Why did Indonesia's most prominent moderate Islam group take a stance vs LGBT?

The debate on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issue lately in Indonesia was shocked by the official stance taken by the Central Board of Nahdlatul 'Ulama (PBNU), an organization known as a prominent, moderate Islam group.

They did not simply declare LGBT as human nature deviation, but surprisingly also urged the House of Representatives – especially members with Nahdliyyin background – to make regulations that basically state LGBT is a crime, and to punish any individual or organizations who support this minority group. PBNU also urged the state to actively rehabilitate LGBTs in order to be "normal" again.

I myself believe, PBNU will likely insist that the state decide on penalizing the perpetrators of LGBT who refuse to attend rehabilitation. If the base argument is Islamic law, PBNU may as well propose the death penalty for offenders, perhapd by pushing LGBTs off of buildings as ISIS did several months ago, or by committing burned executions likes those ordered by Caliph Abu Bakr.

Care for minorities

PBNU as an organization will evidently not use propaganda promoting LGBT. However, that does not mean PBNU has never been in touch with LGBT groups.

As a da’wah and people’s empowerment-based organization, PBNU is concerned about HIV / AIDS (ODHA) and its rise. As reported by the Spiritia Foundation website, there are two PBNU-affiliated organizations that have been conducting HIV/AIDS programs this year: the health department of PBNU, and the Central Java regional branch of PBNU. There are also PBNU-related institutions both at central and local levels.

When I served as director of the program in Lakpesdam PBNU Jombang, this organization also had been actively campaigning for HIV/AIDS prevention along with other local stakeholders, such as women's organizations that have affiliations with other religions.

Because of this, it is highly unlikely PBNU is not in contact with vulnerable groups, such as LGBT with HIV/AIDS. This engagement – in my opinion – is not a disgrace that needs to be covered up.

In fact, this noble activity is a form of PBNU's assistance towards vulnerable groups (mustadl'afin) that is in line with the 3 basic principles of welfare and community making (mabadi khaira al-umma al-tsalits). It also shows the PBNU and LGBT groups can work together to fight HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, when we read PBNU's official stance, I feel PBNU is not sensitive to that reality. Instead of appreciating that long and remarkable humanitarian work, PBNU represses its activism by giving in to the state.


I believe there are at least 3 factors as to why PBNU has taken an anti-LGBT stance.

First, the conservative faction dominates over moderates within PBNU. The latter fails to share their moderate views toward human rights and sexual minority issues. I noted there were at least 10 young activists cum intellectuals within PBNU who had comprehensive perspectives on this issue. But were they called and invited both by Tanfidziyyah and Syuriah to discuss it before PBNU released their official statement?

LGBT is a rather complicated concept especially if it is not explained carefully and clearly. Trying to understand the meaning of LGBT fully through one case, like that of Saiful Jamil (SJ), for example, is really foolish and a dire simplification that is harmful to the public. It is very likely for instance that the singer SJ is gay, but not all gay men will perform child sexual abuse – allegations he is now facing.

Secondly, the unclear understanding over LGBT is exacerbated by the strong wave of anti-LGBT sentiments that have culminated in hate speech and violence against LGBT groups, like the one that occurred in the transgender Islamic boarding house, Al-Fatah, in Yogyakarta.

I feel the current situation is similar to what happened 50 years ago, In the 1965 massacre, when hatred and anger against the generals was orchestrated by the military, the public was no longer able to think and act fairly. Thousands of people who had no direct relation with the G30S affair were killed just because they were accused of being a member of a political party that were said to be the mastermind of the tragedy. 

PBNU seemed to blindly insist on their perspective that LGBT is equivalent to al-Luti (the Luth), which obligates everyone to destroy them. Presumably, whoever made the PBNU official statement missed the single fact that al-Quran 24:31 affirms the existence of uli al-irba min al-rijali (man with no sexual desire of women). Furthermore al-Quran surprisingly did not mention such kind of man as an enemy that his identity needs to be stripped, let alone have their rights as citizens violated.

Third, it is pretty hard not to say PBNU’s stance is entirely free from political interest. It is common knowledge that PBNU and PKB (The National Awakening Party, a moderate Islamic and a conservative political party) have become more intimate with each other recently and play a high political game of tit-for-tat for their own interests.

Lately, it is quite rare to hear PBNU criticize PKB. Before PBNU released its stance, this party first proclaimed its opposition against LGBT and also pushed for an anti-LGBT law. The same political move was followed by PBNU which shows that the party successfully obtained approval from the most influential Islamic organization in Indonesia.

One thing is for sure, when PBNU chooses not to follow PKB's political pathway on this issue, PKB could have difficulty achieving maximum results in the polls. By calling for anti-LGBT law however, it seems LGBT rights have been sacrificed for political motives.

PBNU's official stance has left a mark. Taking it back now is hardly possible. With all due respect and love, PBNU needs to not release unwise and careless statements over minority issues. In my opinion, it is highly important for PBNU to reexamine the violation of rights of minority groups, including LGBT, and seriously consider al-Quran 5:8 – never let your hatred to people make you treat them unfairly.

If PBNU fails to do that, I am deeply concerned PBNU 'sgreat and proud slogan as guardian of Islam rahmatan lil ‘alamin will be nothing but a slogan only. Wallohu a’lam. – Rappler.com


Aan Anshori is a Member of Experts Council of Nahdlatul Ulama Scholar Bond (ISNU) Jombang Branch. Follow him on Twitter: @aananshori