Indonesian Christian and Muslim women promote interfaith cooperation
Although Islam is the majority religion in Indonesia, female leaders from the Christian and Muslim communities said that interfaith cooperation is essential and women are well-situated to do the work.
“As women, we have a bond that helps us to engage in interfaith dialogue at the grassroots level in communities. Together we can identify the issues that concern all of us,” said the Rev. Krise Anki Gosal from the Christian Evangelical Church in Minahasa, according to a report from the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Gosal, who is from North Sulawesi, is coordinator for the women and youth department at the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (CCI), an ecumenical organisation representing WCC members in Indonesia.
She has organised several interfaith programs involving women and youth since 2008. “We have a strong network among women’s organisations, where we engage with Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and indigenous women,” explained Gosal.
Gosal said the CCI has carried out several projects with the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), an organisation based in Jakarta that promotes interfaith dialogue, democracy and the values of pluralism and peace.
Founded in 2000 by Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia, the ICRP is headed by another dynamic woman, President Musdah Mulia, a Muslim. Previously she worked for the Islamic State University in Jakarta and was associated with the Nahdlatul Ulama, an Islamic organisation in Indonesia.
“Almost 20 per cent of the population in our country is non-Muslim. We are a plural society and for the sake of cohesion interfaith cooperation is necessary,” said Mulia.
“It is very important to engage in dialogue with churches in Indonesia, as after Islam, Christianity is the second major religion in our country. Therefore, we have conducted several programs with Christian organisations,” she added.
Speaking on her experience of working with the CCI, Mulia said that inter-religious dialogue is a constructive way of discovering issues of common concern. “In our discussions with the churches we have realised that we face the same issues, such as poverty, illiteracy, corruption and economic disparities in our country,” she said.
“Therefore, interfaith dialogue is more important than ever before, and is necessary to counter the radical perspectives that often have roots in political agendas,” said Mulia.
She went on to say that interfaith dialogue is not only important at the institutional level, but also in the everyday lives of the people, where it can be translated into action.
Challenging radicalism through inter-religious cooperation
Collaborations between Christian and Muslim organisations are not rare in Indonesia. Yet, given the presence of radical influences, communities are feeling the need for stronger inter-religious cooperation, the WCC reports.
For Mulia, radical influences are a threat to Indonesian society, which has been known for valuing interfaith harmony. “We realise that radicalism is a threat to all of us, including religious minorities. Whenever there is an attack on the value of plurality, we feel sad and want to work together to challenge radical elements.”
“We have to work hand in hand with the churches to create a sustainable society. This is why we have conducted several programs together, such as youth workshops, where we promote dialogue through educational activities,” Mulia noted.
Gosal shares these views with Mulia, and has coordinated several youth initiatives with support from the ICRP, which she serves as the honorary vice-secretary, the WCC reports. Gosal spoke about projects that were conducted to promote “values of plurality” among youth.
“We have organised a couple of workshops and seminars for youth, where we did awareness-raising about themes like religious plurality, inter-religious harmony and cultural sensitivity. We have addressed these issues though educational activities.”
Young people from diverse Christian and Muslim backgrounds “formed a community, participated in the workshops and learnt about inter-religious tolerance and acceptance. This is how they overcome prejudice and negative thinking about ‘the other’,” said Gosal.
Learning from these inter-religious collaborations between CCI and ICRP, both organisations want to continue working together. One initiative will introduce the concept of “values of plurality” and “respect for other religions” into the educational resources at Sunday schools in churches.
The Geneva-based World Council of Churches is an ecumenical fellowship of Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries. It works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.