"When I was a child and I saw a rainbow, it made me happy to see so many colors there. Now, when I stand here with you, I see the rainbow among you, wonderful colors coming from many cultures and religions." (Mansour, Muslim, Philippine delegate). Another participant said ‘I see much hope, the peace will come true in this world’ (Shamir, Jewish, India delegate).
With these words began the introductory session of the KAICIID Fellows Program 2016. The program was held between 23 May–4 June in the Philippines. I also attended it. There were 24 participants from nine countries (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, USA, Pakistan, and Philippines). It is a one-year learning and training program aimed to empower institutions which train future religious leaders and provide capacity-building to teachers who represent them.
On the Monday morning, we started the discussions with prayers in Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Confucian and Christian ways. On the next Monday, 30 May, I led the Muslim prayer. It made me happy, also as it is not yet common for women to lead Islamic prayers.
We studied interreligious and intercultural dialogue. The aim was to give us the tools, share experiences, networks, and knowledge to pursue interreligious dialogue and to make us be able to prepare our own students to become facilitators and leaders of interreligious dialogue.
For me this program was very meaningful. It opened my mind, made me more aware that we cannot ignore the conflicts. Conflicts are a part of our lives as humans. Disagreements upon shared spaces and resources build up conflicts. And the situation is getting worse when someone discriminates against others, attacks them, employs violence. But introducing harmony, too, is a problem, especially when its mode comes from the majority. It can become assimilation.
Identity can be a source of pride and joy, strength and confidence. This idea of identity is appealing to people. However, a strong—and exclusive—sense of belonging to one group can also carry with it the perception of distance and divergence from other groups (Amartya Sen, 2006). To some extent we do not realize this when we categorize others. Then we stereotype, form prejudices, and eventually discriminate others.
It is easy to describe a situation in which we are negatively stereotyped or/and discriminated by someone else because of our religious or cultural identity. We can express how we feel. But how about a situation when it is us who negatively stereotype or/and discriminate another because of his/her religious or cultural identity? Suddenly we are speechless. Did we really do that? When? How? We panic.
Religions and ideologies are particularly susceptible to promoting conflicts. According to Lynn Davies and Patrice Brodeur (2016) what amplifies the conflicts is exclusivity, superiority, intolerance, ‘God is on our side’ or ‘my ideology is the truth’, and our will to expand the space for our God or for our ideologies. This situation is related to being proud of our identities. Yet this does not only refer to religion or ideology, but also culture.
When we all met during the KAICIID program, we came there out our readiness to collaborate, to join together, hand in hand, to eliminate conflicts. Because, most honestly, I hope such things will never happen again in Indonesia, things like the Shia and Sunni conflict in Sampang, East Java, or in Tolikara, Papua, and other places across the country.
As a woman, a young religious leader, a lecturer, I know how fragile are the situations which lead to religious conflicts. An important question is how can we nourish the empowering aspects of identity and resist their potential for violence and divisiveness? And it should be answered as soon as possible for us to be able to imagine and promote interreligious reconciliation in our own context.