He's handsome, young and a devout Muslim. He is also his country's leading pop star. But would it surprise you to learn that one of his songs, a tune that topped the charts, is called "Warriors of Love"?
Ahmad Dhani, Indonesia's counterpart to Justin Timberlake, has called his song a "musical fatwa against religious extremism and violence." The lyrics are derived from the Koran and Hadith. (Sample: "If hatred has already poisoned you/Against those . . . who worship differently/ Then evil has already gripped your soul/ Then evil's got you in its damning embrace.")
Dhani is a soldier in the culture war within Islam. With 190 million people, Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country -- but its religious culture is far more tolerant and humane than that of Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim lands.
A former president of Indonesia, H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid (popularly known as Gus Dur) has co-founded an organization, LibforAll (www.libforall.com), that aims to contend with the radical Islamists on the extremists' own chosen turf -- the true meaning of Islam. Gus Dur denies that normative Islam is the faith of the torturers and suicide bombers, of the Taliban and al Qaeda, and of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He finds within Muslim sources the ideas of tolerance, respect for others and humility. Islam is meant to be a "blessing for all the world," he reminds his listeners.
Is this a mere pebble in a waterfall? That is very hard to gauge, particularly for outsiders. To us, it often seems as if the entire Muslim world is a roiling mass of barely contained hatreds and easily sparked violence. We've seen very few Muslim leaders brave enough to denounce the jihadists, and a cottage industry has sprung up in the West to supply books and articles arguing that Islam is by nature violent, cruel and hopelessly rigid. This interpretation has always seemed shallow to me. I simply cannot imagine that a religion based only on hatred and bloodshed could gain and hold more than a billion adherents over 14 centuries.
In addition to his position as former president of Indonesia, Gus Dur is also revered as the leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest Muslim organization, with nearly 40 million members. He's been described by The Wall Street Journal as "the single most influential religious leader in the Muslim world."