Dr K.H. Said Aqil Siradj is the leader of Indonesia’s largest independent Muslim organization and one of the world’s most influential Islamic organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), or ‘Awakening of Scholars’. Siradj, whose 5-year term as chairman began in March 2010, guides millions through his work with the NU.
The Nahdlatul Ulama boasts an expansive network that covers 30 regions with 339 branches, 12 special branches, 2,630 representative councils and 37,125 sub-branch representative councils across Indonesia. This network practices the doctrine of Ahlassunah wal Jama’ah, which is Arabic for ‘people of the Sunnah (practices of the Prophet Muhammad) and the community’. They base their practices on the traditional sources of Islamic jurisprudence—mainly the Qur’an, Hadith, and major schools of law. Among its aims are the propagation of Nahdlatul Ulama’s message and also an expansion of its already extensive network of members in Indonesia. This is the basis of many of the organization’s social reform efforts. With a solid structure of central and regional boards, branch and special branch boards, and various advisory councils, Siradj sits at the top of this increasingly influential Sunni movement.
With a mainly rural membership base, the Nahdlatul Ulama distinguishes itself from other Islamic organizations in Indonesia by positioning itself as a premier organization of traditional Islam— with an emphasis on education and political engagement based on Islamic principles, although Siradj has vowed to focus NU’s attention away from politics and more towards its spiritual mission.
The Nahdlatul Ulama has made substantial charitable contributions to Indonesian society in the fields of educational development, health care, and poverty alleviation. Siradj, like his predecessors, propagates the Nahdatul Ulama as an organization that is geared toward establishing a secular nation-state based on a body of modern and moderate Muslims—with agenda items such as anti-corruption laws and social reform measures that are deeply rooted in Islamic principles.
Prior to his role as Nahdatul Ulama chairman, Siradj served on Indonesia’s National Commission for Human Rights. Only a few weeks into his position as chairman of the country’s largest Muslim political party, and after violent clashes erupted in different churches across the country, Siradj made strong statements condemning the discrimination against Christian minority groups in Indonesia.
Siradj has an extensive academic background in the Islamic sciences, and regards education as a tool for development. He founded the Said Aqil Centre in Egypt, a study centre that focuses on developing Islamic discourse, particularly in the Arab World.
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The Arab Spring events have not significantly affected the influence of Dr Siradj.