Why re­li­gious di­a­logue is so vi­tal


Ev­ery Ramadan there is al­ways one is­sue cir­cu­lat­ing here in In­done­sia: whether or not food stalls are al­lowed to be opened dur­ing this Is­lamic fast­ing month.

Those who sup­port a ban will back their ar­gu­ment on re­spect for Mus­lims, while the op­po­site will ar­gue that non-Mus­lim peo­ple also have the right to eat.

Only re­cently, Re­li­gious Af­fairs Min­is­ter Luk­man Hakim Sai­fud­din said food stalls and restau­rants could re­main open in day­light dur­ing Ramadan.

The ques­tion may arise: What kind of re­spect should non-Mus­lims give to those who fast?

Is it true that by clos­ing food stalls and us­ing cur­tains to hide food and peo­ple who eat that it con­trib­utes sig­nif­i­cantly to the level of re­spect?

I re­mem­ber when in Ramadan 2010, I and my friends trav­eled to Jakarta from Ban­dung on bi­cy­cle.

It was a tough jour­ney but sadly no food stalls were opened along our way. We fi­nally dared to knock on a closed food stall.

Af­ter look­ing care­fully around, the food stall owner asked us to come in and to hide our bi­cy­cles so that no one would be aware of our pres­ence.

Ini­tially we only asked her to cook in­stant noo­dles be­cause it was the fastest thing to make, but be­yond our ex­pec­ta­tion, she pre­pared ev­ery­thing re­ally well and cooked re­ally de­li­cious and nu­tri­tious meals for us. She also pro­vided us with veg­eta­bles.

“This area is very well known as kota santri (city of pi­ous Mus­lims). My food stall can be raided if they know it is open,” the woman said as she was pa­tiently wait­ing for us to fin­ish our meals. As a Mus­lim she was fast­ing. When we ar­rived in Bo­gor in the af­ter­noon it was not dif­fi­cult for us to find food as many peo­ple were out­side look­ing for some­thing to eat when they break their fast.

As we de­cided to buy jack­fruit and eat it near a park, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial ap­proached us.

“Go in­side that cur­tain if you want to eat. Do not eat in this open space. Please re­spect peo­ple who are fast­ing.”

The two con­trast­ing ex­pe­ri­ences lead me to think about re­spect.

On one hand, there was a woman who risked her­self to help us since we badly needed food.

She did not ask us for re­spect although she was fast­ing. How­ever, she re­ally de­serves our full re­spect be­cause of her courage.

On the other hand, there was also a case when re­spect was asked from us who are not fast­ing.

The quest for re­spect can take var­i­ous forms, the most ex­treme be­ing raids by hard-line groups on food stalls or night clubs be­cause their op­er­a­tion is deemed as dis- rupt­ing the solem­nity of Ramadan.

Those only lead me to the dis­course about faith.

By wel­com­ing and serv­ing us well the food stall owner only showed us her re­ally strong and in­vul­ner­a­ble faith.

She did not feel of­fended be­cause we asked for food.

It seemed to me that she was a de­vout Mus­lim whose faith would not be swayed only be­cause she watched some­one eat right in front of her.

On the other hand, a weak faith may easily un­fold in peo­ple who in­ces­santly beg for re­spect as if they lack a strong foun­da­tion to sup­port their belief.

That they in­sist on clo­sure of food stalls dur­ing Ramadan only in­di­cates their vul­ner­a­ble faith be­cause it can be easily dis­tracted just be­cause of see­ing food.

Sur­pris­ingly, this ap­par­ent deficit oc­curs among hard-line Is­lamic groups who al­ways claim to de­fend the re­li­gion and refuse to tol­er­ate plu­ral­ism ex­ist­ing in pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim In­done­sia.

How can re­li­gion de­fend­ers have a weak faith and what kind of faith

just is it that they are pro­mot­ing?

John Stu­art Mill, an English philoso­pher, once spoke about the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing lib­erty and open dis­cus­sion even though each of us be­lieves that our re­li­gion is the most truth­ful faith.

By hav­ing a dis­cus­sion with oth­ers, we can ex­change ideas and then ex­plore our faith deeper.

By ex­pos­ing our faith to many chal­lenges, our faith will grow even stronger.

Only by show­ing that our faith is un­shaken we can gain re­spect, even with­out our re­quest.

We can never earn re­spect by beg­ging for it from oth­ers, or by use of force.

In a plu­ral so­ci­ety like In­done­sia, I be­lieve the pres­ence of oth­ers should be a cause for great mo­men­tum to show how strong our faith is.

The stronger our faith is the more re­spect we can re­ceive from oth­ers. The au­thor, a chem­i­cal engi­neer, won the Ah­mad Wahib Award in its an­nual in­ter­faith writ­ing con­test in 2012.

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