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Pope's Mideast visits hold 'lessons for Indonesian Muslims'

Pope shows missions of brotherhood between faiths applies to conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims too, academic says

Pope's Mideast visits hold 'lessons for Indonesian Muslims'

An Iraqi Christian woman walks by a banner depicting Pope Francis on a wall of St. Joseph Church in central Baghdad on March 10, 2021, during a Mass held following the visit of Pope Francis to Iraq. An Indonesian academic says the pope’s recent visits to the Middle East send a message to follower of all religions in Indonesia to heal rifts. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP)

Recent visits by Pope Francis to the Middle-East to promote brotherhood between Christians and Muslims send a message that Shia and Sunni Muslims should also forge such ties, an Indonesian intellectual says.

Shia and Sunnis remain embroiled in conflict in several countries including in Indonesia, so the visits send a message to Indonesian Muslims to respect diversity including within the Muslim community, Zuhairi Mizrawi, from Nahdlatul Ulama, the biggest moderate Islamic organization in Indonesia told UCA News in a recent interview.

He was referring to the pope’s February 2019 visit to the United Arab Emirates where he met the Sunni Grand Imam al-Azhar Syaikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi and signed the document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” as well as his visit to Iraq on March 5-8 of this year where he met Ayatullah Ali Sistani, the country’s Shia Muslim spiritual leader. 

“The document signed between Pope Francis and Grand Imam al-Azhar should form the basis of building bridges and setting aside conflicts in the name of religion,” said Mizrawi, who studied at renowned al-Azhar University in Egypt.

In the Indonesian context, he said, religious leaders must exemplify and build on this initiative because violence and discrimination against minority groups including Christians and traditional believers still occur here. 

Such conflicts exist not only among people of different religions but also among people of the same religion, he said.

Shia and Ahmadiyah, two minority Islamic communities in Indonesia have often been targeted by Sunni Muslims. In several regions their teachings, have been banned, their mosques closed, and some have also been forced to flee their homes.  

“We have basic values in each religion which can be used to echo the interreligious dialogue as seen with al-Azhar and the Vatican,” he said. 

Over the last few years interreligious dialogue has suffered in Indonesia as it has faced challenges posed by terrorism and intolerance, he said. 

“So, the pope wants to open our hearts to the fact that fraternity is for anyone regardless of their group or faith,” Mizrawi said. 

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Jesuit Father Francis Xavier Mudji Sutristo, a professor at Jakarta's Driyarkara School of Philosophy, said the pope’s Middle East visits were to show how important humanity is as an instrument to build a peaceful future. 

“This is very relevant for Indonesia in that although we all have different beliefs having humanity is a common factor that should hold us together,” he said.

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