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Indonesia launches new group to combat extremism

Said Aqil Siroj Institute to set about promoting religious tolerance in the run up to next year's presidential poll

Indonesia launches new group to combat extremism

Said Aqil Siroj, a prominent Muslim cleric and chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, speaks with reporters after the launch of the Said Aqil Siroj (SAS) Institute in Jakarta. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

Moderate Muslims in Indonesia have launched a new civil society group to promote interreligious tolerance in a country where religious and ethnic sentiments are on the rise ahead of a presidential election in 2019.

More than 200 people, including religious leaders such as Jakarta's Catholic archbishop, as well as politicians, attended the Aug. 1 launch of the Said Aqil Siroj Institute in Jakarta.

The new non-profit organization is named after a prominent Muslim cleric who now serves as chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Islamic organization.    

"His thoughts and ideas highlighting tolerance, mutual respect, peace and willingness to work together with people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds have inspired the establishment of this institute. These are important pillars for the existence of our diverse nation," Imdadun Rahmat, the organization's executive director, said at the launch.

"This institute has come about because of concerns among young people about problems and challenges faced by our nation, especially the weakening of national unity as a result of segregation based on religion, ethnicity and ideology," he said.

He said the organization would take up the same fight as similar organizations including the Jakarta-based Wahid Institute, an organization that focuses on the creation of peace and non-violence espoused by former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, who was also a former NU chairman.

"Such organizations need to expand to serve as 'shields' to protect our younger generation from radicalism," he told ucanews.com.

In near future, he said, the institute will share moderate Islamic teachings through social media and conduct research, seminars and discussions.

Speaking to reporters, Siroj said the institute would promote Islam Nusantara (Islam of the Archipelago) as many people still don't have a clear understanding of it.

"Islam Nusantara means an Islam which promotes cultural values that are dignified, friendly and polite," he said.

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"I think Islam Nusantara is a solution to the wave of globalization which is very radical and extreme.

"I believe Indonesian Muslims can show people that they respect differences and other cultures," he said.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, said the launch of the new organization comes at the right time.

"[Next year] is the year of politics. Regional elections [held in June] ran peacefully. Yet, we see that in some regions the issues of religion, ethnicity and ideology were used to influence public opinion. We predict these issues will grow ahead of the presidential election next year," he said.

Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, who attended the launch, welcomed the institute's establishment.

"This is the actualization of Said Aqil Siroj's thoughts and ideas summarized in Islam Nusantara, a movement of peace and tolerance. This is the answer to the very worrying situation in our country today," he told ucanews.com.

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