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Why India's national security advisor is interested in the ulema in Indonesia

By bringing together a meeting of the ulema in India and Indonesia, Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor of India, is underlining areas where India and Indonesia can actively cooperate.

India’s National Security Adviser, Shri Ajit Doval and His Excellency Professor (Dr.) Mohammad Mahfud M.D at the India-Indonesia dialogue on the Role of Ulema in fostering a culture and Interfaith peace and social harmony in India and Indonesia in New Delhi.

India’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval and Mohammad Mahfud, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs of Indonesia, hosted a dialogue on the 'Role of Ulema in fostering a Culture of Interfaith Peace and Social Harmony in India and Indonesia' at New Delhi on November 29, 2022.

A high-level delegation of ulema from Indonesia and India held discussions about the historical and cultural backdrop of Islam in their respective nations, the teachings of Islam as well as how to prevent radicalisation and terrorism in both countries.

Addressing the dialogue in their keynote address, the following points were made out by India’s NSA Ajit Doval and Mohammad Mahfud.

Historic ties connecting Islam, India, and southeast Asia

Ajit Doval, India's National Security Adviser( NSA), stressed the relationship between Indonesia and India and the role that the countries can play to improve prospects for peace, regional cooperation, and prosperity in Asia because of their shared cultures, variety, traditions, and rich histories. Focussing on the India-Indonesia relationship, he pointed out how both countries are flourishing democracies in the Indo-pacific region as well as the strong historical and cultural links and extensive people-to-people ties between the two countries. Doval stressed the importance of understanding the country's historical and cultural context of Islam.

He talked about the rich history of trade where the Chola empire had extensive trade and cultural links with Indonesia. Doval also stressed the importance of traders in spreading Islam in India and Indonesia. “Much like in India, Islam in Indonesia was spread by traders from present-day Kerala, Gujarat and Sufi from Bengal and Kashmir. This peaceful spread led to the development of a syncretic culture where not only pre-Islamic religions flourished side by side but age-old tradition and local customs greatly influenced religious practices.”

He pointed out that there is a shared goal for harmony and peace between the two countries.”Our dialogue today is a vital medium to help us achieve that objective.”

As stated by the NSA, India and Indonesia should concentrate on the true meaning of their religions, which promotes humanism, peace, and understanding. “ Indeed, as the Holy Quran itself teaches, killing one person is like killing all humanity and saving one is akin to saving humanity, Islam ordains that the most excellent form of Jihad is 'Jihad Afzal' - that is, Jihad against one's senses or ego - and not against innocent civilians.”

Highlighting the role of the ulema (religious scholars) in Islamic society, he stated, “The ulemas play a very important role in Islamic society. Today's discussion aims to bring together Indian and Indonesian ulema and scholars who can take forward our cooperation in promoting tolerance, harmony and peaceful cooperation. This will bolster the fight against violent extremism, terrorism and radicalisation.”

Doval expressed his concern about the growing terrorism and separatism in India and Indonesia and how cross-border terrorism continues to pose a threat. He mentioned that to counter this threat, the cooperation of civil society is needed and how ulema can play an important role in this due to their deep connection with civil society. He also said, “Ulema have a pivotal role to play and a leading role in educating the people on the original tolerant and moderate principle of Islam and countering radicalisation and extremism with progressive ideas and thought.”

Doval emphasized the importance of developing a unified narrative on deradicalization, stating that hate speech, bigotry, propaganda, demonisation, violence, conflict, and the exploitation of religion for narrow objectives have no place in a democracy.

He brought attention to young people, who often become the soft target of radicalization. According to Doval, if their energy is channeled correctly, they can become "harbingers of change" and building blocks of progress.

The NSA stated that while technology is a boon to humanity, it is also being abused by anti-social individuals to promote hatred and cause disruption in society. The Ulema must also be technologically advanced and employ various solutions and methods to fight the evils of propaganda and hatred.

Islam can promote peaceful interfaith living

After Introducing the Indonesian ulema from different Islamic organizations as well as scholars and leaders from other faiths in the country, he started by saying, “Religion, I think, should be a source of peace, not the reason for discord, conflict, or violence. Religion should be a unifying tool, not a divisive instrument..”

He continued, saying the dialogue's goal is to provide ulema from India and Indonesia, as well as representatives of other religions in India, a chance to talk about how religious leaders may support the development of a culture of peace and social harmony in an interfaith society.

He mentioned the difficulties that the world is facing, including poverty, climate change, unemployment, income disparity, and violations of human rights, and said that if the world could concentrate on these issues and fight them, religion should also need to be a part of the solution on a global scale.

Dr Mahfud focused on Indonesia's pluralistic society, “Its people are bound by the State ideology Pancasila, Pancasila is the five basic principles of the State of the Republic of Indonesia, namely, Believe in God, Humanity, Unity, Democracy, and Social Justice.”

He further stated, “As a very pluralistic nation we have many challenges and differences however we have learned that tolerant and democratic Indonesia allows difference and diversity to strengthen the unity not weaken it, hence there is our national motto - Bhinneka Tunggal Ika which means ‘Unity in Diversity.”

He focussed on the role of Ulema and other religious leaders who play a leading role and contribute to fostering the culture of inter-faith peace and social harmony in Indonesia. “Ulema and other religious leaders have been crucial parts of Indonesia's harmonious society since the beginning of Indonesia's history, from the time of the struggle to gain freedom from colonial powers, until the current modern times.”

He further added, “Now religious leaders are playing an important role in supporting government policies in development toward better living conditions and prosperity of the people.”

There is a significant contribution of ulema and other religious leaders in solving Indonesia’s social challenges. Mahfud quoted Indonesian President Joko Widodo's speech during the G20 Religion forum or R20 held in Bali earlier this month, “Religious leaders are the main actors who help Indonesia to become one united nation and support the success of various government programs in development.”

Indonesia's achievement in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak is an indication of the crucial role played by religious leaders. The religious leaders supported the government's immunization effort, assisted in the spread of accurate information, and combated misunderstanding and false information concerning the pandemic.

“I do not doubt that dialogue and discussion among Ulema and leaders of other faiths, like we are doing today, will foster a culture of interfaith peace, creating avenues for sharing experiences and best practices,'' he added.

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