Ladies and Gentlemen,
Assalaamu’alaikum Wr. Wb.,
Om Swasti astu
I am pleased to welcome all of you to Indonesia
It is a source of reassurance and comfort that so many distinguished men and women of faiths from all over Asia and Europe have assembled in this first ASEM Inter-Faith Dialogue here in Bali
I congratulate the leaders of ASEM for their wisdom and foresight in initiating and supporting this important Inter-Faith process.
We all came to this Dialogue because we prefer to live in a community rather than in a divided world. We have come here to contribute insights and ideas on how to make the international community a true community.
Your participation here is eloquent proof that all over the world, people are also longing for harmony, in spite of differences in the faith they profess.
And I am sure there are still many more out there who, like ourselves, wish to join hands in advancing the cause of Inter-Faith dialogue.
Inter-faith dialogue is something of a novelty in international affairs. Not long ago, in international discourse on peace and security, religious leaders and scholars used to take a back seat. And even when they gathered, they were hardly noticed.
Your presence here today is a break from that. By taking part in this Inter-Faith Dialogue, you are taking a frontline position in actively promoting cooperation, tolerance and understanding, without which no national or international order can succeed.
The significance of this Inter-Faith Dialogue becomes obvious in the light of our evolving international situation.
Consider what our generation faces today.
We are seeing stubborn poverty, and marginalized individuals and groups in many countries, including within and across religious communities.
We watch globalization producing effects which cause anxiety in some societies, including religious communities.
We observe the theme “Islam and the west” becoming more prominent.
We are experiencing rising acts of terror, including the horrible bombings in London recently, which has been universally condemned.
We see the persistence of conflicts, including violent ones, within states and between states, some with religious overtones.
And hate, prejudice and bigotry still persevere in some parts of the world.
This restless, volatile world calls for a more assertive role on the part of religious leaders and scholars. For you are more than just leaders and scholars of your faith. Millions of people over the world look to you for guidance, direction and inspiration. You therefore have a responsibility, and have much to contribute, to the well-being of our world.
This Inter-Faith Dialogue may not have ALL the answers to the world’s problems. But you can help find answers to SOME of the problems.
A forum which gathers the best minds and the opinion leaders from each faith can lead to boundless possibilities.
Which is why this Inter-Faith Dialogue of Asians and Europeans have great promise. It can open up many minds, and build many bridges. It can be a potent force for peace and development.
Let me, therefore, attempt to offer several ways by which this Dialogue can help the peoples of Asia and Europe .
First and foremost, the Interfaith Dialogue should achieve its obvious objective, namely the attainment of a greater understanding and harmony between communities of different faiths.
It is true that the different faiths have existed for centuries and millenniums, but even in this modern age, followers of the faiths often do not know much about each other’s religious teachings, and this can be true even in a multi-religious society. As a result, some of us become blind-sided to the sensitivity of others. And particularly in this age of global cable TV, religious figures must be very judicious about what they say on television and how it would be received by other people of different faiths in other parts of the world.
This Dialogue can help bridge that lack of understanding or misunderstanding.
Secondly, the Inter-faith Dialogue should empower the moderates so that their voices will become a major force in the dynamics of our communities.
Certainly, other voices must be heard, even the militant ones, for this dialogue, if it is to be true to its name and purpose, must be inclusive. It should include all groups representing all points of view, attitudes and approaches.
But many dialogues have failed because the voices of the moderates, which normally form the vast majority in any society, have NOT been given the exposure that they deserve. Hence, we must be sure, in the first place, to include the moderates.
We all know that a lot has been said on the importance of “moderation”. But what does “moderation” exactly mean?
Surprisingly, this is a question that is seldom asked.
Moderation certainly does not mean compromising our adherence to the fundamentals of our faith. But moderation does require us to take a wholistic approach to our religious teachings, rather than a literal, piecemeal and narrow view, which often leads to rigid practices and extreme behavior.
Moderation means we have to refrain from imposing one’s views on others and avoiding the use of violence.
Moderation calls on us to respect the rights of others, and respecting others as much as you respect yourself.
Moderation necessitates us to value dialogue and interchange.
And moderation calls for an inclusive approach, and a total devotion to peace and tolerance.
Third, whatever the outcome of our Inter-faith Dialogue, it must lead to the strengthening of our efforts in fighting prejudice, ignorance, bigotry, hatred.
Lets face it: around the world, there are still vast pockets of prejudice and ignorance in both developed and developing countries.
There is still burning hatred in the hearts of individuals and groups in rich and poor societies.
So long as these symptoms persist in our world, we are all at risk. And when ethnic and religious prejudice is aggravated by economic competition and political rivalry, the frequent result is intrastate war or, as we have seen only too often, human rights violations.
Through this Inter-Faith Dialogue, we can help cure these evils that lurk in our societies. By facilitating men and women of different faiths to work together, we can pour love over hatred, we can open up ignorant minds, and we can turn bigots into sensible persons.
Fourth, the Inter-Faith Dialogue can help religious communities become less vulnerable in dealing with globalization. There are many communities out there who feel insecure, humiliated or sidelined by this confusing world of globalization.
But globalization also brings opportunities.
Different religious communities have different experience with globalization, and they can help one another RIDE on this unstoppable force of history rather than get run over by it. And I do believe that every religious community has the same capacity to embrace modernity and democracy. Remember what history taught us: the Islamic and Judeo-Christian civilizations grew dramatically only after they became outward-looking, opening-up to all sort of knowledge wherever they may find it, exposing themselves to new thinking, and adapting themselves to present and future trends.
The fifth task our Interfaith-Dialogue can do is to strengthen the spirituality of our citizens and communities. In this complex and often cruel modern world, our spirituality is like an oasis to our soul. As we witness in Aceh, our spirituality can be a healing factor in times of despair. Spirituality can also heal bleeding hearts in societies torn by conflict. And even in affluent societies, spirituality can make life more meaningful and content.
As I look across this room, I notice a strong spirituality in all of you, and, I know that it is the source of your strength and happiness.
Sixth, the Inter-Faith process that we are actively nurturing should have a clear impact at the grassroot level.
It is one thing for the best minds from each faith to engage one another. But this process of mutual enlightenment only makes sense if you all can internalize it to a larger audience, and to your followers. After all, it is often at the grassroot level that you find restlessness and misunderstanding.
Thus, the discourse and wisdom in this room must resonate way beyond it. And if we succeed in internalizing this process at the grassroots, we will all see the blossoming of resilient communities of faith anchored on tolerance.
And finally, seventh, this Inter-Faith Process should spread the light of reason to the followers of the faiths. Yes, we must all practice our faith with utmost devotion, but we must also never cease to think rationally and constructively about where we want to go in terms of inter-faith relations. A healthy Inter-Faith process has endless possibilities, and our success in doing this can spell the difference between peace and war, between progress and regression, between growth and decay.
The many avenues I have just outlined to you opens up the Inter-Faith Dialogue to tremendous possibilities and promise. And if we succeed in achieving them, then we can make this Century, this Millennium, very different from the previous one. We can then save future generations from the scourge of wars and conflicts, from the specter of hatred and ignorance that befell our generation and our forefathers.
With that thought, and with Bissmillahirrahmanirrohiim, I declare this first ASEM Inter-Faith Dialogue open.
I thank you.
Assalamualaikum Wr Wb
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om
Bali, 21 July 2005