Assalamu ‘alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
His Excellency Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia, Chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference;
His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, Representative of King Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan;
The Reverend Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, Representative of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Holy See;
Al Mukarram Kyai Haji Sahal Mahfudz, Rais Syuriah Nahdlatul Ulama;
Al Mukarram Kyai Haji Ahmad Hasyim Muzadi, General Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama and Secretary General of the International Conference of Islamic Scholars;
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen;
Let us begin with praising Allah SWT, for it is under His grace and command that we are able to gather here in good physical and spiritual health at the second International Conference of Islamic Scholars. I wish to congratulate and commend the Nahdatul Ulama, one of Indonesia’s largest Islamic mass organizations, for having superbly organized this important conference.
To all our international friends who have just arrived in our country, I bid you a very warm welcome. I must admit that I find it a tremendous joy to see moslemin and moslemah and Islamic scholars from all corners of the world taking part in a vibrant meeting of the minds to discuss the issues facing the Ummah and the future of Islam.
The various topics that you will discuss in this conference—science, human rights, democracy, development, the millennium development goals and others—demonstrate that you are very much in tune with the real issues of our world.
And that is the way it should be : because 14 centuries of Islamic history has taught us that the golden years of the Ummah came only when they were able to intelligently confront the issues of their time and, better yet, THINK ahead of their time. And when the Ummah FAILED to do this, they were left behind and sometimes marginalized by the wheels of history.
When the Ummah crossed the first millennium into the second millennium, their main challenge was how to spread the message of Islam beyond Mecca and Medinah, into Persia, the whole of Arabia, and into the rest of humanity. And they met this challenge well : the Ummah spread Islam to Europe, China, India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and changed humanity forever.
Millions of people from various cultures were exposed to and embraced the benevolent and enlightening teachings of Islam.
And something interesting happened at that time : as Islam grew in strength and influence, its BODY OF KNOWLEDGE also grew. The Ummah became not only deeply spiritual people, but also a society that was very knowledge-thristy and knowledge-driven.
They developed a love of learning, they developed paper mill and printed almost a million books, they developed a strong culture of excellence, where Baghdad became the center of learning for the Islamic world, and they opened the world’s first University--the University of Al Azhar. And they developed a vast scientific literature : in philosophy, arts, architecture, mathematics, chemistry, geography, medicine, optics, astronomy, agriculture, navigation, and others.
They even found and translated the great works of great Greek thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle, which later became the basis of western intellectual development.
And as a result of all this, Islam grew from a religion confined in Mecca and Medinah in the 8th century into the world’s most advanced civilization by the 13th century, much more advanced than Europe which was still in the dark ages back then.
That was many centuries ago. The international system has evolved a great deal since then. And the Islamic world too has changed significantly. Europe experienced a huge intellectual and scientific leap, which began with the renaissance and continued well into the industrial revolution, and the Islamic world, for a variety of reasons, was left behind. Over the last 2 centuries, the Muslim communities had to adapt with emerging forces of nation-states and nationalism, industrialization, modernity, democracy, and globalization.
Today, our generation has the distinction of being the Ummah that crossed the line from the second Millennium into the third Millennium. We live in a world that is radically different from the one faced by any Ummah before us. But I would submit one lesson remains as important today as ever : that our love for Islam must be coupled with a love of learning and knowledge. And the Muslim communities must be able to catch-up with history by addressing and overcoming the real issues of today.
The Islamic world today faces a number of great challenges : poverty, war, conflict, ignorance, terrorism. I would summarize these issues into 2 kinds of challenges : the CHALLENGE OF PEACE, and the CHALLENGE OF PROGRESS. Let me talk briefly about them.
First, the challenge of peace.
The hard fact is that while many parts of the Islamic world are stable and peaceful, there remain areas which are still haunted by violence, conflicts, wars.
Peace in the Middle-East is still elusive. Iraq and Afghanistan are witnessing continued violence. The conflicts in Sudan and Somalia are still raging. And the spectre of terrorism still threaten many of our communities. There is still a lengthy list of conflicts within Muslim communities and even between Muslim communities, and also between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
We cannot let this go on forever. The Ummah anywhere and everywhere deserves a life of peace and tranquility.
All of us know it by heart, that Islam is a peaceful religion. It is a Rahmatan-lil-alamin. And each and every one of us is obliged to take part in the efforts of promoting peace at all levels: starting from the the family, community, state and global levels. The cause of peace in Islam goes beyond religious and state boundaries.
There are many ways for the Ummah to take a more constructive role in promoting peace.
We can enhance the role of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in promoting conflict resolution in the Islamic world.
The OIC has great potential to do this. For example, the OIC did very well in the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front in Southern Philippines. I remain highly confident that the OIC can play similar role, in addressing conflicts in other parts of the globe. It just has to start developing this capacity.
The OIC has made a good start to realizing this through the Mecca Declaration, which was enunciated last year.
Let us not forget that Muslim countries also contribute significantly, to the maintenance of world peace. Muslim-populated countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan are major troop-contributing countries in various UN peace missions in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
The task of promoting peace is closely linked with the challenge of promoting tolerance. Here too, the Ummah can take an active role in promoting a global culture of tolerance. I am glad that tolerance is a key theme of this conference.
Tolerance and caring apply not only in interfaith-relations but also in relations among Moslems. A unified Ummah is a rahmah for its constituents and a paragon to other communities.
