Keynotes Speaker on
CHRISTIAN – MUSLIM DIALOG
OVERCOMING PREJUDICES FOR AND THROUGH LIVING TOGETHER
Balewiyata Theological Institute, Malang, Indonesia
First of all on behalf of Balewiyata Theological Institute we warmly welcome you all in our small and simple campus, at Malang town Indonesia. Malang is the second biggest city in East Java with more less 860 000 population. Actually Malang is quite a nice city, a mountainous area about 500 meters above sea level. Several years ago actually Malang was a cool city because of the mountainous area and big jungle. However after surrounding deforestation the jungle, now it becomes wormer and more humid.
We are really very grateful to the Lord for His pleasure, that you are both from abroad and from Indonesia as well today are able to arrive safely and join together with us here joyfully. We thank you very much indeed for your attention and presence in this program.
The theme of our program: “OVERCOMING PREJUDICES FOR AND THROUGH LIVING TOGETHER”. We realize that prejudice is still a great problem for the relation of people of different faith in every where, including the relation between Muslims and Christians. If we look through, prejudices do not come instantly. But it has a long historical root and complex social, political and cultural background.
Globalization has caused the world become more open and interdependent between one and another. Countries become more and more borderless. Societies are more and more pluralistic in ethnic, race, tradition, culture and religion. In religion people used to live homogeneously in the past. Now they live together heterogeneously in different religions and faiths. All of these realities are experienced by both Indonesian society and German/ Dutch society. However many religious people, especially Christian and Muslim have not prepared enough theologically, politically and culturally to the new situation. There is a lot of prejudice, tension, hatred, even conflicts openly. As the result religions are presented by their adherents not as the solution of human problems in societies, but it becomes the problem itself. We believe that this reality is indeed contrary to the essence and spirit of religion as the religion of peace, love and blessing for mankind and the world.
Most of us believe that religions are intended to uphold truth, justice, peace and integrity of creation. How many years have passed, how many millions have been spent to build peace among the people of different faith through meeting and dialog, however the situation and condition have not improved satisfactorily . In 1987, when I visited the late Pastor Anawati in his Franciscan library at Cairo, he told sadly: “ I am 82 years old and I have studied world religion, especially Islam – Christian relationship and involved myself in building up the bridge for more than 42 years, but still how great is misunderstanding, prejudices, distrust and betrayals among them”. Perhaps this road is a quite and lonely road, but this is a very important effort and desperately needed by our world nowadays. I agree fully with the conclusion of the International Islamic Ulama meeting on 13th October 2006 that the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there will be no meaningful peace in the world. Because the amount of Christians (more than 33,3 % world population) and Muslims (more than 20 % world population) are more than a half of world population.
Our Problems and Hopes
1. Historical Burden
Historically, each religion at first was born and developed at their own geographical and social cultural context which were separated between one and another. Then these adherents of different faith meet one and another and should live together at the same place. How often their encounters are colored by prejudices, hatred, enmity and conflicts. The problem also come up seriously between two or more religions which emerge in one geographical and socio cultural context. Because basically each religion is hardly accept other religion which emerge after this religion. For example it is no problem for Christian to accept Judaism, but very difficult to accept Islam. Similarly, may be Islam is able to accept Christianity, but not to accept Bahai, etc.
First, the relation of Christians and Muslims nowadays in some extent can not be separated from their first encounter in the Middle East. Historically, Islam emerged in the context of Arabic polytheism, Judaism and Christianity in Arab. It was not the ideal of Judaism and Christianity, but the exclusivism of Judaism and the declining of Christianity spiritually, theologically and social – culturally As it is said by Bishop Dr Kenneth Cragg in his book “The call of the Minaret”: That the relation of Christian and Muslims nowadays is the result of a double tragedy. The first tragedy, Islam emerged and intended to straighten Christianity, but Muslims do not know exactly what is the true Christianity. This first tragedy actually is the result of the second inward tragedy, that Islam does not know the true Christianity because at that time Christian people could not witness how the true Christianity was. (look Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, Oxford University Press, 1956, p 244-245)
Second, the above encounters then develop worse in the expansion of Islam into Christian area in the Middle East such as Egypt, Syria, Persia and Byzantium, Europe and Span as well which was reacted by Christian crusade that took place for more than three centuries. The crusade did not only destroyed the relation between Christians and Muslims, but also the relation between Western Christians and Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Third, the arrival of Western people (Portugal, Spanish, French, Dutch and English) who are considered as Christian people to conquer Africa and Asia that mostly Muslim population. At first similar to Indian, Arab, Persian they came as traders. However, because of their greediness, in order to get profit as much as possible, then they colonized most countries. Tension and war could not be avoided and it created a deep wound among population in Asia and Africa also the relation between Christians and Muslims in Third world. Easily Christians are identified as Western civilization and colonialists.
