Makassar. Nahdlatul Ulama’s newly elected chairman, Said Aqil Siradj, vowed to stay away from politics and to work for the betterment of the organization and Islam in Indonesia.
“I am not interested in any political offers. I will never run for any presidential or vice presidential election; for me Nahdlatul Ulama chairman is the highest position [of all],” 56-year-old Said Aqil told the press soon after he was elected late on Saturday to lead Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization.
The new chair said one of his main goals was to revitalize the organization’s boarding schools. He said he also wanted to establish at least one Islamic junior high school in every area where NU has a chapter.
“I guarantee that no NU followers in our 14,000 boarding schools have any relationship with terrorism,” he added. He said NU should respect the spirit of pluralism while staying true to its founding ideology.
Prominent figures, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have recently encouraged NU to scale back its political involvement, saying it was distracting the organization from its spiritual mission.
Said Aqil secured the position after winning 294 votes out of 496 in a race against former Golkar Party lawmaker Slamet Effendy Jusuf, who was considered a dark horse. The man expected to provide Said Aqil’s strongest challenge, senior NU figure Salahuddin Wahid, failed to secure 99 nominating votes.
In a move that was also seen as a step away from politics, NU re-elected Sahal Mahfud as its legal advisory board chair.
Sahal defeated outgoing NU chair Hasyim Muzadi. Hasyim, who ran for Vice President of Indonesia in 2004, was seen as likely to keep the organization in the political sphere.
Sahal said he wanted to focus on NU’s core objectives, or khittah: providing grassroots spiritual, educational and social guidance to Muslims across the country.
“The most important thing is to maximize the implementation of the khittah, because so far we haven’t yet,” Sahal said. He mentioned education, economics and health as important areas.
He said NU would continue to be a friend and critic of the government.
The five-day congress ended after the elections.