About the Author(s)

Muhammad H. Siregar Email symbol
Department of Social Science, Faculty of Dakwah and Islamic Communication, State Islamic University of North Sumatra, Medan, Indonesia

Department of Sharia Economy, Faculty of Islamic Economy and Business, State Islamic University of North Sumatra, Medan, Indonesia

Sahrul Sahrul symbol
Department of Social Science, Faculty of Dakwah and Islamic Communication, State Islamic University of North Sumatra, Medan, Indonesia


Siregar, M.H. & Sahrul, S., 2022, ‘Searching legal format: Reshaping the role of state and religion in Indonesia post-Suharto’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 78(1), a7922. https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i1.7922

Original Research

Searching legal format: Reshaping the role of state and religion in Indonesia post-Suharto

Muhammad H. Siregar, Sahrul Sahrul

Received: 10 July 2022; Accepted: 31 Aug. 2022; Published: 20 Dec. 2022

Copyright: © 2022. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This study showed the nexus between state and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), being the mainstream Islamic group addressing political ideology beyond Pancasila. The transnational influence views religion as an ideology, not faith, resulting in the different nation’s elites response. Furthermore, the government failed to formalise the relationship by endorsing NU to take concrete measures in the area. This study demonstrated how Indonesian religious organisations could maintain stability. The post-Suharto era evinced the special relationship between the state and the largest Muslim organisation, helping the government to defuse militant doctrines. Furthermore, this study defied the secularisation theories to set aside the religion’s role in adapting national democracy or social development. The findings indicated that the compromising politicking religion could strengthen the national identity and ideology shield of external infiltration doctrine.

Contribution: This article examines the problem of contemporary nationalism post-Suharto and the variety of potential disintegration. Indeed, the appearance of nationalist-based religious groups such as NU strengthens the nation’s integrity by building awareness of binding religion and nationalism.

Keywords: state; NU; religion; culture; politics.


Interestingly, Islam came to Indonesia (13th century AC from Yemen and Gujarat in Northern India) by trading and marriage instead of invasion or bloody war. However, accommodating folk customs with Islam was the key point to spread it quickly. This characteristic shaped Islam in Indonesia by promoting the concept of religious-cultural nationality. However, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) maintains the spirit to empower patriotism along with Islam.

Before independence in 1945, NU’s political support to establish the Republic of Indonesia was through Pancasila founding the nation’s cohesion. The debate against the Jakarta Charter as the prime constitution was based on sharia. After negotiating with the aspiring Eastern Indonesian delegations, the NU pushed the nation’s political elites and annulled the Jakarta charter, opting to put Pancasila as the public’s value connection.

The NU established the nation, but its fluctuating relation with the government implies its political attitude, especially during Suharto’s era. For Suharto, NU was Sukarno’s close ally that should have been derailed from political elites. Furthermore, his administration was paranoid about Sukarno’s close circle and prevented NU from becoming politically dominant. Suharto understood the nationalism of NU but prejudiced the Sukarno’s elite circle as uncompromising in rejecting it. The government unified with the NU, leading to Suharto’s fall as it returned to the political stage. This gesture was embraced by electing Abdurrahman Wahid as the first president in the reformation era.

This study explored the equilibrium where the Indonesian Muslim religious organisations participate in socio-politics. Firstly, it investigated the socio-economic and political experiences based on nationalism through religious culture and their role in NU. Secondly, it applied the secularism theory that national integrity should be suitable to diminish the role of religion. The results showed that religious organisations energise and unite all the nation’s elements (Howard 2009; Maxwell 2021). Furthermore, the NU in quasi politics acts as an informal political power. This study discussed proportional and special relations between religion and nationalism to maintain the nationality spirit. The following section described the NU’s role in the nation’s integrity spirit by instilling soft power in the government’s policy.