Fourth, in this globalization era the hegemony of Western social, political, military, cultural and economic power over many Islamic countries are often considered by many Muslims as the come back of Western colonization with a new mask. For example their role in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Israel and Palestine. It increases prejudices and creates some radical reaction not only against Western Countries, but also against Christians in Muslim countries.
However, we know that globalization also drive different people from various countries, including Christians and Muslims and all people of different faith moving closer and united. Societies become more and more pluralistic. They live together, experience the same problems and threat such as poverty, famine, disasters, the crisis of energy, food and environment. Now and in the future if we want to live happily and peacefully we can not live exclusively anymore. We should live together, it is not just living co-existence namely living together without caring for each other, but pro-existence, means living together in mutual understanding, caring, respect and enrichment.
Social – Cultural problems and hopes
Very often religion inter-mingle with, or become one with culture, and the identity of cultural background influence strongly in religion. In this cultural frame, though both Christianity and Islam come from similar context, namely the Middle East, but after arrived at Indonesia we find a big cultural gap. Because Islam from Arab cultural background was brought in more directly to Indonesia through Persia and India. While Christianity from the Middle East (Palestine) was brought to Europe at first, just then it was brought by Western people to Indonesia. As a result often Christianity is considered as Western religion and Islam as Arab religion. Christians are clothed by Western culture Muslims are clothed by Eastern culture. And if Arab and Indian traders did not have ambition to establish political power, the Dutch and Portugal traders for the sake of the great profit, they colonize Indonesia. This condition influent to the relation between Christians and Muslim very much, also Christians and other religious adherent in Indonesia. On one side the feeling of superiority attitude among Christians towards people of different faith, including to their cultures and on the other side hatred and rejection among Indonesian to them. There are many prejudices and tension caused by these different cultural backgrounds.
However, after Christianity is also embraced by Indonesian indigenous people, both of them live together in Indonesia and recognize that both Christians and Muslims are descended from the same ancestors that have a common cultural background, then the situation gradually change better. Now they have a common cultural challenges, namely from outside the hegemony of global culture and civilization which suppress many local cultures, and from inside multi dimensional crisis which penetrate through Indonesian countries.
Sure, the situation in Europe, including Germany is different from Indonesia. Because if in Indonesia Muslims and Christians share the same ancestors, ethnic, language and culture, in Germany do not. If in Indonesia it is common to see Christians and Muslims live together in one area side by side as neighbors, in Germany still not yet common. So it is more limited time for both sides to get to know to each other and to live together in the real sense.
The vast growing of modernization, materialism and secularism which come along together globalization have made people seeking for stable systems for their private live in a global world. As the traditional systems of Islam and Christianity did not react properly and fast enough to this search for a proper foundation in a global and secular world many fundamentalistic Christian movements and fundamentalistic Islamic movement as well could gain influence in society. While the Christian fundamentalists get their ideological background mainly from the USA and South Korea and the Islamic fundamentalists get their ideas from the Middle and Near East. The old opposite between West and East rises again, but now in new and dangerous religious clothing. So both groups are very rarely interested in any dialog. On the contrary often create a climate of mistrust against each other. And their behavior on both sides often become reason for conflict and violence. On this issuee Christians and Muslims have to work together to overcome those trends and offer solid foundation in the main line organizations of their religion.
Social – political problems and hopes
We understand that the emerge of prejudices and relation between Christians and Muslims often cannot be separated from social political background. For example the ideology, model and type of state, the condition and the percentage of population, the structure of society and the struggle of every group in societies. How often are religions used for the interest of political benefit?. Religion is used as vehicle to achieve the political goal, whether it is conducted by ruler, authorities or political and religious leaders. These cases happen in religious state where religion is said to be the commander as well as in the state where politic is considered to be the commander. As the typical character of politic is partial, one sided and sectary, so it is not surprising if religious reason then often are used as weapon to attack and eliminate other group who are considered as rivals or enemies.
Concerning Christians - Muslims relation, politically many Muslims consider that State and religion is one or unity, politic and religion is unity. Since before Indonesian independence until after independence some Islamic political movements struggle to establish an Islamic state, or at least to implement Islamic Shari’ah in Indonesian Law. While Christians consider that religion must be separated from state, religion must be separated from politic, so they prefer to have secular state than religious state.
