February 2013


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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City of Religious Conflict Hosts ICF Human Rights Workshop in Indonesia

Bruce Van Voorhis

Imam Nafi explains the teachings of Islam
that underpin human rights.

Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) held a human rights workshop in Indonesia from Feb. 17 to 23, 2013, in Solo, Central Java. This was the second workshop that ICF has conducted to train some members of its regional network who have attended its School of Peace (SOP) to be resource people in the area of human rights. The first workshop took place in September last year in Jakarta.

Pastor Paulus Hartono, the local organizer, explained that Solo was a good choice to hold a human rights workshop as his city has periodically experienced violence over the years that has been perpetrated by radical Muslims against the Christian community. It is for this reason, he said, that he and Imam Mohammad Dian Nafi, the leader of a local pesantren, or Islamic boarding school, have worked together for more than 10 years to build relationships between the two faith communities in Solo and to defuse any violence when it occurs. Both religious leaders took part in ICF’s mini-SOP that was held for two weeks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 2011.

SOP alumni Hor Hen and Keo Vichith from Cambodia and Ebenezer Dharshan from Sri Lanka—all participants of SOP in 2007—attended the program as well as five other participants from Solo and the surrounding area. Because of a variety of reasons, four other SOP alumni from Indonesia and the Philippines who had taken part in the Jakarta workshop and who had been invited to be part of the program in Solo could not attend.

During the first workshop in Jakarta, a major emphasis was put on discussing human rights from a legal perspective as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and several other key U.N. human rights covenants and conventions, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

This emphasis continued in the Solo workshop with the participants examining the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These conventions were chosen because they affect a large proportion of the population in any society and because many SOP alumni work on issues affecting women and children and hence would have interest in a human rights workshop focusing on CEDAW and the CRC that is led by those attending this program in Solo. As part of this segment of the workshop, each participant was asked to prepare a presentation about CEDAW for a specific audience that the participant chose.

As part of their field trip, the participants visited a mosque and a
church founded by two brothers, one a Muslim and one a Christian,
that stand next to each other in the Indonesian community of Solo
in Central Java—an uncommon sight in the country.

Another perspective on human rights, however, was also introduced during the Solo workshop: human rights from a moral or faith-based perspective. Vichith and Hor Hen shared about the teachings of Buddhism related to human rights; Dharshan, Pastor Paulus and ICF staff person Bruce Van Voorhis presented the perspective of Christianity on the topic; and Imam Nafi offered the human rights principles contained in Islam along with SOP alumni Henny Ulva from Aceh who, although she could not attend the program, provided a PowerPoint presentation about Islam and human rights.

In explaining the relationship between Buddhism and human rights, Vichith first noted how the faith’s Four Nobel Truths—(1) suffering, (2) the cause of suffering, (3) the cessation of suffering and (4) the path leading to the end of suffering—are linked to human rights, i.e., suffering equates with human rights violations, the cause of suffering is injustice, the cessation of suffering results in peace and the path to the end of suffering can be found through respect for universal human rights. He added that the portions of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism concerned with one’s ethical conduct—right speech, right action and right livelihood—and the Five Precepts that form the code of ethics of Buddhism reflect the faith’s deep reverence for life that is a cornerstone of human rights. He remarked as well that the roots of the discrimination, exploitation and violence that underlie the abuse of people’s rights and respect for their human dignity are selfishness, greed and hatred, all of which a practicing Buddhist seeks to eliminate from their life.

Hor Hen added to the content of Vichith’s presentation by further amplifying the teachings of Buddhism and outlining the history and role of Buddhism in his country of Cambodia as well as sharing the portions of the Cambodian Constitution specifically related to human rights.

As for Christianity and human rights, Pastor Paulus noted that “the most basic human rights are granted by God, not by man or any country, such as the right to life.”

“All people, both men and women, are created in the image of God by God,” added Van Voorhis. “We are all children of God. As everyone is created in the image of God, Christians are called to love their neighbor as themselves, for love is at the heart of the faith.”

Human rights violations, he remarked, are, of course, not a reflection of this love.

“When a person is shot and killed while waiting for a bus, when a woman is beaten, when a child is sexually exploited, when a person loses their land and home in the name of development, this is not loving one another,” he said. “When a person disappears, when they are tortured, when they are imprisoned unjustly for expressing themselves, when they are denied an education or health care, it is an act done against a child of God, a human being created in the image of God by God.”

At the conclusion of his presentation about Christianity and human rights, Dharshan noted that there is no hierarchy of rights between civil and political rights, on one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights, on the other.

“This sacredness and equality of the human person and the concern for others in the community as reflected in the laws, prophetic oracles and Jesus’ ministry are two major pillars of the Biblical tradition upon which one can base both political rights—freedom—and social rights—bread,” he explained. “We need to maintain both civil liberty and social justice as inseparable parts of human rights. As we cannot divide spirit and flesh in our body, so freedom and bread are integral to each other. If we lose one, we will distort all. The real issue is not of counterposing these two sets of rights and making a choice between them but of finding an acceptable working arrangement. The poor person needs both bread and freedom.”

Regarding Islam and human rights, Imam Nafi said that in sharia law Muslims are called to protect religion, protect the body and soul, protect the mind, protect descent, protect property and, in the Sufi tradition, protect human dignity. This set of protections that are required of Muslims to uphold, said Imam Nafi, could be translated into secular human rights language as, among others, freedom of religion, the right to life, freedom of expression, reproductive rights and the welfare of children.

Ulva augmented this understanding of Islam and human rights by sharing in the PowerPoint presentation she provided that “the Qur’an upholds the sanctity and absolute value of human life and points out, in essence, that the life of each individual is comparable to that of an entire community and therefore should be treated with the utmost care.”

She affirmed this reverence for life found in Islam by quoting from the Qur’an in which it is said that “if anyone slays a human being . . . it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.”

Justice is another important aspect of Islam, Ulva observed, in again quoting from the Qur’an: “[A]nd never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious.”

In the Qur’an, Ulva added, “justice is a prerequisite for peace, and peace is a prerequisite for development. In a just society, all . . . human rights may be exercised without difficulty.”

Humankind, however, has sadly not created this just society, and consequently, people in Asia and around the world experience the negation of their human rights every day as well as other problems.

Pastor Paulus emphasized that there is consequently a need for people of different faiths to cooperate to address and resolve these problems. He said that in Solo Muslims and Christians are working together to improve people’s economic conditions, to protect the environment, to respond to natural disasters and, most importantly, to end violence.

Challenges though, of course, remain, and Imam Nafi highlighted the threats to human rights in Indonesia as political actors—the State—culture, a lack of education, insufficient information and religious extremists. He explained that religious extremists usually fall into two categories as either fundamentalists or radicals. Fundamentalists, he said, are extremists in thinking while radicals are extremists in action. The former are thinkers who provide the intellectual explanations and motivation for violence while the latter often have little education and actually perform the acts of violence.

As well as these inputs about human rights from legal and faith-based perspectives, other workshop sessions dealt with practical aspects of responding to human rights violations. Thus, after an input about the importance of accurate documentation, the workshop participants practiced using documentation by writing an urgent appeal based on a specific human rights issue or case in their country.

The program also included field trips to Imam Nafi’s pesantren for girls and boys, a local community in Solo where women shared about domestic violence and trafficking, a tour of a Buddhist temple at which the group planted several trees for peace and a meeting with the journalists of a major Solo newspaper, Solo Pos, who said that they seek to report on events in the city’s complex society objectively based on respect for all people’s human rights.