Muslimah Reformis

Promoting Knowledge: The Role of Media and Academia in Fostering Religious Tolerance

My experience in promoting religious freedom and peaceful coexistence in Indonesia has brought me to the conclusion that the media and intellectual groups play an important and strategic role in fostering religious tolerance. There are at least four roles that must be optimized from both, which are:

First, to carry out concrete steps to create a culture of peace. The media should always convey news in a peaceful manner, and not provoke the public to become angry and hostile. Although the media holds on to the principle that bad news is good news, they should prioritize their moral responsibility and uphold ethical values in providing something, particularly in relation to religious conflicts.

In many religious conflicts, the media tend to take an unfair stance towards the minority groups in their conveyance of the news. The Media, for example, join in giving stigmas to groups who are of a different characteristic than the majority thus labeling them as misguided groups and so on. The media often bring up the matter of theological perceptions, and in a shallow and unfounded manner, more often than not, inaccurately. It is my opinion that the media should avoid providing news that may be easily misinterpreted and be biased which will in turn trigger controversies and conflicts.

Furthermore, intellectual groups try to foster a culture of peace through educational institutions at all level, from Nursery school to University level. If this peaceful culture is imbedded systematically in the family environment, and taught in schools, both formal and non-formal, to be disseminated widely in society, a peaceful culture will become the daily norm and this will help create religious freedom and peaceful coexistence. Why? Because since early childhood, children have been taught to respect all human beings, regardless of their religion. Society becomes accustomned to diversity and respects individual freedom in religious life. Religious freedom is a humatarian concept formulated by the International world for a noble purpose which is to create a fair and civilized humanity. Certainly no religious freedom will be absolute in nature, because only God is absolute. Each religious freedom should have its boundaries and should be regulated by laws that are mutually agreed upon within a society. The important thing is that those laws are not discriminative towards the minority groups.

The second role is to undertake concrete measures to change all the regulations and public policies that are discriminaive towards the minority and marginal groups. Furthermore, public policies that guarantee equality and freedom for all groups in society should be promoted. This condition can only be realized through a democratic political system. Consequently, the media and intellectual groups shoud encourage democratization efforts that guarantee protection, recognition and fulfillment of all human rights for all citizens without prejudice. For the key towards democracy lies in the principle of equality and fulfillment of the rights of all the citizens.

The third is to promote efforts to reinterprete religion. Why is is this important? Because reinterpretation of religion that develpops within society at present does provide favorible conditions for democratic and human rights values and are not accomodative towards humanitarian values. When we speak about religion, we will ultimately speak about interpretation of it. It is a fact that there is no solitary interpretation of religion. The problem is how to ensure that interpretation of religion that grows and develop in society are religious interpretations that are condusive for religious freedom and peaceful coexistence. There needs to be serious efforts from the meda and intellectual groups to formulate new interpretations that are more accomodative towards humanitarian values, and are more favorible towards vulnerable and marginal groups. Because religion came to us to liberate human beings from the shackles of injustice, slavery and oppression. Religion exists to ensure that human beings have more meaningful lives, not only as devotees of that religion, but also as fellow human beings, and even for the whole of the universe.

The fourth role, and this is the most important, is to change perceptions on religion. Religion is not only something that takes care of the after life. The media and intellectual groups should have the courage to convey that religion should have the capacity to respond to the contemporary problems faced by human beings and offer a solution towards the creation of a just and civilized welfare and humanity. Also, the media and intellectual groups should undertake efforts towards the transformation of society, be active in the democratization and humanizing process with the aim to liberate human beins from the shackles of injustice in any form.

Education must be able to give birth to a pluralistic stance. Why is pluralism so important? Because pluralism can help create justice, progress and welfare. Pluralism can prevent dissent, conflicts and violence, and war. Pluralism can encourage the sensitivity to defend a person’s rights and enforce humanitarian values.

In addition, pluralism prevents people from blaming or judging others as misguided, infidels apostates. Pluralism helps people not be easily intimidated or be plunged into religious conflicts. This is because they have a strong conviction and commitment to the truth of their respective faiths. A pluralistic attitude helps people believe that the truth is not solitary, and that salvation is not only for their own group. Pluralism makes people more humane, inclusive, tolerant and uphold the principles of democracy and human rights.

All parties should promote a culture of dialogue within society. Pluralistic values can be preserved optimally through productive dialogue, both internally among those of the same faith, or among people of different faiths. Through dialogue, particularly dialogue on life, it is hoped that mutual understanding will emerge which shall in turn become a common stepping point.

Dialogue trains all religious devotees to be able to compromise and reach a consensus in responding to all actual humanitarian and social problems in their respective areas, such as the problems of poverty, hunger, unemployment, lack of clean water, the high cost of education and health. Dialogue brings those devotees to an awareness and discovery of who are the real adversaries of religion. Apparently the enemy of every religion takes the form of discrimination and exploitation as well as violence, injustice, greed, corruption, ignorance and poverty.

Religious dialogue should have the capacity to transform hatred into love, brutality into gentleness, and violence into peace. Dialogue should be able to change what was originally mutual hatred, suspicions, hostility and antipathy into mutual respect, love, and empathy. Dialogue should change violent actions and conservatism into peace and friendship full of empathy.