Yahya Cholil Staquf, Founder & Chairman of the R20, outlined his understanding of the R20’s priorities in a keynote address delivered at the opening plenary session of the R20 Summit in Bali:
For centuries, human civilization has grappled with the reality of strife between religious communities. Today, we inherit a situation in which people of different faiths are engaged in competition, antagonism, and conflict motivated by religion. We still witness this crisis of conflict across the world: in West Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and even in Europe and America.
It is as if — because of the history of conflict between different religious communities — we have inherited a state of gridlock. The painful experiences associated with religious competition, antagonism, and conflict have lasted so long that they have ossified and become an integral part of religious establishments and their relations with others.
As a result, enmity has seeped into religious believers’ perceptions and teachings. We do not need to deny that our religious doctrines still contain elements that can easily be weaponized to justify competition and civilizational conflict with groups that are considered to be different.
It falls to us — religious leaders from across the world — to assume responsibility for this state of affairs and to find a way out for all humanity. We must make a concerted effort to analyze this state of continuous gridlock, because it is akin to smoldering embers in dry straw. Whenever and wherever a desire arises to kindle a fire — that is, to ignite competition between religious communities — religious teachings can easily be weaponized to spark conflict and worsen relations.
Together, we must work to ensure that the potential for conflict latent within our understanding of religion is rapidly brought to an end. We must engage in a joint effort, first of all, to identify and agree upon those shared values common to all religions. These shared values, which we have agreed upon together, will become the basic reference point from which we can embark upon our shared endeavor. These shared values will become a reason for all of us to work together.
We know — there is no need to deny it — that we come to this task from different value systems, and that there remain elements within our value systems that may be used to justify antagonism towards other religions. Therefore, we must consider the values that we need to share in order to live side-by-side in peace. That is, without our coexistence being overshadowed by the ever-present potential for conflict, buried within our interpretation of religious texts.
We need to conduct a thorough review of our religious teachings, and — if we find elements that can endanger coexistence and peace between our communities — then we must have the courage to consider new interpretations that grant us all the possibility of living together in peace.
The Catholic Church has already undertaken this process with the Second Vatican Council, which issued religious edicts [Nostra aetate and Dignitatis humanae] enabling Catholics to value people of different faiths and be more accepting of a shared communal life without conflict. We also know that in 2016 a community of Jews — the Masorti, or Conservative stream of Judaism — convened a forum of rabbinical scholars and issued a 29-page statement that may serve as an inspiration for all of us [“The Status of Non-Jews in Jewish Law and Lore Today”]. Their purpose was to ensure that a better and more harmonious relationship may exist between Jewish and non-Jewish communities. This document, called a teshuvah [a responsa], honestly and courageously examined Jewish law (halacha) and urged Jews throughout the world to embrace an understanding of their religion which acknowledges the fundamental equality of all human beings in order to foster harmonious relations with others.
Likewise, in 2019 Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) convened a National Conference of Nahdlatul Ulama Religious Scholars in West Java, Indonesia. As a result of this conference, NU issued a ruling that recontextualizes our understanding of Islamic teaching. Nahdlatul Ulama ruled that the legal category of “non-Muslim,” the category of “kafir,” the category of “infidel” is no longer relevant within the context of a modern nation state. Every citizen, whatever his or her background — religious or otherwise — must be equal before the law, and their identity cannot justify discrimination of any kind.
These are all efforts that have already been undertaken by different religious communities. We want this enthusiasm to broaden, deepen, and become universal. We want religious communities across the world to join together in building a global movement to end the potential for conflict that currently exists between us.
If we are to succeed in this task, religious leaders must take a strong moral position and call the world to humanitarianism. The highest values of religion must be adopted and infuse the world’s social, political, and economic power structures with moral and spiritual values. If this is done, then all of us, humanity as a whole, may progress together towards a better and more noble future.
Is such a transformation possible? More than 77 years ago in Jakarta, leaders from across a vast spectrum of difference gathered to consult with each other about the future of the Dutch East Indies. They included the leaders of Islamist groups, Communists, those who followed Western liberalism, and those that demanded a return to traditionalism. Leaders from every major world religion gathered and had to reach agreement as to what could be the common basis for all Indonesians to live together as a single nation. These leaders took the most noble values from every religion, belief, and conviction they held, including their ideological beliefs. They chose only the most noble values, so that these values could be accepted by all. From this process Pancasila was born. From this process, the Constitution of 1945 was born — with its unique openness — which created a more noble civilization for the future of all humanity.
This example demonstrates that, no matter how great the differences between us, agreement is always possible.
So let us build upon the enthusiasm that we see and feel here today, and engage in honest discussion. There is nothing to be afraid of, because we are here to understand and accept our differences. We will not blame each other for the past. We will not humiliate each other. We know that we come from different circumstances. Let’s acknowledge our differences. Let’s openly and honestly confront, together, the problems we’re facing, so we can find a way out of the conflicts that engulf our respective communities and, God willing, help all of humanity in the process.