Faith in Action: PBNU’s Strategic Use of Qunut Nazilah Prayer and Humanitarian Diplomacy

The PBNU has shown strong support for the struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli colonialism and oppression.

The Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama (PBNU), the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia with more than 90 million members and known for its moderate and tolerant views of Islam, has called upon its members to recite the Qunut Nazilah prayer, a practice traditionally reserved for times of crisis and calamity, for the Palestine crisis. This call is not merely a religious response but a profound demonstration of humanitarian concern and a strategic application of multitrack diplomacy. Rooted in the rich tradition of Islamic scholarship and Indonesian cultural values, PBNU’s initiative reflects a deep understanding of the power of faith in mobilizing societal support and fostering international solidarity. This move highlights the unique role religious organizations can play in addressing global challenges, contributing to peace-building efforts, and promoting human welfare. The intertwining of religious practice with diplomatic endeavors offers a nuanced lens through which to view the evolving landscape of international relations and the growing significance of non-state actors in the diplomatic arena.

The PBNU has shown strong support for the struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli colonialism and oppression. Based on information gathered the PBNU has demonstrated its support for Palestine through various means over the years. Here’s a summary of their notable actions:

  1. 1938: At its 13th congress in Menes Banten, PBNU publicly supported the independence and sovereignty of Palestine as a free nation.
  2. 2014: The organization condemned Israeli actions in Gaza, urging the Indonesian government to intervene diplomatically to halt the violence and safeguard Palestinian citizens.
  3. 2018: PBNU dispatched a humanitarian team to Gaza, providing medical aid and relief to those affected by Israeli attacks.
  4. 2021: The organization aligned itself with the Palestinian cause, advocating for a boycott of Israeli products linked to the Israeli incursion.
  5. 2023: PBNU issued a statement on the Israel-Hamas conflict, calling for an immediate end to hostilities and a just solution based on international law and agreements.

Following the October 7 attack by Hamas and Israel over-the-top retaliation, PBNU has issued a statement and appeal condemning the violence and injustice committed by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank and urging an end to actions that use religion to justify oppression and destruction. PBNU has also provided humanitarian assistance worth IDR 1 billion to Palestine through NU Care-Lazisnu, as well as carrying out international diplomacy at the UN to uphold international laws and agreements that respect the rights and dignity of every human being. PBNU has demonstrated a moderate, tolerant, and humanist attitude in responding to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. PBNU doesn’t even have a problem if the Israeli national football team comes to Indonesia to compete in the 2023 World Cup, arguing that sport is a means of building friendship and peace between nations. Thus, PBNU is not trapped in extremist, radical, or emotional attitudes that can actually harm society or trigger riots and terrorism.

Qunut Nazilah as Humanitarian Diplomacy

Humanitarian theory is a moral framework that emphasizes the value of human life and dignity. It is based on the belief that all human beings have the right to live in peace and security, free from violence and oppression. According to this theory, it is the responsibility of individuals and communities to protect and promote the well-being of others, especially those who are vulnerable or marginalized.

In the context of the recent conflict in Palestine, the call by the PBNU to read qunut nazilah is an important action.

Qunut Nazilah is a special supplication in Islamic prayer, particularly performed during the Witr prayer in the last part of the night. It is recited in times of calamity, distress, or severe hardship faced by the Muslim community. The term “Nazilah” refers to an affliction or a disastrous event. This prayer is a means for Muslims to seek help, guidance, and relief from Allah during challenging times. It is an expression of solidarity, empathy, and communal supplication for those who are suffering or in crisis. It can be seen as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people. By doing so, PBNU is sending a message of support to those who are suffering from the violence and destruction caused by the conflict. This act of solidarity is consistent with the principles of humanitarian theory, which emphasize the importance of empathy, compassion, and solidarity in promoting human dignity and well-being.

Qunut nazilah is a form of supplication that is performed in the last raka’ah of the obligatory prayers, before prostration, when Muslims are facing a calamity or distress. It is derived from the Arabic word “qanata”, which means to be humble and obedient to God. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) practiced Qunut Nazilah for a month when he lost many of his companions in the Battle of Bi’r Ma’unah. Qunut nazilah is meant to seek God’s help, mercy, and protection from enemies and hardships.

