A beacon for interfaith peace

In Indonesia, the Nahdlatul Ulama preaches the spirit of brotherhood to maintain peaceful coexistence among the country’s Muslim-majority, diverse ethnic society.

THE Global Peace Festival (GPF) Malaysia recently interviewed Dr H. Marsudi Syuhud, fondly known as Pak Marsudi, on his views about Indonesia’s diversity and interfaith experience. He is currently general-secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia, and is an influential force in Indonesia’s peaceful coexistence among its Muslim-majority, diverse ethnic society. The following are the edited excerpts of the interview:

GPF Malaysia: After 9/11, there was a surge in Islamic fundamentalism and Islamophobia among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. What can the world learn from Indonesia’s interfaith experience with the role of Islam?

Pak Marsudi: The Holy Quran stated, “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.” (Quran, 49:13)

The purpose Allah created men and women in the world with differences – in languages, in tribes, in religions – is for people to get to know each other better, thus the lesser problems and conflicts people have with each other, and the more human beings are able to live together in peace.

GPF Malaysia: As a Sunni Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia is also home to many religious minority groups, including Islamic sects such as Shia and Ahmadiya, which are often the target of religious extremists. What has NU done in promoting interfaith understanding and peace in Indonesia?

Pak Marsudi: During the establishment of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in 1926, before the independence of Indonesia, there were Christians, Buddhists and Hindus in Indonesia, as well as other Islamic sects like Ahmadiya.

At Jogjakarta, the office of Ahmadiya is situated in front of the office of Nahdlatul Ulama, yet we have no problem living together with them in peace.

In our NU doctrine, we promote the importance of Brotherhood – brotherhood among Muslims (Al Ukhuwah Islamiah), brotherhood among nations (Al Ukhuwah Wathaniah), and brotherhood among people (Al Ukhuwah Insaniyah). These are the three formations in our brotherhood.

GPF Malaysia: Indonesia has maintained inter-religious peace among its diverse faith communities throughout the years. From Indonesia’s experience, how does religious intolerance spread in a nation?

Pak Marsudi: In reality, intolerance is not caused by religion per se but by other factors. The Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict that happened in Madura arose not because of the religious friction between the Shia and Sunni, but because of the brothers (one is a Sunni and another one is a Shia) competing for the woman’s affection.

In Ciketing (Indonesia), the conflict between the Muslims and non-Muslims started when the Christians wanted to establish a church there. The reality is, most of the Muslims in the village have little social interaction with the Christians there. The Christians had recently migrated into and populated the village, causing traffic congestions to the area and dissatisfaction among the existing Muslim community.

On the other hand, if the Muslim and Christian communities had known each other well, there would have been open-hearted agreement if the Christians wanted to build a church or if the Muslims wanted to build a mosque. In fact, behind NU’s office there are five churches of different sects.

Another example is the case of religious worship at the church in Yasmin, Bogor. This is actually an administration/government bureaucracy issue. The chairman of the Bogor village informed me that the local government didn’t give permission for the Christians to perform church service there because the building was not completed and the church (officials) had not given all the documents required for building approval.

A problem like this happens everywhere in the world. In Switzerland, Muslims cannot build minarets for their mosques. This problem is actually our problem – not only a Muslim problem, or a Christian problem or other religions’ problem.

GPF Malaysia: Would the NU want to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia?

Pak Marsudi: The NU wants to establish a state like the Medina state (a modern city in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia and the capital of Al Madinah Province) where we live among others in peace even though we are different.

When the Prophet Rasullah established the Medina state, it had many tribes and religions – like Jews, Christians, Muslims and Majusi – living together in peace. In Indonesia, we established Negara Panca Sila as the defining document of our country’s core values.

GPF Malaysia: Should politics and religion be separated?

Pak Marsudi: There are some people with opinions that religion and politics should be separated while some people believe that religion, politics or society should be unified and need to be one.

Nahdlatul Ulama stands in the middle. We believe the values of Islam can be part of our lives, our politics, our state and our business in every form of our daily lives.

GPF Malaysia: The NU has been forming solid relationships with Islamic organisations and Muslim leaders globally, such as from Syria, Palestine, Egypt and more, working on issues related to global Islam. Can you share the experience?

Pak Marsudi: There are many civil society organisations that were established before the independence of Indonesia, including Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhamadiyah, Sarekat Islam, and al-Irshad al-Islamiyah.

This is different in countries with no organisation. In Syria, the Muslim leaders are very intellectual but they have no proper organisation and are unable to do as well as Muslim leaders in Indonesia to support the intellectual flourishing of Muslims.

The NU is an inclusive organisation where its members consist of different political parties and ideologies. In Egypt, the el-ekhwan al-muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) is a party with only one ideology of Muslims. Consequently, they face trouble in their political leadership and are unable to resolve the conflict among the different factions in Egypt.

GPF Malaysia: Malaysia has been in the centre of international attention with the “Allah” issue. Do the Christians and Muslims in Indonesia face any religious sensitivity or restriction on the usage of the word “Allah” in the Indonesian language?

Pak Marsudi: For Muslims, besides the Quran, we should also believe in the book of Torah (Taurat), Bible (Injil), and Zabur (Holy Book of Dawud). Allah is the creator of all human beings, thus our religion comes from Allah.

In Indonesia, there is no problem for Indonesians to refer to God as Allah. Muslims use the word Allah because it is an Arabic word. And Christians use the word Allah as well.

The Global Peace Convention with the theme “Unity In Diversity: Building Social Cohesion For Sustainable Peace Through Universal Aspirations, Principles And Values” will be held in Kuala Lumpur from Dec 5-8.


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