For Suharto, NU was the previous ruling government’s ally and it must be derailed from political elites in Indonesia. Early on, Suharto’s administration was distrustful of anybody in the close circle of the previous government to put aside NU’s political dominance (Bush 2009). In fact, Suharto knew the nationalism of NU, but he prejudiced to any elite from Sukarno’s circle as uncompromisingly rejected one. The Suharto regime’s fall was the milestone for NU to return to the political stage by electing Abdurrahman Wahid as the first president in the reformation era (Table 1).

TABLE 1: President and vice president of the Republic of Indonesia post-Suharto’s regime.

The mutual internship relation of religious groups such as NU with state is made by the same platform of national integrity. By underlining the key issue to maintain the stability of nation is to create the hub points to connect all of the elements: state, religion and culture. Islam politics of NU and its patriotism tend to metamorphose to link the government policy, social challenges inherent with national integrity.

Nahdlatul Ulama post-Suharto

The NU’s influence in the public elections after Suharto’s demise attracted high votes from its loyalists. This traditional Islamic organisation is called pro-nationalistic that seduces the ruling government (Plekon 2015). The government’s new approach to be closely associated with this organisation is striking, because NU is perceived as patriotic.

The NU’s elites support the government’s policy, especially on the halal issue such as the credibility of China’s Sinovac coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. It opposes any manoeuvre to damage the government instead of pursuing dialogue to reach a win-win solution.1,2,1

Other new Islamic organisations accuse NU as a privileged opportunist. A government that forms patriotism and moderate Islamic organisations is positively associated with awareness of nationality and Islam to manage the country’s relevant situation. These results suggested that patriotism within NU has a historical connection with early independence. Furthermore, NU manifests a religious, social frame that includes the Muslim communities. Its successful transformation of Islam with local values attracts the nation’s elites. However, the disagreement with the puritan’s religious group against the cohesion between local culture and religion accuses NU of inconsistency.

The NU and government’s relationship had a new transformation post-Suharto, building a mutual understanding to maintain national integrity (Mietzner & Burhanuddin 2020). There was an unofficial government’s understanding to make NU a reliable partner to prevent threats from unwanted socioreligious movements. It handled any manipulation perceived to bother the status quo of inter-religious groups within similar or other faiths. The government believed that potential religious conflict should be avoided after a failed attempt by the military.

The political connection between NU and the ruling government creates a new political nuance because NU was viewed as the traditional Muslim organisation, enhancing its bargaining position in different political contestation. This movement uses its core religious pro-political nationality to aspire to strengthen the mutual relation between Islam and the nation. Nahdlatul Ulama became nationalistic through diversity and minority protection, collaborating with prominent figures to initiate the patriotic Islamic organisation.

The political climate accommodates the patriotic religious groups to place NU as the government’s choice. The current government persuades NU to promote Islam and nationality by marking 22 October 2015 as Hari Santri [Student’s Day]. The government’s tagline matching nationality with religious value to win more Muslim voters through Hari Santri, the national calendar for student madrasah’s contribution during the independence war, is a privilege for NU. It proves that NU is a nationalist group and allows it to organise a handful of political movements. Furthermore, President Jokowi announced the cabinet reshuffle and his vice president Ma’ruf Amin, a prominent figure of NU, on live TV in December 2020, indicated about the strong alliance between the government and NU.

This study conceptualised religious-cultural nationality as a strategy to abide by all society’s elements, strengthening the mutual protection to manage the fluctuated challenges. It assessed the hidden factors resonating with variables to influence the occurrence. Furthermore, the NU and the government evaluate the potential symbiosis mutualism to boost their standing point by assessing all costs. The government has no option but to endorse religious groups such as the NU to take vicious steps as unofficial tandem. It controls the religious group’s role to avoid dissatisfied moods with other groups (Kosterman & Feshbach 1989).

