The issue of Islam Nusantara has recently gained new currency in Indonesian discourse after the official rejection by the Council of Indonesian Ulama (MUI) of West Sumatera and Banten of this idea. This currency was further strengthened after President Joko Widodo chose Ma'ruf Amin, the supreme leader (rois ‘am) of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and an active proponent of Islam Nusantara, as his running mate for the 2019 presidential election.
Activists and scholars have discussed and debated the meaning of this currently controversial term. In general, as elaborated by Said Aqil Siradj, the chairman of NU, Islam Nusantara is not a new and distinct religion or a new school or stream in Islam and it does not contradict Islamic shari'a.
It is instead an interpretation and implementation of Islam that features a harmonious integration between Islamic teachings and local cultures. It takes the substance of Islam and then frames it within the local context. One of the main purposes of introducing and promoting Islam Nusantara is to counteract radicalism and terrorism, which have penetrated some elements of Indonesian society. “Through Islam Nusantara, or ‘Islam of the Archipelago’, Nahdlatul Ulama believes it can offer a counter-narrative to the rigid and violent ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)”, said Nadirsyah Hosen, the most brilliant and, at the same time, critical proponent of Islam Nusantara.
The statement by Hosen, who also has a position as the chair of the advisory board for the Australia-New Zealand branch of NU, was agreed upon and supported by Indonesian dignitaries, including President Joko Widodo, Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi, Minister of Religious Affairs Lukman Hakiem Saifuddin, and Chief of National Police General Tito Karnavian. They all underline the importance of using Islam Nusantara as a cultural and ideological mechanism, the “soft approach”, as stated by Indonesia's senior security minister Luhut Panjaitan, the counterpart of the hard power or direct armed confrontation strategy to counter terrorism and radicalism.
Although the government has used a “comprehensive” strategy, combining hard and soft approaches, to undermine radicalism and terrorism, terrorists’ teachings and spirits are still far from dead. The attack on the National Police Mobile Brigade headquarters (Mako Brimob) in Depok on 10 May 2018 and the bombing of three churches in Surabaya, East Java, on 13 May 2018 show that radical Islam and terrorist groups are not defeated yet.