Muslim and Christian leaders from 16 Asian countries pledged to work side by side to tackle present-day problems in the region at a recent conference here, grounding their common vision in religious teachings both share.
“Asia is currently facing serious problems of poverty and environmental degradation,” M. Nashihin Hasan, executive director of the International Conference of Islamic Scholars (ICIS), told Khabar Southeast Asia.
“Here, we are trying to find a solution based on religious values, and not secularism,” he added.
ICIS organised the four-day Conference of Muslim-Christian Religious Leaders of Asia, together with Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) and The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI).
Both the Qur’an and the Bible teach love of God and love of one’s neighbour. That shared teaching “provides a common ground for Muslims and Christians to work together for peace and harmony in this violence-torn world today”, a conference statement said.
Held February 26th-March 1st at Jakarta’s Hotel Acacia, the gathering was attended by 120 Indonesians and 55 religious leaders from 16 countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Timor-Leste, India and Malaysia.
Many participants stressed the need for dialogue among believers of different religions as a means to foster a culture of harmony and peace in Asia.
Religious leaders need to come together on a regular basis on the local level, and to have a clear process of identifying common problems, Monsignor Felix Machado, archbishop of Vasai, India, told the forum on its opening day.
“This collaboration must be founded on the rejection of fanaticism, extremism and mutual antagonisms which lead to violence,” he said. “Education is also an important tool to promote mutual understanding, co-operation and respect.”
The growing gap between rich and poor was another common theme.
“I often heard various problems which could be identified as social and economic injustice in Asia as the result of modern prosperity only enjoyed by a few people, while many are exploited and marginalised,” Bishop Felix said.
The importance of dialogue
The chairman of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organisation, told Khabar he appreciated the event and hoped it would be fruitful.
Both Islam and Christianity value humanity and both “have a significant role in developing and anticipating the dynamic of Asia as the future of the world,” Din Syamsuddin told Khabar outside Istiqlal Mosque, during a visit there by conference participants.
Dialogue among moderate religious leaders is important to push the government to take serious action on eradicating religious conflict, he said. He voiced hope that in the future, the conference would also invite religious leaders from fundamentalist groups, so their voices can be heard.
Afghan participant Fazalghani Kakar said he wants to apply what he learned in his home community.
“Although we don’t have many religions in Afghanistan …. This conference is very important for us because we are all aware that Afghanistan has been in war these past three decades,” he said.
“We also need dialogue to get a mutual understanding both technically and also professionally to create tolerance among us,” Fazalghani said.
A path of moderation
In their concluding statement participants pledged to renew efforts to promote peace and justice, prevent violence and facilitate dialogue in situations of conflict.
“We believe that if human dignity is respected, human values are promoted and the path [to] dialogue remains open, conflict can be avoided in every circumstance,” it said. “…A path of moderation and a pedagogy of persuasion are more in keeping with the Asian genius than the use of force or mutual denunciation.”
Conference participants understood such goals cannot be instantly achieved.
“We do not want to be in a rush,” Nashihin, of ICIS, said. “Perhaps, we would hold another meeting within three years to see the result of the implementation of our agreement.”