In Jakarta, Muslim leaders explain Islamic fundamentalism to Christians
by Royani Lim
An initiative promoted by the Bishops' Conference was attended by bishops, priests, nuns as well as lay Catholics and Protestants. Speakers included experts in counter-terrorism and scholars of religion and society. Social injustice, poverty and propaganda feed extremism. We need moderate Muslim figures in the foreground, like former President "Gus Dur".

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - In Indonesia Islamic extremism has been rising, a worrisome trend that has developed over the past decade but has recently taken an even more "radical and dangerous" turn with the project of creating a Caliphate.

In fact, as the actions of Islamic State militia in Iraq galvanise extremist groups in the country, the government warns of a possible slide towards violence.

Faced with a situation of real danger, the Indonesian Church launched an initiative - involving three Muslim scholars - aimed at a better understanding the jihadist phenomenon and its possible repercussions.

Last Friday the Catholic Bishops' Conference (KWI) sponsored a seminar, open to bishops, priests, and nuns as well as lay Catholics and Protestants. Organised by the Episcopal Commission for the Laity and held at the KWI headquarters in Central Jakarta, it also saw the participation of three leading Muslim figures.

One of them was Prof Irfan Idris, head of the Department of Counterterrorism in charge of radical movements, who highlighted the role played by "social injustice, poverty, and political vendettas", stressing the importance of breathing new life into the nation's core values​​ (Pancasila) based on pluralism and religious freedom.

The expert said that police should move fast to nip in the bud outbreaks of sectarian violence. He also said that he hopes to see a law that would strip Indonesians of their citizenship if they pledge allegiance to foreign groups or authorities.

Ihsan Ali-Fauzi, a lecturer at Paramadina Islamic University in South Jakarta where he teaches a course on Religion and Democracy, warned that discourses that feed hatred are an example of how "political Islam" is boosted through propaganda in mosques and by religious radicals. Hence, he wants better laws to ensure that police has the authority and the powers to counter the slide towards violence.

For Abdul MoQsith Ghazali, from the Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah in South Tangerang (Banten province), Islamic fundamentalism "is not" a new phenomenon, but has been present from the earliest times following the death of Muhammad. He also noted that radical Islam has many faces: al Qaeda, Wahhabism, the Islamic state. Indonesia, he explained, imported both extremist as well as conciliatory views of the Muslim religion.

Unfortunately though, radicals "have gained greater visibility" among extremists. Charismatic leaders like former President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid are needed to fight them.

At the conclusion of the seminar, in an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Petrus Boddeng Timang, of the Diocese of Banjarmasin (South Kalimantan), expressed appreciation for the initiative, which should be held in every Catholic community. Many lay people, students and workers, who attended the meeting, agree.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, where Catholics are 3 per cent of the population, is becoming as one of the main centres of Islamic activism in the Asia-Pacific region.

As AsiaNews recently reported, fundamentalist movements and local Muslim leaders have found inspiration in the exploits of Sunni fighters in Syria and Iraq and plan to support the struggle for the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate, even in Asia.

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