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West Sumatra students learn more about the religion that surrounds them

Catholic youths get answers to their questions on Islam

West Sumatra students learn more about the religion that surrounds them
Students ask questions about Islam

Young Catholic in West Sumatra have organized a program to learn about the Islamic practices they see every day in the majority Muslim country.

The four-hour program that took place earlier this month was based around participants’ questions on the five pillars of Islam: creed, daily prayers, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. About 75 Catholics aged 16-24 from around Padang province attended the program, the first of its kind. Additional programs are to be scheduled.

Father Philips Rusihan Sakti, vicar general and head of Padang’s Diocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said it has helped young Catholics get rid of prejudices about Islam.

West Sumatra is one of the few provinces that have imposed religious-based bylaws. In 2003, the administration of Padang mandated that junior high school students must be able to recite the Qur'an. Female students and civil servants are required to wear a headscarf in public, and students were asked to take courses in Islamic teachings during the month of Ramadan and attend study sessions on Sunday mornings.

Faizal Zaini Dahlan, a lecturer in comparative religious studies at the state-run Institute of Islamic Studies, answered participants’ questions, such as whether Christians could politely use the phrase assalamu alaikum (peace be with you) or whether it was reserved for Muslims (it is).

"The question is not about who says it. If non-Muslims say it wholeheartedly and not for fun, Muslims should not ignore them," he said, while acknowledging that not all Muslims feel the same way.

People who do not allow non-Muslims to use the greeting have certain reasons. “This group claims that the greeting was misused in the past, it was said for fun," Dahlan said.

“That question kept bothering me for so long. However it was finally answered after joining this study program,” said Wandi Sarumaha, 17, from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Padang.

The teacher used the example to show the universal nature of religions, including Islam.

“The languages used by religions vary. They can be Assalamu alaikum or shalom [a Hebrew word meaning peace]. They have one meaning,” Dahlan said.

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