Tolerance and caring are two characteristics that Prophet Abraham and the Holy Messenger SAW have taught us.
We can also do more to REACH OUT to non-muslims who do not yet understand us the way we want to be understood.
We all must try to always reach out to the communities of different faith, within and across the country. We reach out so we can build a better, stronger mutual understanding.
In the most recent cartoon incident, we saw that ignorance and disrespect towards Islam could bring devastating impact. This is a big lesson for all of us that we need to engage more, reach out more, to peoples and communities at all levels.
We can also do more to empower the moderates.
Brothers and Sisters,
The challenge of peace is closely connected to the challenge of progress because without peace, we cannot make significant progress, and the two are mutually reinforcing.
Again, here the hard fact is that while we are seeing growing numbers of the Ummah enjoying a comfortable living standard, the same cannot be said of many others.
Millions in the Muslim world generally lives on less than a dollar a day.
Eight million people—many in Muslim-populated countries in Asia and Africa—die each year because they are simply too poor to live.
Under-education among Muslim children is appalling. In 17 OIC states, primary education is less than 60 per cent. A UNICEF report says that more than 4.3 million children under 5 in OIC countries die each year from preventable disease and malnutrition.
The situation in many African OIC states is exacerbated by the spread of HIV/AIDS. Currently, about 8 million adults in those states are suffering from HIV.
These statistic are simply unacceptable, and while there is no single prescription to these problems, there are things that can be done.
First, the Ummah must do more to help one another.
The Islamic world is very diverse in terms of its political outlook as well as its economic and social resources.
We already have forums where Muslim leaders could exert concerted actions to address poverty and other issues confronting the Muslim world: the OIC and the relatively new forum Developing-8, which is now chaired by Indonesia.
Developing-8, which comprises Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey, represents about half a billion people, with a total GDP of US$ 1,218 billions. D-8 member states are growing market with rising buying power, and the grouping also consists of energy producers and consumers. At their last Summit in Bali last month, the leaders of D-8 agreed to accelerate trade relations among member states as well as to strengthen their cooperation in energy security.
I have no doubt that with the collective capability that the Islamic world have now, the Ummah can play a pivotal role in this globalized world.
At the community level, I wish to emphasize the contribution of one Muslim to his or her fellow Muslim through zakat, shadaqah, infaq, and waqf, taken from the well-off according to certain provisions.
This fellowship through zakat, shadaqah, infaq, and waqf could help to solve the problem of poverty and assure greater fulfillment of economic rights of the muslims.
The compassion of the Ummah can go a long way. When we in Indonesia were hit by the deadly tsunami not long ago, we immediately received prompt assistance and cooperation from our muslim brothers and sisters worldwide. That helping hand was also extended to us during the recent earthquake which devastated Yogyakarta and Central Java. It is a fine example of brotherhood and solidarity by the Ummah.
I cannot emphasize more the important status of zakat as one of the Islamic pillars. Yet I wish to highlight the urgency of finding new ways to empower zakat and make it a workable instrument for fighting poverty.
I also believe that muslims can learn to be at the forefront of globalism.
I have no doubt about the ability of the Ummah to drive globalism. Remember : the ummah is 1 billion strong. And remember : muslims were among the world’s first globalizers ! It was the Ummah who spread the simple message of Islam to all the world’s continents and cultures and races and changed humanity forever.
The Ummah of today must help find answers to global problems. We must be problem solvers, not problem creators !
The Ummah must help their communities reach the 8 targets of Millennium Development Goals. The Muslim world must be firm and united in the global fight against terrorism, and in dealing with non-traditional security threats : financial crisis, corruption, trans-national crimes, avian flu, people smuggling, natural disasters. The Muslim world must also do their bid to strengthen multilateralism, to advance UN reforms, and to promote governance in their communities.
In short, the best way for the Ummah to deal with the globalized world is by becoming an active part of it.
Finally, muslims can achieve socio-economic progress if they embrace science, technology and modernity; if they have a culture of excellence and competitiveness; and if they liberate themselves from isolationism.
We have to invest in education that promotes not only religiosity but also socio-economic and political progresses.
We also can do more to fight the wave of Islamophobia that seemingly is on the rise.
Islamophobia is an emerging issue in today’s Ummah. It is pertinent for us to think about how muslims should live in countries where Islam is not the religion of the majority.
It is also pertinent for us to show—through exemplary deeds and persistent advocacy—that muslims are a peaceful Ummah.
It is as important to ensure that we tell our non-Muslim fellows what we want them to understand as it is to ensure that we listen to what they want us to understand. We reach out as we take out.
As final words, Excellencies,
The Ummah has so much hope for the future. This conference must help the Ummah chart a promising course for a better future.
Our challenges are great, so are our will and commitment to respond to those challenges.
I invite scholars attending this Conference to reflect on how we can promote the prosperity of the Ummah and eradicate poverty in Isamic world.
I encourage participating scholars to reflect on what the Islamic Ummah can contribute to the realization of a peaceful, equal, and just world order.
Our commitment and concrete actions are extremely needed at this juncture. In the Koran Surah Ar-Ra’ad (The Thunder), Allah SWT, exalted be His name, says: “…..Verily! Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their own condition….”
Finally, by saying Bismillaahirrahmaanirrahiim, I declare the Second International Conference of the Islamic Scholars open.
I thank you. May Allah bless you all and bless your deliberations.
Wassalaamu ‘alaikum w.w.