The government requires NU to act as a sincere religious group without demanding much. However, some religious groups leverage their position by promoting national integration as their political tagline (Hadden 1987). Nahdlatul Ulama implemented concrete steps to realise its goal to do better than others, hence its figures promptly to denounce any speeches or allegations of conflict between Islam and national policy. It is motivated by the political agenda of others, but the current situations force it to seek access and connect the political contest behind the scenes.

Yielding in religious politicking creates a dilemma for NU by imposing suspicion for some parties. This can cost the group because the opportunist accusation could damage its reputation, hence it should convince the devotees by imposing the social benefit of government relations. The sincere figures accepted by the public should be screened to convince their trust because they dislike the religious groups close to the government, which decreases credibility as dependent actors (Lussier & Fish 2012). Therefore, NU is morally obligated to distance itself from the government to convince its devotees.

The potential disruption will happen when this policy lacks communal support. However, the government engages in unpopular policy because of global influences such as increasing fuel prices. Based on social and religious policy, the government needs the NU, for example, to dismiss ‘Front Pembela Islam / Islamic Defenders Front’ (FPI) and ‘Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia’ (HTI). This is because it cannot convince and curb the mass of previous groups with the NU signal.

This study proved that religious politicking does not always have a negative impact because different cultures and histories have different results. However, its roles in some countries creates disaster, such as NU in Indonesia that, quietly maintains the social order (Fealy & Bush 2014). The results showed that the close relation between NU and the government is motivated by various factors, national integrity tagline and diversities in the national unity concept. The political climate allows NU to play a significant role towards maintaining a spirit of competition with Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Muslim organisation. During Suharto’s regime, Muhammadiyah was the trusted government partner because it was positioned as the modern institution focusing on education and health. Furthermore, the new order regime allowed significant growth without crossing the red line to challenge the regime. Suharto implemented the policy emphasising economic growth to achieve growth, crushing potential threats amid its zero-opposition policy.

Muhammadiyah was the richest Muslim organisation that brought the modern institution tagline, benefiting from the government scheme policy (Brown 2019). It founded the most famous private universities, hospitals, schools in all degrees and charity institutions to contribute to various sectors significantly.

The NU should close the gap between its cousin and expand in various sectors, especially education and health. Some non-structural NU are intimated by the relationship with the government, creating an awkward position not to criticise the government’s policy. The NU elites’ confronting gesture is not ideal because of the post-Suharto political climate, pushing them to fill the gap left by others.

Screening of nationalism concept in Indonesia

This study examined the problematic contemporary nationalism post-Suharto and various ethno-nationalist with potential disintegration. It highlighted and built theories of nationalism by connecting the dominant religious and nationalist group through a clear screening framework to bridge the supporting variables and strengthen the hypothesis. This approach uses the theories as an analysing instrument for nationalism and the growing contestation between nationalist and Islamist.

Nationalism threatens the internal disintegration that evaluates its perspective through rejuvenation. Many scholars view nationalism with different characteristics through transformation such as ethnic dominance, majority religion, dressing, language or other artificial symbols. This study classified the segment of theories for developing their concept with different backgrounds and purposes of research.

Several countries propose nationalism to dismantle multiculturalism and diverse ethnicities by imposing the dominant value or symbol (Siddiqi 2010). This phenomenon surged after external cultural values clashed with the host country. Therefore, politicians used this momentum to leverage their goal of national purity. Populist movements gained support from people uncomfortable with the limbo because the influx of unwanted guests could change the demography and economy.

For various reasons, nationalism is equal to the national awakening, triggering the conflict with the bigger one viewing it as separatism. Özoğlu (2001) used Kurdish as an example, struggling to form nationalism among scattered areas in several countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. However, the nationalism concept becomes a common enemy for the nations mentioned here, viewing it as an illegal movement that should be terminated. Although several arguments make sense, the status quo can be changed because of fatalities. Hroch (1995) offered the framing model of national awakening, known as his best work, to set the comparative study on nationalism theory.

