ACN News 18.10.2007
Indonesia: Philosophy as a means to combat Islamic fundamentalism
(With photo of Professor Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ - see below)
In conversation with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Professor Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ, who lectures in philosophy at the Catholic University of Jakarta, has expressed his belief that philosophy can be "a means of combating Islamic fundamentalism". The German Jesuit, who has been living in Indonesia for over 40 years, believes it is vital to include Muslims in the philosophical debate, since they then "see Islam in a different light". We need people who can think critically and all-embracingly, in short "We need philosophers!" he emphasised. It is a matter, he says, of "the courage to learn how to think".
It was observable, he said, that many Muslims who study philosophy and the humanities tend to have a broader horizon, whereas those who incline towards fundamentalism tend rather to have studied the natural sciences. Such people, he feels, tend to develop an inferiority complex, since they perceive "a total superiority of the Western world". This was especially the case with Muslims who studied abroad. Father Magnis-Suseno deplored the fact that in Western universities there is a strong tendency towards financial cuts in the humanities. One should reflect, he warned, that this could contribute to a strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism.
Father Magnis-Suseno explained that among many Indonesian Muslims there is a prevailing fear that Christians are stronger. They are afraid of being "taken for a ride", because Christian schools for example are generally better. Traditionally, Christians in Indonesia have tended to be better educated, he said. However, Muslims have meanwhile "caught up intellectually" -- something he greatly welcomes, since this makes dialogue with them easier. In Indonesia the Islamic universities teach a relatively open Islam, whereas the fundamentalists tend rather to come from the state universities. Meanwhile, the Islamic universities have included such subjects as hermeneutics and theology on the syllabus, subjects much characterised by Western thinking. New ways are being sought of correctly interpreting the Koran. However, many fundamentalists see this as a "trick by the Christians" to take over Islam, Father Magnis-Suseno warned.
Generally speaking, he told ACN, relations between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia have improved considerably. "If we work together, we can tackle all the problems of the country", he added. Such collaboration should not be restricted to purely religious issues moreover, but also be of benefit to society -- for example in fighting corruption, achieving the rule of law and the establishment of a just economic order. Poverty is still very high, he told ACN, with some 130 million of the country's close on 226 million inhabitants living on less than two dollars a day. Likewise important is a combined commitment to human rights, he believes, for the military can still do whatever they want, he claims. Christians and Muslims must work together to ensure that "violence is no longer tolerated" in society and so that values such as tolerance and pluralism can be established, he added.
It is true that there are still occasional outrages and attacks against Christian churches, he acknowledged. However, it was essential to ceaselessly seek dialogue. Likewise important in this regard were contacts at a personal level. Priests should strive to make contact with leading Muslims, for example, or "simply call in on their Muslim neighbours, introduce themselves and wish them every blessing". Such an approach was "never mistaken" and in 75% of cases led to better relations, he said. Many Muslims had never met a priest and such a mutual rapprochement was a "learning process" for both sides, said Father Magnis-Suseno. "If both sides see themselves as victims, then we will never achieve peace" he added. Instead, one should "expect good things" in our dealings with one another. A Muslim had once told him that "the secret weapon of Christians is love". This was what the Church had to show the people.
Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world and with almost 200 million Muslims, who make up 87% of the total population, it is the largest Muslim democracy in the world. Christians are a minority of 9%, of which Catholics make up two thirds. The remaining 4% are Hindus, Buddhists or members of tribal religions.
To help the work of the Church in Indonesia please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: email@example.com or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148.
Donations can be made On line at www.aidtochurch,org