Southeast Asia stands as a remarkable region, rich in both cultural diversity and religious pluralism. With a population exceeding six hundred million, the area serves as a melting pot for millions of individuals practicing Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, as well as various local spiritual beliefs. The historical tapestry of Southeast Asia tells the story of diverse global cultures converging in this region, including India, China, and the Middle East, each weaving its unique religious and spiritual influences. This interplay of cultures has fostered a Southeast Asian society that thrives on embracing and celebrating its religious diversity.
Given this backdrop of cultural and religious richness, the need for a platform to foster understanding among adherents of various faiths becomes paramount. Addressing this imperative, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest traditionalist Islamic mass organization in Indonesia and the world, has taken the initiative to launch the ASEAN Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue Conference (ASEAN IIDC) 2023. Collaborating closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, this forum is a testament to NU's commitment to public diplomacy and solution-oriented approaches.
The ASEAN IIDC, held at The Ritz-Carlton Jakarta, Mega Kuningan on August 7th, 2023, drew distinguished attendees. Among them were religious and cultural leaders from ASEAN member states, as well as representatives from neighboring countries. Government officials, academics, and civil society advocates also enriched the discourse. The event was graced by the presence of Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary-General of ASEAN, and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, both of whom echoed the significance of the dialogue in their welcoming remarks.
Addressing the challenges of a complex global landscape, President Widodo brought the audience's attention to a compelling reality. Referencing data from the Global Peace Index 2023, he shed light on the escalating conflicts that ripple across the world. Amidst these concerns, he noted a discernible decline in religiosity on a global scale. However, amidst these trends, a contrasting picture emerged within ASEAN. President Widodo lauded the growing spiritual zeal in the region, spotlighting Indonesia's distinction for harboring the world's most profound levels of religious belief, substantiated by the Pew Research Center. Harnessing this phenomenon, President Widodo held a buoyant outlook. He saw in ASEAN's revived religiosity the potential to spark a transformative wave of global harmony. With this conviction, he expressed his optimism that ASEAN's revitalized spiritual landscape could indeed catalyze global peace efforts.
Expressing his aspiration for the forum's outcomes, President Widodo envisioned a deeper mutual understanding taking root. Through the dialogue, he envisioned ASEAN assuming a dual role, not just as an epicenter of growth but also a bastion of harmony. He believed that this exchange of ideas and perspectives would not only solidify ASEAN's standing but also lay the cornerstone for the region to emerge as a unified nucleus, poised to make meaningful contributions to the cause of global peace.
K. H. Yahya Cholil Staquf, Chairman of the Central Board of Nahdlatul Ulama (PBNU), reiterated that the ASEAN IIDC was a testament to the organization's commitment to public diplomacy with a focus on solutions. The conference bore fruit in the form of the ASEAN IIDC Declaration Jakarta, a document brimming with crucial tenets encompassing human relations, youth and women's roles, and governmental cooperation to address emerging regional challenges for the cause of global peace. Dr. Teresita Cruz del Rosario, a Senior Researcher from the National University of Singapore, eloquently conveyed the declaration's essence.
In an ever-changing world, the ASEAN Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue Conference 2023 emerges as a beacon of hope and understanding. Its potential to harness the vibrant tapestry of Southeast Asia's cultural and religious diversity into a formidable force for global peace underscores the vitality of collaborative initiatives rooted in dialogue and shared purpose. As leaders and representatives from diverse backgrounds come together to exchange ideas, the conference paves the way for a future where harmony, understanding, and mutual respect transcend boundaries, shaping a world where differences are celebrated and unity prevails.
- Al Qurtuby, Sumanto. “Southeast Asia:History, Modernity, and Religious Change.” Al-Albab, vol. 2, no. 2, Dec. 2013, p. 145.
- Sani, M. Rusydi. “Menag Yaqut Hadiri ASEAN Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue Conference 2023.” Kementerian Agama Republik Indonesia, 7 Aug. 2023, kemenag.go.id/nasional/menag-yaqut-hadiri-asean-intercultural-and-interreligious-dialogue-conference-2023-IQ8Jw.
- NU Online. “Ketum PBNU Tutup ASEAN IIDC 2023, Hasilkan Deklarasi Jakarta.” NU Online, 10 Aug. 2023, www.nu.or.id/nasional/ketum-pbnu-tutup-asean-iidc-2023-hasilkan-deklarasi-jakarta-uNp3g.
- Holidify. “Religions in Southeast Asia - History, Beliefs and Culture.” www.holidify.com, June 2023, www.holidify.com/pages/religion-in-south-east-asia-5181.html. turn into fluent english for article