Hroch (1995) set the nationalism theory to describe that some social transformations could have a happy ending or disaster, depending on the nation’s response to change, human quality and combined competence to manage the transformation. This study showed the relevance of Hroch’s theory to understand the current relationship between state and religion.

Hrochs’s model devised three stages of nationalism: Phase A as scholarly interest, Phase B as patriotic agitation, and Phase C as the mass national movement. He focused on Phase B and conducted the next work in two stages. He screened the social transformation of the industrial revolution and modernisation in Europe, but his work can explain some phenomena in other parts of the world. He demonstrated unawareness of his work’s applicability to unforeseen circumstances. Furthermore, he explained the natural response of social transformation that triggers some movements among nations, especially small ones, integrated, belated, insurrectional or disintegrated (Hroch 1985). Hroch analysed the factual phenomena of certain European nations to manage the social transformation boosted by the revolution industry, but his work could be shown in the Indonesian context. The social transformation challenges the country to harness the industrial and economic boom that creates the various public responses.

Indonesia is one of Asia’s economic spot centres based on the large population and shifting technological growth. The internal traditionalist dynamic is snubbed in the current massive government investment to endorse the economy. They sometimes attach religious value to get the government’s attention to encourage their existence. Aligned with reality, NU is the biggest Muslim organisation that boosts its social bargaining by supporting and guarding the nationalistic tone. This manoeuvre ensures that the government follows the trajectory of social development; hence NU should secure other religious groups to cope with national integrity.

Phase C of Hroch’s work (mass national movement) is ongoing in Indonesia, as the country’s largest Muslim organisation or globally, helping NU leverage its position because of the large mass intake. This is the key stability in Indonesia compared with other Muslim nations because the mass organisation boosts national integrity. Nahdlatul Ulama has not confronted the national ideology because the nation was established, being one of the largest national stakes. However, the scheme of Hroch’s work could be criticised because he ignored the multiethnic nations such as Indonesia, socially engineered by religious groups. His work’s principle could answer why the Indonesian religious groups hold a significant role as the unofficial partner of the ruling government, solving social problems without crossing the redline.

Reinvigorating nationalist ideology could elevate nationalism consciousness among the people to promote government stability, avoiding further escalation by the opponents. Democracy can maintain the stability, but some cases require a stricter step to curb instability and avoid disintegration. This creates a dilemma to prioritise individual liberty to express an opinion, which could create bigger fractions within the society or smoothly curb to maintain unity.

Nationalism shows loyalty to a nation as narrated by several scholars to make sense of various schools of thought. It is often used by rulers to silence the opposition, but this mantra is also used to topple the ruling government in different parts of the world. Therefore, there is a lack of an ideal model of nationalism, manifesting itself to claim certain contexts. Before the independence, nationalism was easily used to mobilise people against the colonisers.

The empirical observation in the relation between state and religion fluctuated to indicate the different period’s challenges. Nationalism theories are the social disciplinary, hence this study provided a systematic view of some influence theories to screen the relation mentioned here. The analytical framework could harness the nationalism theories in Indonesia because the main goal of nationalism is to evaluate the emotional connection between the state and citizens. Therefore, various values influence people to stick intake, making nationalism successful by gluing all ism in nationality framework. As nationalism is not viewed as an outside value, the strong element should empower society.

The nation’s perennial threat, such as Indonesia, is primordial, derailing pseudo nationalism. David Brown used the case of Basques in Spain on how ethnocultural convergence identified their nationality (Flynn 2002). Disintegration adamantly occurs in various ethnic nations because their components adequately construct individual nationality in an ideal situation. Various critics repel Brown’s idea because of obscure long relation intra nation’s entities clarity triggering the narrow politicians nationalistic. However, this has not happened where each component within the nation requires a bigger nationality concept connecting all elements as spot hub of values. The nationalism concept can be tentatively modified considering that the renegotiation suits their unity, allowing each element to express its nationality identity (Kelle 2021).

