and initiating microeconomic development and education among the Bangsamoro in the Philippines.  NU also has a strong commitment to conflict resolution and peacebuilding in several international conflict zones. For instance, in the sectarian conflict in Afghanistan, NU sent delegations of Islamic scholars (Ulema) and invited and facilitated dialogue and discussion between conflicting parties in an effort to formulate solutions to peace and cooperation. The NU’s involvement in conflict zones has also been apparent in the long and complex  Palestine and Israel conflict. NU attempted to pioneer a peace pathway  through a peace mission initiated by Abdurrahman Wahid and later continued by KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf.


This book proposes a number of recommendations not merely for policy-makers and the two organization of Muhammadiyah and NU but also for their strategic partners include international communities. Not only related with the promotion of peacebuilding and democracy, it also covers some strategic ideas concerning the expected roles played by Muhammadiyah and NU both in national and international realm. These recommendations include:

  1. Building a stronger, closer, and more collaborative relationship between Muhammadiyah and NU. Leaders  of both organisations should be committed to distancing themselves  from direct involvement in electoral politics that tends to be divisive. Muhammadiyah and NU should instead focus on being a  ‘moral forces’ on the  national social, political, and economic stage.
  2. Broadening Indonesia‘sIslamic alliances initiated by Muhammadiyah and NU by harnessing  support from other Islamic organisations that have a strong commitment to peaceful and democratic  Islam in Indonesia. A strategic axis of Muhammadiyah and NU needs to be expanded and strengthened to promote a ‘model’ of Indonesian Islam on the regional and international stage.
  3. Encouraging Muhammadiyah and NU to become the defender and protector of the existence and the rights of other religious communities especially minority groups in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah and NU should act as  a ‘bridge’ between Islamic communities and other religious minorities in Indonesia.
  4. Developing strong, mutually respectful, and mutually supportive relationships between the government and Muhammadiyah and NU. This mutually constructive and harmonious relationship should be built upon broad national and public interest, not short-term political agendas.
  5. Muhammadiyah and NU should be more active and engaged in issues of religion, peace, and democracy at both the regional and international levels. The roles of both organisations should be broadened in this respect, and their influence must be deepened through  collaboration and cooperation with Islamic organisations across the world as well as other international institutions.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu