Definition of moderate Islam: Muslims and evangelicals forge an alliance

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A prominent Muslim and evangelical organization joined forces this week to significantly advance hitherto state-backed ceremonial interreligious dialogues that rarely go beyond platitudes and lofty statements.

This week launch of interfaith alliance and book in Washington DC mosque published by the Institute for Humanitarian Islam and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) based in Germany as well as the Center for Shared Civilizational Values ​​constitutes an evangelical endorsement of humanitarian Islam.

It is also a rare Muslim celebration of an evangelical authority, the general secretary of the EAJ, Archbishop Thomas Schirrmacher, who played a key role in establishing a relationship between the evangelical group and Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, one, if not the largest Muslim movement in the world.

“Dr. Schirrmacher’s decision to engage in the humanitarian Islam movement may prove to be singularly consistent, and perhaps even historic, in its ramifications for the relationship between Christians and Muslims,” ​​said the editors of the book, Thomas K. Johnson and C. Holland Taylor, their introduction.

Entitled “God Needs No Defense: Reimagining Muslim-Christian Relations in the 21st Century,” the book is an anthology of essays written by prominent Muslim and Christian scholars.

Based in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, the Institute for Humanitarian Islam was established by Nahdlatul Ulama to advance his humanitarian interpretation of the faith globally.

Nahdlatul Ulama sees the concept as an alternative to the less developed and less tolerant and pluralistic state-backed notions of moderate Islam propagated by countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as expressions of political Islam. represented by Turkey, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nahdlatul Ulama was founded nearly a century ago in opposition to Wahhabism, the austere interpretation of Islam propagated for decades by Saudi Arabia until the rise to power in 2015 of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Indonesian group positions humanitarian Islam as advocating genuine religious reform rather than selfish social change and rhetoric advocated by leaders eager to implement long-awaited economic and social reforms and projecting themselves as true moderate religious in a global battle for Muslim religious soft power and the soul of Islam.

The differences between the humanitarian Islam of Nahdlatul Ulama and the interpretations of the faith advanced by his conservative monarchical and republican rivals of Islamist soft power are stark and raise fundamental questions about what constitutes real reform and how it can be achieved. sustainable.

The differences pit an independent group of civil society, albeit with close ties to the state, against the states themselves.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s independence allowed him to initiate a process of real change rooted in religious law and jurisprudence rather than a decree or opinion issued by submissive clergy.

The group questions outdated, intolerant or supremacist concepts such as the kafir or the infidel, the dhimmi or People of the Book, and slavery which remain references even if a large number of Muslims do not take them into account in their daily life, as well as possibly blasphemy and apostasy.

The group’s religious leaders took the first step in 2019 by replacing the term kafir with the word muwathinun or citizen to emphasize that Muslims and non-Muslims are equal before the law. “The word ‘kafir’ hurts some non-Muslims and is seen as theologically violent,” Nahdlatul Ulama’s cleric Abdul Moqsith Ghazali said at the time.

Independence also enabled Nahdlatul Ulama to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, parts of which are exempted by his religious rivals from soft power. This is not to say that liberals cannot challenge some of the interpretations of the statement by Nahdlatul Ulama, a socially conservative movement.

The differences raise questions about Nahdlatul Ulama’s ability to succeed beyond the significant strides the group has made among political and religious elites in the United States, Europe, the Vatican, and parts of Africa and Africa. Asia.

The launch in Washington of the unprecedented alliance and the book is accompanied by Nahdlatul Ulama association with the centrist Democratic International (CDI), the largest grouping of political parties in the world, the most publicly visible proof of its success among the elites.

The alliance gives shape to the skeleton of the recent interfaith dialogue by bringing together two of the main Islamic and Christian groups. Nahdlatul Ulama has tens of millions of followers while the World Evangelical Alliance claims it represents 600 million Protestants and national evangelical alliances in 140 countries. The alliance with Nahdlatul Ulama sheds a different light on evangelicals as opposed to evangelists, who, in particular, in the United States, are often identified with Christian nationalism and Islamophobia.

The Alliance Goals “Prevent the political militarization of identity; curb the spread of community hatred; promote solidarity and respect among the various people, cultures and nations of the world; and foster the emergence of a truly just and harmonious world order based on respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being, ”said the Institute for Humanitarian Islam and the Nation Mosque in Washington , Release.

With the establishment of the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, the alliance is also an effort to create a platform for dialogue that goes beyond the elites to nurture a popular movement for religious reform in major religions that puts emphasis on inclusiveness, pluralism, tolerance and common values ​​rather than exclusivism and supremacy fueled by identity politics. (In the spirit of transparency, this writer has been invited to be a member of the centre’s advisory board).

In doing so, the Center hopes to build on Nahdlatul Ulama’s substantial grassroots base in Indonesia, the reach of WEA around the world, and a range of contacts and interactions with Catholic, Jewish and Hindu groups and figures.

The choice of Masjid Mohamed, the Mosque of the Nation, as the launch location suggests an outside-in -ward strategy to try to garner grassroots support in the Muslim world. Located in Washington’s historic African-American Shaw neighborhood, Masjid Muhammad is the first mosque in the United States built by descendants of slaves.

As such, the launch serves as an outreach to a minority Muslim community in a Western democracy which, despite upheavals in the United States as the country struggles to deal with its history of racism, is likely to be more accessible and perhaps more open to humanitarian Islam. message that significant segments of the population in predominantly Muslim countries like Pakistan or the Middle East, where many see what has long become a global faith through the prism of its Arab origins.

The alliance is taking on increased importance in a Western world which, despite the electoral defeat of former US President Donald J. Trump and the setbacks suffered in Europe by populists and ultranationalists, has in recent years increasingly integrated the prejudices, prejudices and authoritarianism.

“Rather than the world looking more like the United States, as many of us expected after the Cold War, the United States has become more like the rest of the world– in particular, its authoritarians, ”noted foreign policy analyst Steven A. Cook, debunking the projection of the United States as a beacon of freedom and liberty.

Ironically, the publication of Nahdlatul Ulama’s book coincided with a more targeted and transactional launch of a Saudi-backed book in Lebanon, ‘Relations between the Maronite Patriarchate and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.’ Written by Maronite Father Antoine Daw, Saudi support for the book and Maronite outreach was part of the kingdom’s efforts to counter Iran’s regional influence and engage the Islamic republic in direct and indirect problem-oriented dialogues. .

The launch in Bkirki, episcopal seat of the Maronite Patriarchate, follows a call from Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, the highest Christian clergyman in Lebanon, for a meeting with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia which is Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world.

Patriarch urged Hezbollah, one of the most powerful groups in Lebanon that has played a key role in Iranian support for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, to adopt a position of neutrality in order to save a Lebanon on the brink of economic collapse. and political collapse.


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