"Role of Religions in Building Cooperation among People": Interfaith Discussion in New York City


Indonesia as a country with the vast majority of Muslim population continues to improve its role as “bridge builder” between Islam and Western world. That was how the Consul General of the Republic of Indonesia in New York, Trie Edi Mulyani, commenced the Interfaith Discussion between six religions with the theme “Role of Religions in Building Cooperation among People”, at the Pancasila Room of the Consulate General, on Tuesday afternoon (27/4).

This discussion served an effort to develop “people to people contact” between Indonesia and the surrounding society. All participants seemed enthusiastic and expressed their appreciations for initiating a discussion which is important and relevant to the society in the global era.

Furthermore, the Consul General stated that people are interconnected in this global era. Therefore, cooperation among religion to solve global challenges is a necessity. In this regard, religious leaders are expected to encourage and empower their believers to participate in solving global issues.

In the discussion, six religious leaders addressed approximately 75 participants from various groups, such as diplomatic corps, non-governmental organizations, media, and representatives of Indonesian society from Indonesian mosques and churches in New York. The six religious leaders were Katherine Vizcaino, representing the Muslims; Rev. N.J. L’Hereux, Jr., representing the Christians; Rev. John Kung, representing the Kong Hu Cu; Swami Parameshananda, representing the Hindus; and Venerable Kondanna, representing the Buddhists. As a guest speaker, there was also Rabbi Michael Weiser which representing the Jewish. Imam Syamsi Ali from Al-Hikmah Mosque, which is owned by Indonesian society in New York, acted as the moderator of the discussion.

The moderator, Imam Syamsi, opened the discussion by stating that religions always play an important role since the beginning of human creation. Nevertheless, during the development of human civilizations, religions are perceived from an ambivalent perspective. Therefore, one of the purposes of this interfaith discussion is to return religions to the right track.

The interfaith discussion, which was proposed by the Consul General and the Indonesian Muslim Community, has been conducted for the third time since the discussions in 2008 and 2009. Differ from the previous two years; this year discussion was conducted by the moderator who delivered specific questions to the speakers, instead of the speakers presented their own religious principles.

The audiences were enthusiastically raised various questions to the speakers. Most of the questions concerned about religions as justifications for groups’ interests; negative images of particular religions; conflict in Middle East; and the role of information technology to bridge the lack of understanding to other religions.

In his closing statement, Imam Syamsi Ali mentioned that every interfaith discussion tends to deliver only the pleasant pictures. However, to get to that point, we need to solve several problems, such as the tendency to interpret religions’ scriptures to meet certain groups’ interests; excessive focus only on interactions among religions during the dark ages; conflict in Middle East; disproportionate publicity from the mass media which tends to highlight conflicts and violence between religions. These problems have contributed to the growing distrusts among the society of different religions.

New York City with its various nationalities, offers the opportunity and condition to develop various forms of interactions. One of the most important role of all religious leaders nowadays is to encourage and guide their communities to interact with other religious communities to accomplish a harmonized relationship and cooperation. (Sumber: Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in New York)