Hroch’s approach could help understand the nationalism spirit of religious organisations such as NU to declare nationalism unintentionally. The political mobilisation among the NU shows that nationality consciously prevents others from challenging the ideology. This proved Hroch’s concept and explained nationalism in the religious organisation in Indonesia (Figure 1).

FIGURE 1: Description of the inter-relation within religion and political schemes in Indonesia.

Some scholars explained the nation’s social transformation in certain periods, but Hroch easily answered the social dynamic to form nationalism. Tremendous works to define nationalism failed to conceptualise the scattering entities into the coherent frame. Hroch’s A-B-C postulate is the most popular nationalism explanation as a feasible method to track its social phenomena, including religious organisations such as NU (Maxwell 2010).

The recent clash between secularisation and religious supporters begins the new era, rife with criticism between them. The criticism of secularisation theory emphasises that religion is losing its social grip, triggering tension with modernity. The marginalisation of religion in secularisation exacerbates the denial sentiments among religious supporters. The reproach of rigid dimensional thinking inevitably repairs the trust between secularists and religious supporters. Criticism of secularisation theory is believed to restore the mutual understanding of certain issues based on different views. Secularisation’s tagline is a sacred constitution in most developed countries, while other parts of the world view the hidden agenda to force it on others as modernity’s role model.

Some scholars predicted the classical concept, gradually shifting as the tense arguments accumulate and the intellectual crisis emerge. Increasing secularisation among academics forces religious supporters or affiliated organisations, academics or preachers to unite against it. The intellectual crisis of secularisation theory should have emerged over the past few decades because of its growing critics (Dobbelaere 1987; Hadden 1987; Nelsen 2020; Wilson 2014).

The increasing empirical research challenges the secularisation theory, hence this study proved that a religious body improves the relation between the state and religion. The best option includes imposing the interdisciplinary approach for the object related to the state and religion. The state focuses on modernity and stability, while religion emphasises culture and politics as endurance. The state and religion’s perception gradually changes in the intellectual atmosphere because of the empirical evidence that they can have mutual support in certain places. Furthermore, they could cooperate to promote mutualism and implement their value.

This study considered the recent challenges in the complexity variables analysing certain issues. This followed the examination of variant issues on several disciplines as to how an interdisciplinary approach should measure such variables. It used the method’s principle to seek the connection among the variables through an interdisciplinary approach. This study argued that the combination of an interdisciplinary approach is coped with its purpose to uncover key issues between nationalism and religion, using the approach to demonstrate the constructive alignment managing arising problems. This designated approach was framed to boost the research confidence for rational narration. Furthermore, the investigations could use the interdisciplinary approach in diverse disciplines to link their disparity by common knowledge. This approach builds the bridge among the disciplines’ variables by endorsing the connection.

This approach could help to understand the NU relation as quasi-political power and culture – Islam. Nahdlatul Ulama changes attitude to maintain the movement to self-expression, reshaping the mutual relation between Islam and the state. Most Muslim countries have not permanently settled on this connection amid the Islamic politics and prejudice. The Muslim Brotherhood has failed in most Muslim countries as they are banned. It is accused as against pro-nationalistic by bringing the hidden project of the caliphate (Zollner 2009). Currently, Muslims in Indonesia experience a dilemma in emphasising their Islamic identity as political players because they lost in previous public elections since 1955. The votes decrease in Islamic politics unsuccessfully transformed as political parties (Omar 1997). Therefore, NU implemented steps positioning it as the kingmaker of some crucial decisions on religion and the nation.

Nahdlatul Ulama realised its circumstance and tried to grasp significant roles in social religion. It leverages its position through immense contribution to prevent potential disintegration. The jargon Islam Nusantara shows how NU proves itself as an important partner to the government to guard national integrity. However, it is used by the NU’s opponents to discredit them through prejudice accusations. The political motivation to tarnish the organisation is unsuccessful because it constantly explains Islam Nusantara to interpret Islamic value through local tradition without obstructing the core or substance of Islamic teaching.

