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A. Shihab: Address to World Summit 2015

Address to World Summit 2015, Seoul, Korea, August 27 to 31, 2015

ISIS's ideology goes against the core teachings of Islam, which promotes peace, tranquility and brotherhood.

And yet, throughout the Arab world, some anecdotal evidence presented by Al Jazeera and other media outlets, shows that support for ISIS is quite significant. 

This surprising [finding might be] explained [by] the following observation:

During a recent visit by British Prime Minister [David Cameron], to Indonesia, he [met] with a number of prominent Indonesian Muslim scholars. The Prime Minister was curious [to know] why Indonesia has relatively much fewer supporters of ISIS (500 people among 200 million Muslims) compared to Britain (almost 5,000 supporters among almost 2.7 million Muslims).

There are several answers to this intriguing question:

  1. For many Muslims, Islam is intrinsically interwoven with the doctrine of armed jihad and supremacy over non-Muslims. For them, they see ISIS as the right representation of a Jihadi Muslim entity.
  2. Many Muslims in the Arabic speaking [world] have a long history of hostility against non-Muslims and [have] maintained such animosity until the present time. Still, others, out of excessive devotion to Islam, [have become] very fanatical, exclusive and intolerant to any other doctrine or school of thought (mazhab). This, in turn, [has] inclined them to support ISIS as the right representation of their religious orientation.
  3. The majority of Muslims, particularly in the non-Arabic speaking world, believe ISIS’s religious orientation and beliefs are not in line with the peaceful, tolerant and inclusive nature of Islamic teachings. They consider ISIS as a group of people who deviated from the true teachings of Islam, even though it claims to act on behalf of Islam.

In this context, it is worthwhile to quote Prof. Theodore Friend, a modern historian of Indonesian Islam. He states:

Indonesia's Islam is the smiling face of Islam in contrast to the angry radical and literalist Islam of ISIS.

Indeed, amid the rise of global Islamic radicals, Indonesia's tolerant and inclusive Islam stands as the right representation of true Islam.

Historically, mainstream Islam in Indonesia has been characterized by inclusiveness and tolerance, thanks to the two large Islamic organizations, namely the Muhammadiyah, founded by Kyai Haji Ahmad Dahlan in 1912 and the Nahdlatul Ulama (the Awakening of Religious Scholars) founded by  Kiyai Hasyim Asy’ari (the grandfather of the late Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia's fourth President). Both these organizations have been and continue to be the strong guard against extremism and radicalism.

However, this does not mean that there is no intolerant or radical/rigid form of Islam in Indonesia. This form of Islam has tried to penetrate the Muslim community from certain Middle East countries, presenting certain schools of thought that have an exclusive and rigid understanding of Islam.

As we are all aware, Indonesia has witnessed acts of violence committed by Indonesian Muslims in Indonesia, such as the Bali bombings and the Marriott Hotel bombing. All the perpetrators acknowledged that their acts were motivated by their belief in certain radical teachings within a certain Islamic school of thought. 

It is imperative that all Indonesian Muslims and the global Muslim community take a proactive stance towards promoting the true teachings of Islam. When the idea of all people of different religions living in harmony [becomes] an act of tolerance, it becomes an ordinary aspect of everyday human life. 

In fact, since the 19th century, different strands of Islam had been vying against one another for dominance. However, the majority of Indonesian Muslims has always rejected religious extremism and radicalism and has continued to promote tolerance and religious harmony.  

It is the peaceful and middle path nature (alwasathiyah) of Islam that advocates moderation, which is the very essence of Islamic teachings. Equally important to note is that the exclusive views and intolerant attitudes [of extremists] are strikingly incompatible with the pluralistic nature of Indonesia, which upholds the doctrine of Pancasila (the five pillars of the nation). The essence of which is inclusivism, tolerance, religious harmony, and maintaining unity in diversity (Bhineka Tunggal Ika).

In the current context where extremism and terrorism are significant global challenges, it is imperative for all of us to initiate possible strategies and solutions to [address] the danger of radicalism, which leads to terrorism. This must be done, not only [through] security measures, but also through concerted efforts to improve legislative and legal systems internationally, to meet the challenge. 

Other efforts should include rehabilitating moderate religious education through reforming religious curriculum and providing centers for help and support to the young, to widen the gap between the extremist groups and people.

It is important to commend what Al-Azhar University in Egypt is currently initiating to contain the radical Islamic movements that have become a source of anxiety, danger and destruction [in the country]. As one the oldest Islamic institutions, Al-Azhar is a source of inspiration for the moderate and middle path of Islam. [Among its] initiatives is creating a special panel of religious scholars to review books from the past and the present to make sure they don’t [have content in them that could] incite violence and [make people] lean towards extremism. 

Finally, at this important gathering, I would like to invite all of us to strengthen religious accord to enable us to create a peaceful global community. We, as part of humanity, must ensure that people of different religions living together [becomes] an ordinary occurrence. When [this happens], we know we have succeeded in halting the dangerous advance of religious extremism that has done so much damage to all aspects of human life in all corners of the world. I hope I can be a contributor to this struggle, and I invite all of you to join me in becoming active ambassadors [of this], because [this] is not exclusively one religion’s problem, but affects all of us. 

Thank you.

For more information about the World Summit, click here.