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Scholars urge universities to promote moderate Islam

JAKARTA: A conference of Islamic scholars from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Malaysia on Monday explored the role of universities in strengthening moderate Islamic thought.
They urged Muslim communities to combat religious extremism and societal division by spreading knowledge about moderate Islam.
The conference was organized by the Muslim World League (MWL) and Al-Azhar Indonesia University in Jakarta.
The scholars said intensifying dialogue on moderate Islam will help veer young Muslims away from those who want to destroy the religion, its people and its civilization.
In his opening remarks, MWL Secretary-General Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa said a small faction of the roughly 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide has distorted understanding of Islam.
“The majority of Muslims around the world understand the right conception about Islam, except a minority few who have no idea about the core of Islamic teachings,” he said, adding that universities play an important role in rectifying misconceptions about Islam and terrorism.
Daesh “is just a small community in Islam, but it’s widespread due to the proliferation of the Internet. It’s our obligation, including universities, to set the record straight about the real Islamic teachings.”
Jakarta’s Governor-elect Anies Rasyid Baswedan, who was a panelist at the conference, said extremism flourishes when people do not think critically.
“It’s not just religious extremism but extremism in any field, any sector. University is the place to nurture critical thinking and creativity,” said the former rector of Paramadina University and education minister.
Indonesia has had to deal with rising extremism among its youths. A 2016 study by the Wahid Institute in Jakarta showed that more than 60 percent of 1,626 activists in Islamic study groups in schools and universities expressed willingness to wage what they believe is jihad in areas torn by religious conflict.
According to police data, some 600 Indonesians have gone to Syria to join Daesh. Some have returned in phases, most recently a group of 18 Indonesians who arrived in Jakarta on Saturday and are in police detention.
A Wahid Institute survey released in February showed that Indonesia saw an increase in violations of religious freedom from 190 in 2015 to 204 last year.
Institute Director Yenny Wahid said while the common perception is that lack of education is the main cause of radicalization, the survey found that economic inequality and feelings of alienation contributed the most to radicalization.
Speakers at the conference said it is important for the MWL and educational and social institutions in Indonesia to cooperate further to provide educational assistance to Muslims in Southeast Asia, roll out development programs in the region and address problems such as poverty.
Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said moderation is an Islamic characteristic that promotes fairness, respect for diversity and openness to various groups in society.
“One of the main principles of dialogue to maintain diversity and togetherness is not to look down on other people and insult other religions’ symbols, which could cause a backlash,” he said.
Din Syamsuddin, head of the Indonesian Council of Ulemma’s advisory board, said in order for various faiths’ followers to get along, they should respect each other’s religious domains.