‘We have fallen prey to manipulative religious leaders’

  • Marguerite Afra Sapiie

    The Jakarta Post

    In 1992, Muslim imam Muhammad Ashafa and Christian pastor James Wuye led opposing militant groups that fought in the name of their respective religions when interreligious conflict broke out in Kaduna, Nigeria.

    The two were drawn into fighting and both paid a heavy price for their actions; Wuye lost his hand while Ashafa’s spiritual teacher and his two brothers were killed. For years, they each desired to seek revenge againts one another.

    After a chance meeting in 1995, which was followed by their own separate spiritual transformations that led them to renounce violence, the two clerics built mutual respect and decided to work together to bridge the divide between the two communities.

    This year, the two traveled to Indonesia as part of their quest to tell the world that the key to realizing interfaith peace, especially in a diverse country, was to build acceptance and respect toward the beliefs of others.

    “Islam (teaches) pluralism that recognizes the individuality and uniqueness of individuals (…) and altruism that respect the truth of others. I have my truth, you have your truth (…) together we respect each other’s truth.” Ashafa told a public lecture in Jakarta, recently.

    Respect is built through engagements between religious communities. In Islam, such practices dated back to the seventh century when Prophet Muhammad engaged in dialogues with Christians, Ashafa said.

    “If you don’t engage (with other religions) how do you conquer the fear of the unknown?” he said.

    “You can’t disgrace or discredit their god. When you insult their God, you insult your God.”

    Ashafa and Wuye, who cofounded the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, both warned that the main challenge to such engagement was the spread of religious misinterpretations by religious leaders who quoted the Quran and the Bible to justify and promote violence and hatred.

    Their visit came amid a rise in conservatism in Indonesia, which has been accompanied by a spread in divisive religious sentiment and campaigns that have left many to doubt whether the country can remain a pluralistic nation.

    Things turned worse in the wake of the Jakarta gubernatorial election, which saw the apparent politicization of religious sentiments against former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent.

    “(Ashafa and I) have fallen prey to some of those (manipulative) religious leaders,that’s why I lost this hand,” Wuye said, pointing to his artificial hand.

    All religious promote peace, and instead of focusing on the differences between religious, people should emphasize the exploration of common beliefs in order to accept differences, he said.

    He went on to say that accepting differences went beyond the concept of tolerance because the latter embodied the element of “power-relations” between the more powerful and less powerful communities in society.

    “Acceptance does not mean compromising your religion. You accept the best ways of (people) because you cannot change (their beliefs),” Wuye said.

    The two clerics, who have both received awards for their dedication to promoting reconciliation and peace-building, fulfill similar roles to that of Christian pastor Jacklevyn “Jacky” Frits Manuputty and Muslim cleric Abidin Wakano, who campaign for peace in Maluku.

    “(Ashafa and Wuye’s) visit is further evidence that there are many people who use religion as their motivation to work toward building peace. They change the violent narratives (of religions) to peaceful narratives and motivate people to do likewise,” Jacky said

    Meanwhile, Darmawan Triwibowo, executive director of TIFA Foundation, said the clerics’ visit shone further light on the responsibility of religious leaders in Indonesia to spread hope and love and to make religion a source of peace.

    Read more at http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/10/17/we-have-fallen-prey-manipulative-religious-leaders.html

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