Amid diplomatic row at home, Muslim cleric spreads ‘coexistence’ in Israel

Despite angry protests at home over his visit to Israel a top Muslim leader from Indonesia’s 60-million-member Sunni organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, is scheduled to deliver a message of tolerance in Jerusalem.

By The Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff


A leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization is visiting Israel this week, braving angry protests at home in order to spread what he calls a message of interfaith compassion.

Yahya Staquf, secretary general of the 60 million-member Nahdlatul Ulama, a traditionalist Sunni Islam movement, is in Israel to attend the American Jewish Committee’s international conference in Jerusalem.

The world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, and strongly supports the Palestinians.  Staquf’s Israel visit has triggered angry reactions, as seen on Indonesian social media.

But in an interview, Staquf said he remains committed to the visit and hopes the controversy can bring more attention to his message of tolerance.

“Some people here are amazed by my decision to come, because they think it must be dangerous for this man to come, thinking that many, many Muslims must be threatening him with death or something,” Staquf said.

Earlier this week, Staquf addressed the American Jewish Committee conference, appearing alongside a rabbi. His itinerary also includes meetings at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and talks with local Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders. There were no meetings with Israeli politicians listed on his schedule.

Staquf said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the sole focus of his trip. He said he sees interfaith cooperation as a foundation for solving many conflicts, including in Myanmar, where 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled persecution by the country’s security forces to Bangladesh.

But Staquf remains aware of the “magnitude” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We are facing a civilizational problem here, and it is related to religions,” Staquf said. “As Muslims, we want to do our part related to our religion.”

Staquf says he has identified portions of Islam that he considers problematic, including how Muslims interact with non-Muslims. He says there needs to be “a new discourse” to recognize that Muslims and non-Muslims are equal and should be able to coexist peacefully.

“These elements are problematic because they are not compatible anymore with the current reality of our civilization,” he said.

In Indonesia, Twitter and Facebook have been filled with negative comments about the visit. Many are upset about the situation in the Gaza Strip, where over 120 Palestinians, many of them Hamas terrorists, have been killed by Israeli troops during riots along the border between Israel and Gaza over the past two months.

An image featuring Staquf and the flags of Israel and of Nahdlatul Ulama has gone viral online. The photo is captioned: “When Muslims are wounded by an Israeli attack, the NU representative goes to Israel. This visit is a form of recognition of the State of Israel, hurting the hearts of Muslims and Palestinians.”

Teuku Taufiqulhadi, a lawmaker from the National Democratic Party, one of the parties in the Indonesian government coalition, said “the majority of Indonesians” do not want diplomatic relations with Israel.

In a letter to Indonesia’s foreign minister, published online, Staquf said the government could “deny” his actions if deemed harmful to state interests. “But if there is a benefit, let’s follow it up to be a real advantage,” he said.


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