Bridges of Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue
“The New Frontiers of Living Together”
By Haedar Nashir
President of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia
All faiths teach us kindness for all human beings to live together peacefully. God created earth and the universe as a place for all humans, and not just for a certain group of people or nation. God and His messengers love those who foster mutual good relations through love, respect and collaboration in an attempt to achieve shared happiness.
Religions teach people to interact with respect, to live in tolerance, and to work together towards peace, prosperity, progress and happiness shared by all God’s creatures in the universe. With our spirit of living together sincerely and peacefully, as well as our collective high ethics, one can safe the over-burdened earth and make it a comfortable place for all people.
Within Islamic perspective, not only does religion teach everyone how to build a close relationship with God (ḥabl min Allāh) through rituals and worships, but also it teaches how to build a good relationship with other people (ḥabl min al-nās) in order to build an excellent civilization on earth. In addition, Islam teaches love to other creatures, including plants, animals, as well as the environment where they live together in an ecosystem. Human beings should not make any mischief and corruption (fasād fī al-arḍ), for instance by killing, exploiting natural resource, and doing any harm to community life.
In Islam, the key to peaceful coexistence is ta‘āruf, that is knowing each other deeply on the basis of love and equality. Allah said in the Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Q al-Hujurat/49:13).
The difference in religion, race, ethnicity, nationality and country, should not prevent us from living together in true peace, security and happiness. Likewise, any political or economic interest and control over natural resources to meet the life needs of people must consider life sustainability of all human beings on earth. Humans should not struggle to dominate, exploit, and abuse each other. If that is the case, it would then destroy our civilization.
The struggle to control and dominate political, economic, and natural resources has caused wars, conflicts, and enmity between different peoples. The world cannot bear the conflicts caused by the greed of certain people. The world would be safe if all nations and countries are united in managing this gift from God together based on an authentic brotherhood, peace and love.
Our movement to coexist in love, harmony, peace and mutual care and share between people from different religions, groups and nations should shape the spirit of pluralism of every country and international community. The relationship between peoples and nations in this twenty first century, globalizing and modern world should now go beyond conventional frontiers and move towards the new era of “Shared World”. Also, we have to work together to prevent and reject any kind of violence, oppressions, conflicts, wars and corruption of human civilization.
In this international historic meeting, let me share some information and thoughts on the role of the Muhammadiyah in promoting the values of living together in the diverse Indonesian society. In other words, this is a story about the experience of a moderate Islamic movement in promoting a way to live together in an open-minded, tolerant, and peaceful environment in spite of the diversity of religions, ethnicities, cultures and social groups within communities in Indonesia.
Established in 1912 and now having around forty million followers, the Muhammadiyah is known as the largest modern Islamic organization in Indonesia. This Islamic movement has for a century spread and fostered moderate, progressive Islamic values that emphasize the development of living together. The Muhammadiyah runs 176 higher educational institutions (with 45 universities), thousands of schools, around 23 thousand kindergartens (managed by its women’s wing, the Aisyiyah), 166 hospitals and hundreds of clinics, in addition to many programs of economic empowerment, social services, community development, and praxis-oriented da‘wa. The women’s wing of the organization, that is the Aisyiyah, which was established in 1917, has run similar well-rooted programs on the grassroot level. Moreover, the Muhammadiyah has now special branches in 23 countries, including European countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.
The Muhammadiyah and other Islamic organizations in Indonesia have a strong commitment to promote positive pluralism that helps the plural Indonesian society embrace their diversity while maintaining unity (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika). Islam plays a great role in shaping peace and harmony throughout Indonesian history. While the majority of Indonesian people (88,21% of 261 million population) embrace Islam, there has been good relationship among interreligious groups in this most populous Muslim country. Minority groups are well treated and protected without any discrimination. Indonesian Muslims have in fact promoted and embraced democracy, human rights and pluralism. This has allowed Indonesia make further progress in democracy.
In reality, one still sees a few of conflicts and troubled social relations as unavoidable in the Indonesian plural society. There is no single factor for these conflicts, however. The factors may include economic discrepancy and political interest. Indonesian experience shows that social conflicts among different religious groups occurred firstly due to sensitive issues and religious offenses that denigrate key elements of a religion, and secondly due to the intrusion of political, economic, and social interests in the relationship between different religious communities. This is the case for both interfaith and intrafaith relations. This shows that there is no single factor behind social conflicts that disrupt harmony among diverse religious groups.
Moreover, one should recognise that conflict and integration are inseparable part of human life throughout history. On earth, there is not any single nation whose history is free from a social conflict. However, what is greatly needed is our awareness and wisdom in preventing conflicts and working together to find a solution whenever a conflict takes place. In the Indonesian context, social relations among different religious groups, as well as different communities at large, have been largely positive. The harmony of religious life in Indonesia has been cited as a role model at a global level.
This peace and harmony in community life can partly be attributed to the fact that Islamic organizations such as the Muhammadiyah have made sure that moderate understanding of Islam is well-rooted in Indonesia. Given their plurality, Indonesian people find that Pancasila (The Five Pillars) can serve as a common ground and a fine consensus between all national elements. The Pancasila itself has been strongly promoted and supported by Indonesian Muslim community. The spirit of Gotong Royong, that is living together and helping each other without being bothered by religious lines and primordialism, has become an integral part of Indonesian culture.
