Islam, UN resolution and religious harmony

In News by

Lily Zakiyah Munir, Zamboanga City, The Philippines


At a ceremonial dinner with some 150 guests, mostly aleemat (women ulama) from Mindanao, a Christian priest told the audience about his experience of feeling peaceful among Muslims in Mindanao.

The priest was passing the Muslim majority area, Jolo, and discovered that he was the only Christian aboard the boat. Looking like a stranger, he was greeted by a Muslim Tausug. They chatted. Then came another, and another man, who greeted him. The priest continued his story, that he slept soundly in the boat knowing that he was the only Christian there.

On Fridays, the priest often passed the Muslim majority area, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, on his way to Malabang. When asked why he was doing it, he said, because “My friends are praying [Friday prayer] and they are praying for my safety and I have never been harassed, ever.”

This beautiful story was a piece shared during the World Interfaith Harmony Solidarity Dinner in Zamboanga City, Mindanao. I was fortunate to have been at the dinner, in addition to my other tasks of sharing with the aleemat and the youth in Mindanao. I was amazed that this story of peaceful religion took place in Mindanao, a place widely known for its persistent religious conflicts and being a “breeding ground” for radicals. Unlike the negative image of insecurity, the region is peaceful and secure and people of different religions — Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jamud (indigenous religion) — coexist in harmony.

Reflecting upon the brutal attacks to the minority Muslims and the non-Muslims back home in Indonesia, I feel ashamed. A religion of peace as evidenced by the Mindanao priest, in the hands of these brutal attackers Islam looks horrible. It is sickening to see them abuse the yell of Allahu Akbar with anger and enmity to terror those they consider “the other,” Muslims and non-Muslims.

These “hooligans” claim themselves as Muslims, but their attitude and behavior are obviously un-Islamic. Islam is a religion of ethics (akhlak), and as a matter of fact, the reason of Prophet Muhammad’s prophet hood was primarily to improve the quality of noble character, as reiterated in his hadith, “Innama bu’ithtu li utammima makarim al-akhlaq,” (Indeed, I have been sent to perfect the quality of noble character).

Islam has three equally important pillars: iman, islam, and ihsan. This third element literally means “beautiful”, meaning that our faith (iman), our acts of submission (Islam) are to be performed in the way ordained by Allah, the beautiful way. Allah is beautiful and loves beauty, including in our behavior. Countless references in the Koran and hadith regulate Muslims to lead a beautiful (ihsan) way of life, including in relating to others, Muslim and non-Muslim.

Thus, nothing can justify terror and brutal acts in the name of God. Allah is All Loving and Compassionate. Islam acknowledges the sanctity of human life, enjoying its protection and prohibiting its arbitrary deprivation. The Koran says if one kills an innocent person it is as if he were killing the whole of the human race. God has made human life sacred and no one has the right to take it this away from someone, except by way of justice and law. The sharia provisions on the sanctity and protection of human life are so fundamental and emphatic that they cannot be denied.

However, religion is like a double-edged sword: Enlightening and emancipating, but it can also be used as a weapon for oppression by the majority and the more powerful. In the latter case, the victims are more likely to be women and non-Muslim minorities, those considered “the other”. History notes the plight of Muslim women by the patriarchs in the guise of Islamic law. They justify polygamy and domestic violence, for example, by referring to Koranic texts partially and literally and with a rigid and narrow minded interpretation. A woman’s dignity as a human and her right to justice barely exists in their minds.

The shameful religious hijacking appears more serious if we recall that the first week of February was declared in a UN Resolution as “World Interfaith Harmony Week”. As part of the global family, Indonesians cannot evade from the global responsibility of abiding by international laws and UN resolutions, including the one on interfaith harmony.

This UN Resolution, passed in October last year, was driven by an open letter entitled A Common Word Between Us and You (ACW), which is anchored on a Koranic verse: Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word (kalimatin sawaa…) between us and you… (QS 3:64). This verse should serve as a reminder for Muslims to promote interfaith and intrafaith harmony, because we can focus on our common word, where we find no disputes among us.

The writer is the director of the Center for Pesantren and Democracy Studies.