Join secretariat needed to promote religious harmony
Source: The Jakarta Post - June 20, 2002
Muhammad Nafik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Religious leaders together with the House of Representatives have agreed on the need to establish a joint office to promote religious harmony across the country.
Speaking at a hearing with the House here on Tuesday, they said a joint secretariat is badly needed to help restore the relationship between religious followers, which has been tarnished by sectarian conflicts in several parts of the country.
"We fully support a call raised in the forum for the establishment of a joint secretariat," Taufiqurrahman Saleh, chairman of the House's Commission VI overseeing religion and national education, told the hearing.
Tuesday's hearing was attended by Minister of Religious Affairs Said Agil Munawar and leaders from various religious organizations, including Muhammadiyah, the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), the Bishops’ Council [Conference, I-MIRIFICA] of Indonesia (KWI), the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) and the Council of Buddhist Communities (Walubi).
No one from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim organization, showed up at the hearing aimed at deliberating a new bill on national education.
However, NU leader Solahuddin Wahid backed on Tuesday such a joint religious office as long as it would not be under government control.
"The move is positive in nature but we need to discuss it further," he told The Jakarta Post.
In February, NU and Muhammadiyah along with non-Islamic organizations launched a national moral movement also aimed at promoting interfaith harmony and countering radicalism.
The movement has formed a working group comprising representatives from different religions. It recently visited the strife-torn islands of Maluku to encourage local warring Muslims and Christians to end three years of fighting.
Solahuddin said the religious working group could be "institutionalized" as a proposed joint secretariat. Taufikurrahman, a legislator with the National Awakening Party (PKB), suggested that such a joint religious office be set up in Jakarta as well as at regional levels.
He said the secretariat would be tasked mainly with improving interfaith harmony between Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and other religious followers.
The programs should include providing deep understanding of religions to their respective adherents so they would become enlightened in practicing their religious teachings, he added.
Also, he said the joint secretariat would seek to push for the scrapping of all government rulings deemed "discriminatory" against non-Muslims.
The rulings in question may include a joint decree issued in 1969 by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs, which forbids the spreading and preaching of a religion to people with different faiths.
Under the decree, the construction of houses of worship, except mosques, must obtain permission from the local government and local residents.
Taufiqurrahman added the government should facilitate the proposed establishment of a joint religious secretariat by helping cover its operational costs.
The government's possible intervention in making decisions by the secretariat on religious affairs must be avoided, he added.