In recent years, PBNU has instructed its members and the Muslim community to perform qunut nazilah for various occasions, such as:

In 2021, PBNU instructed its members to perform qunut nazilah to express solidarity and sympathy for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Sulawesi and the floods that hit Kalimantan.

In 2022, PBNU asked its members to recite qunut nazilah to pray for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery of the affected people.

In 2023, PBNU called for qunut nazilah to support the Palestinian people who were suffering from Israeli aggression and occupation.

These are some examples of how PBNU has used qunut nazilah as a way of expressing its concern and compassion for the Muslim community and humanity in general, and as a way of seeking God’s help and guidance in overcoming the challenges and difficulties. Qunut nazilah is a manifestation of PBNU’s commitment to uphold the values of Islam Nusantara, which is a moderate and inclusive interpretation of Islam that is rooted in Indonesian culture and context.

The PBNU has requested its members to recite Qunut Nazilah in solidarity with Palestine, a move that invites analysis from a humanitarian perspective, especially in terms of concepts like solidarity, compassion, and collective action inherent in humanitarianism.

1. Solidarity and Compassion: Humanitarian theory often emphasizes the importance of solidarity and compassion towards those suffering or in crisis. By asking its members to perform Qunut Nazilah, a special supplication in Islamic tradition for people facing severe hardship, PBNU is expressing solidarity and compassion towards the plight of Palestinians. This act symbolizes a deep empathetic connection and a moral obligation to support those in distress.

2. Collective Action and Awareness: The collective recitation of Qunut Nazilah by a large number of people serves not only as a spiritual gesture but also as a means to raise awareness about the Palestinian issue. Humanitarian theory supports the idea that collective action and awareness are crucial in addressing and alleviating human suffering. Through this act, PBNU is mobilizing its vast membership to acknowledge and be cognizant of the humanitarian crisis.

3. Religious and Ethical Obligation: ethical or moral obligations often guide action in humanitarian theory. PBNU’s call reflects an understanding that religious practices can be harnessed to fulfill moral obligations towards fellow humans in need. This aligns with the principle that humanitarianism is not just about physical aid but also about moral support and empathy.

4. Non-material Support: Humanitarian aid is often associated with material support, such as food, medicine, and shelter. However, humanitarian theory also recognizes the importance of non-material support like prayers, advocacy, and solidarity actions. PBNU’s call for Qunut Nazilah is an example of non-material humanitarian support, offering spiritual solidarity to those in crisis.

5. Global Humanitarianism: This action by PBNU also reflects a trend in contemporary humanitarianism where local communities and organizations partake in global issues. By engaging in a global humanitarian issue like the Palestinian crisis, PBNU exemplifies how local entities can contribute to global humanitarian efforts.

By encouraging the recitation of Qunut Nazilah, PBNU is not only providing spiritual solace but also actively engaging in a form of diplomacy that transcends conventional state-to-state interactions. However, it is important to note that humanitarian theory also recognizes the importance of political action in addressing the root causes of conflict and violence. While acts of solidarity, such as reading Qunut Nazilah, can help raise awareness and show support for those who are suffering, they are not sufficient to address the underlying political issues that contribute to conflict and violence. Therefore, it is important for individuals and communities to also engage in political action to promote peace, justice, and human rights.

In conclusion, PBNU’s request for its members to read Qunut Nazilah in solidarity with Palestine can be seen as an embodiment of humanitarian principles, expressing solidarity, raising awareness, fulfilling ethical obligations, providing non-material support, and participating in global humanitarian efforts. PBNU has also shown that Indonesia is a country that has moderate, tolerant, and humanist Islamic organizations, which can be partners for other countries in resolving religious-based conflicts. PBNU has also shown that Indonesia is a country that has great potential which can be a means of promoting a positive image of Indonesia in the eyes of the world.

Ida Mujtahidah
Ida Mujtahidah
Ida Mujtahidah is a graduate student from Gadjah Mada University, a disability activist, a writer and a book lover. She has written academic articles and book reviews on various topics, such as Track II Diplomacy, Public Diplomacy, historical fiction, and disability empowerment. She is also active on social media, known as Aida Mudjib, where she shares her opinions and interests. Aida is a multitalented person who uses her writing to promote inclusiveness, express her passion for books, and connect with others. She is a highly intellectual and dedicated figure who inspires many people in Indonesia and beyond.