The previous public elections showed that nearly 90% are Muslim citizens, showing underperformance for parties endorsed by Islamic parties – just 36% of the votes in 41% and 29% in 2009 (Tanuwidjaja 2010). Aspinall and Mas’udi (2017) found that political clientele could harm the democratic process from the early reformation spirit. However, based on the political votes, this organisation’s void was not considered solid to represent single candidates to the concentrated NU voters (Aspinall & Berenschot 2019). Based on the social religion affiliated with NU, most people identify with the organisation because of similar religious interpretations.

Religion should be in consonance with the local wisdom values without the fear of being tarnished because it has the defence mechanism to avoid those undermining it. It touches the society’s heterogeneity values to strengthen further that it copes with humanity (Djupe & Jacob 2019). One of the urgent problems to be internally resolved is accelerating the religious nationality spirit based on diversity by separating the religious value and national interest.

The echoing critics over the current situation argue that the ‘patriotism’ jargon that creates ‘distance’ is driven by the threat of declining the national ideology awareness and the grim of ethnicity (Finke & Iannaccone 1993). Nationality should be built by self-consciousness in a pluralistic society because basing it only on the ego of truth will cause humanitarian disasters (Kosterman & Feshbach 1989). This raises the false spirit driven by the truth claim of the ‘horse’s eyes’ based only on a certain perspective without accommodating other parties’ truth.

The current concept of nationalism is challenged by the dynamic life development (Demmers 2002). Someone with a 1-year national status can be considered a great hero, presenting a world-class medal or championship. Most people often struggle and are declared as nationalists with various activities that lack much attention (Figure 2).

FIGURE 2: Description of cohesion between politics and religion in Indonesia.

This attitude means that the ambivalence of the nationalism perspective is caused by massive media information unwittingly creating new laws in public awareness. The figures considered as ‘media darlings’ have real power in society as ‘trendsetters’ followed by the public. A higher number of followers increases their bargaining position, translating into selling value. This means that the current trend creates a ‘certain anomaly’ which triggers phenomena that the conventional scientific approach cannot solve.

In fact, all religious groups in Indonesia contribute to the harmony among them by endorsing equality before the law (Al Qurtuby 2013). Nahdlatul Ulama, along with Churches Council of Indonesia (PGI), Buddhist Council of Indonesia (WALUBI), Hindu Dharma Council of Indonesia, always coordinates with other faith-representative organisations to endorse Indonesian government to maintain the national unity. Nahdlatul Ulama is the most prominent Islamic religious group, which actively promotes the concept of diversity in unity, consequently aforementioned religious groups have ‘understanding chemistry’ to build the togetherness among them.

Certain things cannot be generalised in diagnosing this problem when other parties do the same because it does not guarantee similar results. Furthermore, the current trend is determined by a momentum that is not always created as it only occurs once (Conversi 2012). Nahdlatul Ulama is criticised for not using its potential power to curb the disarray thought by untamed figures claiming to bring the truth of Islam through digital media. It took a long time to adapt to digital technology to educate its followers left behind by the untamed figures or organisations that attach Islam to their propaganda. Although the rate of religious tolerance index increases daily, it is interesting that the most educated and advanced provinces include Jakarta, East Java, and North Sumatra, disregarding West Papua, East Nusa Tenggara, North Sulawesi or North Kalimantan (the newest province). This means that the digital campaign should contaminate young people in various facilities to acquire access to the provinces. There is a strong indication that the less developed province has a higher religious tolerance index.

Pektas (2021) describes that NU is quite successful as the prominent religious group to counter the radicalism or extremism in Indonesia; however, the role of NU is welcomed by other religious groups beyond Islam. During Christmas, NU’s wing organisation such as Anshor often helps police to maintain peace around churches’ neighborhood to prevent terrorism. Even the recent opening of two synagogues in Manado and Tondano as part of North Sulawesi province is perceived as fantastic tolerance amongst the largest Muslim population (Indonesia does not have diplomatic relation with Israel); however, the basic principle of ideology in Indonesia is to accommodate all people’s choice of faith as long as they follow the rules of conduct (Kamsma 2010).

