by. Musdah Mulia

 

As a woman faith, I am greatly convinced that religion passed down by God is meant to give us better hope in life. That is why every religion always teaches values of righteousness as the basis for humans to live together in this world. I truly believe that all religions teach us universal humanistic values such as justice, honesty, peace, piety and compassion.

The aim of religion is to promote human dignity and the principles of human rights. The more religious a person or a community is, the more humane that person or community should be. Thus the more just and peaceful that individual or community becomes.

Religion forbids us to become the scum of society. Religion should prevent its followers from being carrying out acts of discrimination, exploitation and violence that cause conflicts, war, and other brutalities that bring suffering to human being. Religion should prevent its followers from carrying out acts of terrorism that devastate so many lives.

On the contrary, religion should drive its followers to adopt a critical and rational attitude, so that injustice is not permitted to prevail in society. Religion should make its followers care for and preserve the environment to prevent exploitation that causes global warming and threaten the existence of human being. Religion should cause its followers to always be dynamic, to adopt a positive-constructive attitude, to work hard for a prosperous and civilized society.

But the facts prove otherwise. The social reality around us gives us clear examples of violent and depraved behaviors, including violence in the name of religion. People kill each other in the name of religion, and some wars are even called holy wars.  Is there such a thing as a holy war? Of course not. Because, I believe that all wars bring tragedy to human life. All wars definitely cause devastation, and war always ends in bloodshed and material losses, both for the victors and the losers of the war.

 

 

The Principles of Living Together

So how do we use religion as a tool to ensure that we can live together in peace and harmony? In my opinion, there are at least three fundamental principles that must be fulfilled.

First, the principle of humanity. Frankly speaking as religious community we tend to take on the position of God, by acting arrogant and being judgmental. In all honesty, we tend to judge and find fault in others instead of devoting ourselves to each other and caring for each other. We always claim to be in the right and others are always wrong, misguided and infidels. As a result, religion-based wars and conflicts become the main stories in the media. Taking on the position as God in living together will be very perilous because we will always look at other people from a wrong perspective. We see people of other faiths as infidels and misguided. Consequently, we are taken over by the urge to execute them.

In living together, we must always maintain our position as human beings, not as God. Our duty is to contend for goodness, and leave judgment on whether our devotion is acceptable or not to God. So, our task as humans is only to try our utmost to do good as much as we are able to do. And then we leave everything to Him. We don’t know who among us will be saved, who among us will have our devotion accepted, only God knows that.

Second, the principle of one family. As religious community we must consider other people, of whatever faith, as our brothers and sisters, as part of one family. We must realize that we all come from the same origin, namely from God. Although we call Him by different names. All of us come from the One and because of it we are family. This affinity can become a force that has unprecedented meaning in building peace among different human beings. This kinship will give birth to love and affection among us, and in turn, eliminate hatred and hostility.

A sense of affinity will generate sincere respect and appreciation for others. Because of this feeling of unity, there is a sense of caring and a desire to help each other. This feeling of kinship and being of one family will distance us from behaviors of violence and crime. If we feel pain when we are hit, then we will not hit other people.

This feeling of affinity will eventually lead us to social solidarity. We don’t want to see other people in trouble or in pain. Ultimately, we will realize that, as brothers and sisters, we have a common enemy. The enemy of all religions is no other than injustice, oppression, greed, ignorance and poverty. Once we have this awareness, as people of faith we can work together to eradicate the common enemy.

 We can work together to rid the world of injustice, we can cooperate to eliminate oppression, greed, ignorance and poverty. Doesn’t cooperation and working hand in hand make our tasks much easier and less arduous?

Third, the principle of democracy. As religious community we should actively promote the principle of democracy. Democracy stems from respect and appreciation for other people. The essence of democracy is respect for the nature and dignity of human beings as noble beings. In a society that upholds democracy, all citizens are treated the same in the eyes of the law. The terms majority and minority don’t exist. All communities have the same basic rights, which is to live as human beings.

In a democratic nation, we must not be anarchic. Even if other people commit sins, we should not take the law into our own hands. Leave it to the law enforcers to punish them accordingly. In this context we should urge the state and the government to enforce the law fairly and take a neutral stance. There should be no public policies or legal decisions that are discriminative to any groups, especially to minority groups. The fact is that in a country, the government is often unable to be impartial and neutral, especially towards religious minority groups. This discriminative attitude can be very dangerous and may well become the starting point of numerous conflicts and humanitarian tragedies. In a nation with such a heterogeneous population in regards to religion and culture, such as Indonesia, the government should take a more prudent stance and apply the principle of human rights regarding religious freedom.

Religious leaders should actively create and promote religious interpretations that are democratic, that emphasize on the principles of tolerance and pluralism, and gender equity. My long experience in dealing with issues on women and religion brings me to the conclusion that religion and women has never been best friend, and they don’t complement each other. Religion has for far too long shown its masculine face rather than its feminine side.

