KH. Abdurrahman Wahid or Gus Dur (1940-2009) was Indonesia's fourth president and the most important figure in the Nahdlatul Ulama' (NU). Gus Dur has a spirit of Neo-Modernism that built the NU organization not apart from conservatism traditionalists also Modernist Islam (L.Esposito, John, 2001). According to Barton, the Spirit of Neo-Modernism has four characteristics: progressive, countering opposites, secularism, and inclusivity (Barton, 1997).

What Gus Dur did in NU, especially during his tenure as Chairman of Tanfidziyah NU 1984-1999, the thought of Neo Modernism became a new spirit of the direction of the organization's goals. In many ways, the unstable practical political conditions in the era of the new regime for Islamic organizations, Gus Dur urged the NU return to the Khittah 1926, which focused on the NU as an organization social religion, returning NU to be an essential part of Ulama' and building the economy and education (Barton, 1997).

Gus Dur believes that the West is not the common enemy of Muslims. It is unnecessary to do a dichotomy between the West and Islam, or Islam and something that is not Islamic. Instead, connecting West-Islam and seeking common ground between the two opposites is an ideal step in Islam's attitude towards modernity (Kersten, 2009). Evidently, when traditional Islamic institutions pesantren in the era of Gus Dur were also advised to study the sciences considered from the secular West (Rabasa, 2004).

After NU's exit from practical politics during Gus Dur's time, NU positioned itself as an Islamic organization with the spirit of pluralism and secularism. On the other hand, NU appears at the grassroots as a traditionalist Islamic organization but also agrees that pluralism in Indonesia is inevitable. NU has agreed to form a secular Indonesian State based on Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution without changing it to an Islamic State. The same thing is also done by other Islamic organizations, such as Muhammadiyah (Rabasa, 2004).

Gus Dur's inclusiveness is beyond doubt. During the reign of Gusdur as Indonesia President,  the Khonghuchu religion became a religion that was legally recognized permanently by the State (Maulid et al., 2018). Various kinds of different perspectives were carefully responded to very well by Gus Dur. As a distinguished and influential person at that time, Gus Dur was always open to anyone, not even reluctant to meet ordinary people. Inclusivity became the spirit of the 13th Haul Gus Dur in Ciganjur, South Jakarta in 2022, which the author had attended at that time. On this occasion, Mrs Sinta Nuriyah Wahid explained the figure of Gus Dur, who devoted his entire life to society.

The spirit of Neo-Modernism promoted by Gus Dur originated from a traditional educational setting combined with a western approach. The combination performs a contextual ijtihad model with historically and contextually understanding. The Ideology was promoted in the 1970s by Fazlu Rahman.According to Saeed, the Ijtihad Model of Neo-Modernism has a different from classical Ijtihad. Ijtihad Neo Modernism (Saeed, 2007) carries the concept of thinking that  First, no Islamic Institution or organization has the authority to claim something that is Islamic or not.

Second, Freedom to express ijtihad opinions without fear is considered contrary to or out of the teachings of Islam. Third, tolerance and mutual respect. Fourth, the heterogeneity of society. Fifth the secularity of the state. Sixth, the Government does not control the establishment of religious understanding. Seventh, the state plays a role in ensuring its people's religious justice and equality. Eighth, differences of view are tolerated, accepted, or even encouraged.

These eight spirits ultimately also give rise to many schools and understandings, whether liberal or even radical, but they are part of the impact of neo-modernism. Linking Ijtihad with Neo Modernism means keeping what is contained in Islamic teachings based on the Qur'an and al-Hadith able to answer the problems of contemporary Muslim societies resulting in redefining and reinterpreting the content of the Qur'an, al-Hadith, and classical Ulama' fatwas.

For example, Gus Dur offered a thought of historical criticism of a hadith in his interview with Abdullah Saeed. According to Gus Dur, Hadith is the definitive source of Islamic law. However, hadith is also the response of the Prophet Muhammad to a particularly event that occurred in society at that time. There is a space to see how the Prophet Muhammad responded is also a way for us to respond to something happening right now (Saeed, 2007).

Although rationality is an integral part of Ijtihad Neo-Modernism but not rationalism in Islam. According to Toha, Rationality is the process of reasoning (عبدالرحمن, 1997), while rationalism means punishing something based on mere reason (Saeed, 2007). Also, the Ijtihad Neo-Modernism offered by Gus Dur is different from the general thought of Neo-Modernism, which considers that Zakat is a mere social aspect; for Gus Dur, Zakat is part of worship even though it contains social elements in it.

Gus Dur is optimistic that  the ijtihad model of neo-modernism can rise and influence modern Islamic civilization. This is due to the religious model of Indonesian Muslims, who are fundamentalists to Islamic teachings but also flexible to modern renewal and adaptable. The opportunity for the reinterpretation of ushul-fiqih science by Indonesian scholars is also an important step to making updates in dealing with contemporary problems.

NU members must be concerned about Gus Dur's way of life. Towards a century of NU, NU as a traditional Islamic organization must also be able to compete in the currents of modernity without having to become a Modernist Islam. The traditional side of Islam must always be treated as an essential element of Islamic knowledge, but modernity must also be adopted. Anthony Giddens said modernity is like a big juggernaut that keeps rolling; whoever cannot control the wheel will crush it.

A figure other than Gus Dur who has the spirit of neo-modernism, according to the author, is KH. MA. Sahal Mahfudh with his concept of Social Fiqh. For Kyai Sahal, a santri must master five crucial elements and elaborate on them: Arabic, Ushul Fiqih, Manhaji model, secularity, and philosophical-methodological thinking on a problem.

The mastery of Islamic science for the younger generation of NU becomes an obligation, rationalizing it against contemporary problems by mastering science, politics, technology, science, philosophy, foreign languages and the spirit of modernism.


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Kersten, C. (2009). Indonesia’s New Muslim Intellectuals. Religion Compass, 3(6), 971–985.

L.Esposito, John, J. O. V. (2001). Makers of Contemporary Islam. Oxford University Press.

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