Eventually as compromise it is stated that The Republic of Indonesia politically is neither secular state nor religious state, but Pancasila State. Namely the state which is based on five principle: 1. Believe in One God; 2 Humanity; 3.The Unity of Indonesia; 4. Democracy and 5. Social justice. Especially the first principle: “Believe in One God” is interpreted not as God according to certain religion, but as a general and neutral concept of God that gives room for every one who worships God without becoming indifferent in matters of religion.
Though the group whose aspiration for an Islamic state is decreasing and becomes smaller and smaller, however from time to time that struggle never ceasing whether through political party or people power This situation create tension and unpleasant relation between Christians and Muslims. As it is said by Peter Polomka in his Book “Indonesia Since Soekarno” :
“That the basic problem is that there is far too much mistrust and fear among Christians as well as Muslims. Christians are afraid of losing freedom of movement and right, Muslims are afraid of losing ground.” (Peter Polomka in his Book “Indonesia Since Soekarno” (Pingguin books, Australia Ltd, 1975, p 196)
Fortunately the Muslim majority which has been represented by the tradisional Muslim Nahdatul Ulama in their conference at Situbondo (1984) stated that the state which should be defended and keep its continuity is The Republic of Indonesia.. On the basis of this statement though it is not stated explicitly, but implicitly clear enough that Nahdatul Ulama does not want to continue the aspiration for an Islamic State. The Republic of Indonesia is final.
Theological Problems and Hopes
We can not deny that there are some serious theological problems which put afar between Christians and Muslim. For examples: the doctrine of the Oneness of God, Trinity, salvation, the Bible in the hand of Jews and Christians and the Qur’an in the hand of Muslims, and the prominent figures of Jesus and Muhammad.
However actually there are also some theological closeness between Islam and Christianity which can not be found in whether Islam or Christianity relation with other religions. As it has been stated by The International Islamic Ulama Conference on 13th Oct 2006 on the title “A Common Word between Us and You” that both Muslims and Christians believe in One same God, the God Al Mighty of Abraham, Isaq, Yakub etc. These both communities also have the same basic law, namely to love God and love the neighbor Even the prominent figure of Jesus Christ or Isa Al Masih ibn Maryam, on one side the different doctrine seem to separate Muslims from Christians, but at once actually also has brought Muslims closer to Christians. Though Muslims do not believe Jesus Christ as the Savior, but Muslims honor in Him very much as prophet and the messenger of God with all of His unique predicates.
This basic theological conviction actually is more than enough to build up true brotherhood between them and to do together their common responsibility in this world, such as overcoming poverty, injustice and crisis of environment.
Finally, last but not least the real root of prejudices and interfaith relationship problem actually is the way of looking and understanding of religion itself. Namely the way of understanding that the own religion is the absolute, the Truth, the holy and the best, and the other is untrue, unholy and worse. Every religion which is practiced by its adherents believes that their religion is descended from God through the true and clear revelation. The revelation which is from God is absolute Truth. Because the revelation is absolute Truth so that their religion is also the Truth. On the basic reason that the Truth is only one, all religion outside themselves are considered as disbelievers, or at least deviation or sectary. From this point come Truth claim. That the own religion is the only right way, while the other is the wrong way. The own religion is the ideal which is always good and holy, while the other is the reality, always bad and unholy. So the believers always classify other people and use double standard. Consequently the relation between one and other people of different faith is mutual rejection and elimination. It is not surprising if the relation of people of different faith become full of rivalry, conflict and prejudices. Even the study of religion also becomes fertile soil for developing polemic and mutual humiliation. Dakwah and evangelization are used as the media to attack to each other. It becomes worse if then they do not want to know each other and neglect each other.
The Program: Over coming Prejudices for and trough Living Together.
The prejudices are uncountable, and the problems and challenges are really very complex. However the basis of hopes is also great and not unreal. In this context we come together and want to walk together through this Christian – Muslim Dialog program. I am sure, whether in Indonesia or in Germany we have had many times dialog and encounter. However this program become special because the participants come from Germany and Nederland join together with the participants from Indonesia both Christians and Muslims. All of us have had a lot of knowledge and experiences. So we do not want to invite you just to listen to the information and discourses from experts. But the most important is to share our knowledge and experiences with each other. We do not want to have dialog only theoretically how great it is, but also dialog through living together in communities. Then we will conclude what we have got and what will we do after going back from this campus.
Finally, have a nice time of dialog and living together.
God bless us all.
Malang 13 October 2008.
Rev. Bambang Ruseno Utomo Th D.