In the name of religion, women are geared to become reproductive machines to increase the number of human beings. In the context of Indonesia, it is no secret that both Islam and Christianity are always in competition to increase the number of their followers. As a result, claims of Islamization and Christianization are always a hot topic in Indonesia and more often than not, this becomes the root of conflict and violence in society. In the name of religion, women are dominated so that they become the sweet child in the family, a wife who is obedient to her husband, and a mother who takes care of the family. In contrast, boys are not obligated to become the sweet child in the family, to be an obedient husband to his wife and a father who takes care of family matters. Doesn’t this reality show that discrimination and injustice exist? It is even in contradiction to the essence of religion.

I believe that the core aim of all religion and faith is for all human beings, both women and men, to be pious and useful, for them self, the family and the community in general. A number of studies have shown that there are many cases of domestic violence that stem from religious interpretations that are discriminative towards women. It is my sincere hope that religious leaders can transform religion’s masculine face so that women feel more comfortable and feel that their interest is accommodated within it.

 

Forth, the principle of pluralism

One of the major problems faced by religious community in this era of globalization is religion-based conflict and violence, both internally as well as between congregations of different religions. Certainly, in every conflict, women are the ones most vulnerable to become victims.

Why do conflicts happen? It is because people with religion no longer live in isolated blocks, but interacts with each other so it is very possible that frictions happen with the potential to cause conflict. The relationship between inter-religious groups is not always peaceful. Religion-based conflicts and violence frequently occur in a number of areas, including in Asian countries. Religion-based conflict and violence usually occur as a result of growing politics of identity. In other words, it is the mobilization of religious identity for the political interest of certain parties.  Ironically, religious provocation is often carried out by those who claim to speak in the name of religion.

In order to achieve peace and harmony in living together, all parties in society should adopt a tolerant and pluralistic attitude. Tolerance is the ability to constrain oneself and one’s emotions in order to minimize and eliminate potentials of conflict. Meanwhile, pluralism is much more than tolerance.

Pluralism is the willingness to recognize differences and accept diversity as a natural force in life to subsequently be committed to build solidarity and cooperation for the sake of peace and harmony. Pluralism must be built upon a principle of love, caring, equality and the recognition of human dignity. Pluralism urges for the fulfillment of human rights, including women rights.

Pluralism is a process of active seeking of understanding across lines of difference. To sum it up, pluralism does not mean that one has to shed one’s own religious identity and disclaim one’s own commitment to the religion embraced, and it also it doesn’t mean syncretism that one mixes teachings of different religions. The core of pluralism is the strong commitment to build a synergic relationship with each other in order to ensure peace and harmony.

When one is a pluralist, it does not mean that one does not recognize the existence of religious differences, because such differences are natural, intrinsic, and given and can’t be avoided. But such religious differences can become the source for a healthy inter-religious relationship as a uniting force, and not as a divider that threatens certain religious identity and culture. Pluralism is built upon a foundation of inter-religious dialogue.

Pluralism can be achieved, at least through two activities: The first one is that intensive dialogue. The problem is the dialogue between people of different religions has been too frequently done but it is not effective. Why? Most dialogues end at the level of elites, which means only among prominent religious leaders at the national level.

So, dialogue should not only be carried out among the elite, but should be done at the “grass root” level. It must involve all elements of society, namely youth, women, entrepreneurs, cultural and educator organizations. Moreover, the process should involve marginalized groups. And also, the topics of the dialogue should be based on religious universal values and humanist religious interpretations.

Through this dialogue, those who embrace different religions and faiths learn more about each other, and this will subsequently lead to a better understanding between them. Mutual understanding ultimately leads them to seek common factors between the different religions to be then rendered as the foundation for living together in peace and harmony. 

Secondly, it is very important to create participatory activities. This strategy must be carried out following dialogue. Through participatory activities, religious leaders and religious communities from different religions are able to experience living or working together. This can be realized in the form of, for instance, a jamboree, or in activities involving the provision of humanitarian aid or medical aid for victims of disasters. The experience of living or working together will open their minds and encourage them to eliminate all forms of prejudice and to eradicate all the tendency to stereo-type other groups.

 

Solution and Recommendation

The first step is to redirect religion’s position by putting more emphasis on multi-cultural principles and teaching of universal values, not by teaching the ritual aspects that are legal-formal in nature. It is no longer time for dogmatic religious teachings that are full of myths and horror stories of doomsday. Religious teachings should encourage students to do good deeds, to care for each other, and should urge us to build a human civilization that is peaceful and harmonious.

Second, it is very important to urge religious leaders to promote humanistic, inclusive religious interpretations. So that, there will no longer be any interpretations that are discriminative against women and other minority groups. We have to promote religious interpretations that in line with principles of democracy and human rights. Interpretation of religion should be accommodative towards humanistic values. Religious leaders should return to their prophetic task which is to push for transformation of society in order to attain a civilized society.

Third, it is time to encourage inter-faith dialogues through international, national and regional meetings such as this one which was initiated by the Sant’ Egidio. It is my hope that this meeting shall not end merely as a meaningless ceremonial activity, but as a tool for introspection, reflection and evaluation. So that, we can all learn and pick the benefits from our own experiences as well as from other people’s experiences for a better future in living together.