On April 30, the 1000 Abrahamic Circles Project under the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia held its first public discussion series with the theme, “Multi-Faith Efforts in Addressing COVID-19 in Indonesia and Across the Globe.” We had a wonderful evening discussion with Reverend Kyoichi Sugino, Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, and Prof. KH. Nasaruddin Umar. Please find below our report of the event, as well as our main takeaways.
Reverend Kyoichi Sugino, Director General of Religions for Peace, New York
“Religious leaders are trying to search for the deep meaning behind this pandemic. Religions for Peace is providing opportunities for religious leaders to come together to discuss it and what kind of hope and solidarity they can provide as religious leaders in this time of uncertainty.”
It has been 50 years since Religions for Peace (RfP) was founded, and the organization has been bringing different religious communities and leaders, including women of faith and youth leaders to gather at the table and work in common action for peace. Represented in 90 countries, Rfp is working not only in times of conflict, but also on the many critical issues of our time, among many others, advancing gender equality, nurturing sustainable environment, and championing freedom of thoughts. Ever since the outbreak of the COVID-19, RfP has been working tirelessly to mobilize a global multi-faith response to the pandemic.
By mid-March, RfP began to receive requests for support from their member communities and inter-religious councils around the world. In response, they decided to set up a special fund called the “Multi-Religious Humanitarian Fund in Response to COVID-19.” Reverend Sugino explains that this special fund aims at strengthening inter-religious responses to the pandemic, such as providing life-saving messages that are based on science and international public health guidelines; supporting the most vulnerable including children, the elderly, refugees; countering stigma and discrimination; and offering spiritual and emotional care and support to members of the communities.
In addition to this, Reverend Sugino also highlights the recent globally-led campaign between Rfp and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called the “Global Multi-religious Faith-in-Action COVID-19 Campaign.” Comprising 13 religious leaders from major faith traditions as well as the UNICEF Executive Director, a signed joint statement was released on April 7th before Easter and Ramadan, emphasizing that “this is the time for religious communities to come together to intensify their efforts, to save lives and provide care for people.”
Currently, Religions for Peace together with UNICEF have been,
Convening regional and national webinars discussing the role of religious communities in pandemic responses;
Developing virtual worship services;
Facilitating effective engagement in national level policies and programs;
Promoting messages through social media campaigns;
and Advancing projects that counter stigma and discrimination.
Finally, Reverend Sugino provides examples of some of the best practices of religious communities from different countries in responding to the COVID-19.
In Sierra Leone, Africa through its experience in inter-religious action to respond to HIV/AIDS and Ebola, prevention work, stigma reduction, even safe burials. Based on that, they are developing responses to COVID-19. The religious communities launched television talk shows together with the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation where the religious leaders appear both on TV shows and regular radio broadcast to talk about the adaptation of religious practises for the health and safety of believers. They also together with the WHO and the Ministry of Health facilitated training for district coordinators from 16 districts in the country.
In Japan, Religions for Peace has initiated inter-faith chaplaincy providing spiritual counseling, and psychosocial support for people suffering under COVID-19.
In Brazil, inter-religious councils have witnessed some religious communities intentionally violating social distancing guidelines and spreading misinformation that are not based on science and health guidance. It is eventually found that inter-religious solidarity is key to solve this issue, thus the religious communities came together and called for a strong united voice to ensure that the religious communities act in accordance with safety regulations.
Our Main Takeaway:
As seen through the work of RfP, religious leaders and communities play an important role in providing consolation as well as effective guidance to the public, especially during a difficult time like a pandemic. A cross-sectoral approach, such as partnering with governments and a global institution like the United Nations also further strengthens the work of people of faith around the world. In the near future, the 1000 Abrahamic Circles hope that other global coalitions that have not extended partnerships with faith-based organizations would consider to do so.
Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, Executive Director at the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers
“Situations will not be the same anymore, and whatever things we have accomplished now, we should frame them in the post covid-19 era and really think how we can use this platform to further advance peace.“
Dr. Elsanousi’s presentation focuses on the work of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers in increasing the role of religious and traditional actors around the world particularly in peacebuilding and peace security. The purpose of the network itself is to support and create a linkage between the religious actors and policymakers from all over the world. It is done by bringing the practical experience of grassroots religious and traditional actors to policymakers and by initiating capacity building and training for religious and traditional actors. Dr. Elsanousi also points out that the Network seeks to ensure inclusivity through its programs by training youth and paying attention to the role of women and gender equality. Globally the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers have expanded its work in regions such as the US, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia and has 70 organization membership from religious organizations to government, multilateral, and non-profit organizations (NGOs).