In its attempt to help build peaceful coexistence, social harmony and mutual cooperation in Indonesian society, the Muhammadiyah has made a wide ranging efforts to carry out da‘wa activities that spread more kindness and peace, and sustain shared development. Muhammadiyah activities of da‘wa (termed as dakwah jamaah) are naturally inclusive and are aimed at sustainable development benefitting all society members without any discrimination. Muhammadiyah’s approach to da‘wa is largely rational and action-oriented. Its da‘wa activities are complemented by efforts to foster rational and critical thinking, and to put much a greater emphasis on how one can be a role model (uswah ḥasanah) in both performing rituals (individual piety) and realizing Islamic values in community life (social piety).
The main topic of da‘wa by the Muhammadiyah is “al-amr bi al-ma‘rūf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar,” which means commanding rights and forbidding wrong through peaceful, moderate and rational approaches towards a moral and progressive community life. Islamic values are spread as a set of enlightening teachings to present Islam as a religion of enlightenment (dīn al-tanwīr) with a mission of liberation, empowerment, and advancement of shared life. In Muhammadiyah view, Islamic da‘wa is an effort to implement Islam in real life as a means of social transformation towards progress, kindness, justice, welfare and the fulfilment of public interest regardless of race, ethnicity, social group, religion, gender, etc. Muhammadiyah’s progressive approach to Islam (we name it “Islam Berkemajuan” or “Islam with Progress”) seeks to present Islam and Islamic da‘wa as a mercy to all of the worlds (raḥmatan li al-‘ālamīn).
The Muhammadiyah develops peaceful coexistence and cooperation in community life through building educational institutions, health institutions, social care, economic empowerment, community development and other efforts of “Muhammadiyah for All” (Muhammadiyah untuk Semua). The organization’s women’s wing, the Aisyiyah, has also developed inclusive programs of community development and philantropy throughout Indonesia. Since its inception, the Muhammadiyah has been much inspired by its theology and praxis of “al-Mā‘ūn” (a name of a surah in the Qur’an insisting on social piety) in developing inclusive philanthropy.
In the eastern part of Indonesia, such as Papua and East Nusa Tenggara, where Muslims are minority, the Muhammadiyah has built inclusive institutions and develop inclusive programs in education, health, social service and community development. In Papua, for instance, the Muhammadiyah promote social integration by running schools, higher education, health care and other social services for local citizens who are mostly Christians and Catholics. Some Christian or Catholic teachers and lecturers work in the schools and campuses. Some of them even teach Christian/Catholic religious education there. As another instance, the Muhammadiyah runs community development programs for Kokoda ethnic people despite the difference in religion and ethnicity.
Muhammadiyah inclusive programs for humanity, such as disaster relief and management, as well as community development in the most remote and isolated areas, have been widely acclaimed. The Muhammadiyah, including the Aisyiyah, has been very active in running programs of disaster management, like in Aceh, Yogyakarta, West Sumatera, West Nusa Tenggara, and currently in Central Sulawesi and West Sulawesi recently struck by earthquake and tsunami. Those humanity programs have been managed by the Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center (MDMC), the Muhammadiyah Zakah Management Body (Lazismu), the Muhammadiyah Council for Public Health (MPKU), the Muhammadiyah Council for Social Welfare (MPKS), and other Muhammadiyah networks all over Indonesia.
The Muhammadiyah has played an important role in conflict resolution in the southern Philippines, southern Thailand, and other parts of the world to promote reconciliation and peace. In addition, the Muhammadiyah has run humanitarian programs in Rohingya and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh through “Muhammadiyah Aid”. Humanitarian programs are also run by the Muhammadiyah to help Palestinians who have received unfair treatment in the Middle East. All of this is motivated by humanity and awareness that in modern civilization, all human beings deserve happy life and peaceful coexistence without any discrimination, suffering, and oppression.
The efforts of the Muhammadiyah for peace, humanity and social service are basically the realization of its spirit to present Islam as a religion of action and enlightenment (dīn al-‘amal wa al-tanwīr), that is a religion that continuously inspires liberative, empowering actions, and improves human life. This spirit of humanity is also based on the values of Islam as “Dīn al-Salām”, that is religion of peace and security/safety. In universal context, the Muhammadiyah seeks to present Islam as “raḥmatan li al-‘ālamīn”, that is a mercy to all creatures in the universe. Allah said:
وَما أَرْسَلْناكَ إِلاَّ رَحْمَةً لِلْعالَمِينَ
“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” (Q al-Anbiya’/21:107).
Finally, in this important and historic International Meeting on “Bridges of Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue” held in this lovely Bologna in Italy, let me invite all of you to make this forum a way to strengthen and widen the collective commitment of religious groups and international community in building a peaceful, friendly global order. All parties should work hand in hand to prevent and reject any kind of conflicts, violence or political hegemony, in any name, to safe human life and the invaluable universe. May Allah bless and love us.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.
May peace be upon all of us.
Was-salam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.