The results of this indicated that each province’s religious index increased because of the diversity awareness among the people (Mercer et al. 2017). This study demonstrated that a community’s social identity is reflected by various aspects, including physical places of worship, building houses, dressing and clan names (Ramazzotti 2020). The compromising religious tradition could strengthen the existence by integrating the local tradition. There is still repudiation from the conservative groups to compromise religion with local traditions (Avishai 2008). Furthermore, Indonesia should manage various existing values from previous faiths existing before Islam.

The strong foundation binding all society ideologies is inevitable for survival. This is shown by the collapse of certain countries without military invasion or political intervention from other nations such as the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia. The Indonesian Pancasila bridges the multiple races and religions to unite all parties in a diverse society (Ibrahim 2016).

The NU elites conceptualised patriotism to reject the sectarian religious group, challenging Pancasila as the only solution to bind the different faiths and ethnicities. Patriotism is interpreted as the attachment of Pancasila that supports cohesion as nationalism, ethnocentrism and religion (Arifianto 2020).

Social identity could easily vanish because of globalisation, while religious-cultural nationality ties are perceived as threatening informal social cohesion (Doran, Purwono & Triwahyuni 2011). The connection attraction could pull the separate panic group to join the alliance symbol. Religious-cultural identity could create a strong relation among separated individuals eager to attach to a bigger group to secure their identity. Therefore, they are threatened by the strong globalisation influence and need other affiliated social groups such as primordial, professional, township or religious-cultural. The affiliation of NU as a religious, cultural nationality indicates that all parties are threatened by globalisation because the alliance can save social identity. Furthermore, it could boost nationality integration by managing the current threat through the religious-cultural approach (Steger 2019).

The concept of religious and cultural nationality is to examine the entailing cultural relation between religion and nation in a semi-secular country such as in Indonesia. In some cases, the involvement of religious groups such as NU plays in the periphery of the stage to build the bridge of the intense religious groups as the new coalition. Indonesia could not implement the pure secularisation instead of forming the new alliance with values in society, as the new alliance attempts to extract the concept of nationality by gluing all the entities.


This study showed that the mutual internship relation of a religious group such as the NU and the state is created by similar national integrity. Furthermore, it underlined the key issue to maintain the nation’s stability, creating hub points to connect all elements such as the state, religion and culture and contributed to religious-cultural studies in democratic nations using previous surveys. Combining the analysis for data and social phenomena leveraged the results because multicultural ethnic countries such as Indonesia require data actualisation with the real behaviour.

The findings partially supported nationalism and secularisation but generally annulled their premise to diminish the role of religion in modern and secular countries. This study signified that the religious–cultural nationality maintains the nation’s stability. Religious groups’ insertion with the government policy could create a symbiosis of mutualism to maintain stability.

Boosting and expanding the role of religious groups would damage the relation balance because of the principle of the equality of the modern state. The results suggested that the dominant religious institutions could stabilise by setting social patrons. However, modern states indicate that the hidden competitive religious groups act as a religious politicking and influential agent. This confirms the diminishing nationalism and secularisation theories.


Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

Both authors contributed equally to this manuscript.

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards of research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

The authors received funding from State Islamic University of North Sumatra.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the authors.


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1. Nahdlatul Ulama is one of the backbones of Indonesia’s diversity, which extracts the normative value of managing social reality with various religions, ethnicities, languages or cultures.

2. Nahdlatul Ulama initiated a religious and cultural nationality as Islam (in) Nusantara to promote the congestion between Islam and the State.

3. Jakarta Charter was the earlier constitution version that mentioned sharia law as a privilege for Muslims, annulled in the same year after the independence in 1945 to consider the diversity of unity spirit.

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