Jakarta (AsiaNews) – “The Pope has sent a serious warning to national leaders about the risk of marginalisation of religion in society. The ethics and moral values of religions are fundamental for humanity and it is for this reason that the Pope continues to point the finger at the exclusion of religion, which affects the quality of life in many respects,” said noted Muslim scholar and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) leader Kiai Hajj Dr Ahmad Bagdja about the Pope’s recent speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. The NU is Indonesia’s foremost Islamic organisation.
With a population of over 200 million people, 79 per cent Muslim, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation. Yet state and religion are separate and religious freedom is one of its founding principles, albeit one that is often ignored to avoid tensions with more extremist Muslim elements.
For Ahmad Bagdja, the country’s five founding principles known as Pancasila remain one of its cornerstones. Each Indonesian is free to practice his or her own faith. “If each of us acts as a good Christian or a good Muslim, we will be good citizens,” he said.
Another Muslim scholar, Azyumardi Azra, a former dean of Jakarta’s Islamic University in Ciputat, noted that conflicts and violations of religious freedom are caused by political factors, not extremism. “What happened in Iraq is the expression of political instability that has burdened the country for years,” he said.
Azra noted that extremism exists in other religions as well. In order to respond to the problem, people must understand the true spirit of their faith, which is peace and love. “If these two aspects were practiced in public, religious fundamentalism would not be so strong.” For the scholar, religious and political leaders must give a good example in practicing these values.
For Ulul Huda, a Muslim scholar at the Al Hidayah Islamic school in Purwokerto (central Java), the current chaos is caused by the state’s interference in personal matters, including religious practice. In his view, “the systematic discrimination of minorities began when local governments were given the power to implement ministerial decrees that allow for laws inspired by Sharia”.
“The most effective way to stop the problem is through intense dialogue between moderate Muslims and Christians to reduce poverty by mutual collaboration,” he added.