Dr. Osman Shehab, cultural and educational counselor at the Indonesian embassy in Egypt, spoke about the role of Islamic groups and civil society organizations in disseminating moderate Islam in his country, in addition to cooperation between Cairo and Jakarta in the fight against terrorism.
Talking to El-Marga’a, Shehab spoke about the role of Al-Azhar in spreading the moderate Islam in the Indonesian islands, and how to confront the Iranian thought, which seeks to spread Shiism in the country.
How many Indonesian students are in Al-Azhar?
There are about 5,000 Indonesian students in Egypt studying at the different stages of Al-Azhar, both in preparatory and secondary schools or in the university, including graduate students in the master’s and doctorate. There are 2,000 others who will come within a month after passing special tests organized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in cooperation with Al-Azhar alumni organization in Jakarta.
What is the role of Al-Azhar in shaping the pattern of religiosity in Indonesia?
Al-Azhar has always been and will remain a kaaba for religious sciences and its graduates have a great role in building society, many of them became writers, scientists and politicians and held senior positions in the country.
The large number of al-Azhar graduates has a significant impact on the spread of moderate Islam in Indonesia and the message of Al-Azhar calling for tolerance of others, respect of other cultures and religions’ followers, and rejection of extremism and atonement.
What are the aspects of cooperation between Cairo and Jakarta to combat terrorism?
The situation of Egypt and its people is very similar to the situation of Indonesia and its people against terrorism, and the National Anti-Terrorism Authority is coordinating with Cairo in this regard.
The Egyptian cooperation has had a great positive impact on fighting extremist thought in Indonesia by participating in the process of intellectual review in Indonesian prisons, dialogue with those of extremist ideas and clarifying the true religion.
How does your country support tolerance and moderation among young people?
The government has established Islamic schools from kindergarten to university, studying carefully chosen religious curricula approved by the Council of Scholars and based on teaching qualified teachers. The result is the graduation of enlightened students.
Is the existence of extremist streams and groups is incompatible with the democratic system in Indonesia?
Under a democratic system, all streams coexist side by side, and there are legitimate peaceful ways to express opinion, thereby avoiding the justification for resorting to violence and terrorism.
Civil society organizations monitor and support the work of the government in combating extremism through its community activities. It submits its various proposals to the government. There are pressure groups, for example, if they see government approaches that they think are contrary to the right approach. Therefore, there is no need to organize protests.
What about Iran’s quest to spread Shiism within Indonesia?
The majority of the population belongs to the Sunni curriculum, the Ash’ariyya and Matarid faiths, and they follow the Sunni jurisprudential schools, especially the Shafi’i school. However, all currents seek to spread their ideas everywhere in the world. It is impossible to live in isolation from the world. The Shiites struggled to spread their faith in Indonesia, but they could not spread among the community because their ideas were contrary to the religious thought of the Indonesians.
What about salafis?
The Salafis or Wahhabis adopt one of the Sunni sects, the doctrine of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, but their thought also contravenes the open-minded nature of the Indonesian people.
What role does the Jontor Institute play?
The Jontor Institute (Indonesia’s largest and most prestigious religious institute) has revolutionized the curriculum of religious seminaries since its inception in 1936. Modern classrooms and Western-style educational styles were taboo, but Jontor changed them a lot.
The institute focused on the teaching of Arabic and English, and became widespread throughout the country. Due to its important role and influence in the country, the government adopted it in the seventies of the last century, while it was accredited at Al-Azhar University from the beginning.
In Jontor we learned tolerance. Although we believe that Islam is the religion of truth, we have taught to respect all followers of other religions.