Particularly during this time of pandemic, the role of religious and traditional actors are very important to be used to help alleviate the stress and crisis, especially considering the fact that about 84% of earth's population claim to affiliate themselves to religion or community traditions. The Peacemakers Network has been advising grassroots religious leaders to adhere to experts such as the WHO and local Minister of Health, and then linking it with theology in order to better disseminate the message to the public. Dr. Elsanousi directs us to take a look at what is happening in Somalia. In the country, messages from religious actors and leaders are being taped to raise awareness on the importance of social distancing and other instructions from the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Elsanousi explains that this is a strategic and effective move as religious leaders enjoy better credibility and trust from their grassroots community as a result of their intense engagement. Their messages are usually conveyed easily because it is free from any political purpose.
Lastly, Dr. Elsanousi stresses the importance of global society as a whole and the government to bring more solidarity during this time. He shares with us how he had a discussion with the Muslim community in the US on whether it is acceptable to give zakat to non-Muslim working in the frontline to fight this pandemic. It is completely acceptable, as clarified by the chair of the Peacemakers Network, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, who said that this time of crisis is the time for people to look into their own theology and seek to advance solidarity during this time of crisis. For example, the UN Secretary General's call for a global ceasefire has received support from religious actors and multi-faith organizations across the globe. If we look closely, this pandemic provides opportunities to bring people together through continuous prayers and remarkable interfaith efforts.
Our Main Takeaway:
The 1000 Abrahamic circles recognizes the important and critical role of religious leaders just like the work of The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. As explained by Dr. Elsanousi, by maximizing the potential of religious and traditional actors, there are actually numerous social issues that can simultaneously be dealt with more effectively. We also believe that improving global engagement by increasing mutual understanding and creating a safe space for inter-faith dialogue could contribute significantly to world peace.
Prof. Nasaruddin Umar, Grand Imam at Istiqlal Mosque, Former Indonesian Vice Minister of Religion, Jakarta
“Through the joint efforts of all religious organizations in Indonesia and the world, we can get through this pandemic and after this time passes, this interfaith network [Jaringan Lintas Iman] that has been built can become one of the platforms to unite people and build peace in the world.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, various religious communities in Indonesia joined forces to help the community in a platform called the COVID-19 Interfaith Response Network or Jaringan Lintas Iman Tanggap COVID-19 (JIC). Prof. Nasar points out that as one of the countries with cultural and religious diversity, the Interfaith Network is not uncommon in Indonesia. Interaction between religious people that runs harmoniously is one of the uniqueness of the heterogeneity of Indonesian society.
The JIC has three goals and activities: first, is to raise funds to help people who are affected, regardless of ethnic and ethnic religions; second, to provide spiritual support and guidance to the community so that they can be patient and not give up hope in the midst of this pandemic; third, to help the government in their calling for social distancing practices and to keep worshippers praying at home through their respective religious online platforms.
Prof. Nasaruddin also explains that JIC becomes very important right now because it moves on the basis of faith, and faith is very basic in every individual person. The happiness of religious people is found in the world and the hereafter, and in order to earn that happiness is by doing an act on humanity. Thus, religious organizations can actually help the government reach grassroots communities more quickly. Apart from being closer to the community and neutral from political colors, making religious organizations more heard by the people in a pandemic like today is very strategic to reduce the impact of COVID-19.
Finally, Prof. Nasaruddin once again appeals that reckless activities of going to worship at public places of worship is not a good thing because it can endanger yourself and others. It is important to keep in mind that hurting oneself and others is prohibited by religion. The occurrence of a pandemic is nothing new, in fact several pandemics have been recorded in the Koran, including in the story of the Prophet Salih and the Thamud which explains the transmission of disease from animals to humans, then the story of Thalut and Jalut which reminds of the possibility of transmission of disease from human-to-human.
Our Main Takeaway:
The neutral and closer nature of religious organizations to people's daily lives is an effective tool in dealing with COVID-19. Not only to provide material and spiritual assistance, religious organizations also have their own strengths that are able to unite the community regardless of ethnic, racial or religious identity. This psychological situation should be maintained and is expected to maintain peace in Indonesia and around the world.