Sarah Muwahidah and Interfaith Dialogue

Sarah’s involvement in the interfaith dialogue world, since she studied at CRCS until now, can be given two-thumbs up. This woman, whose full name is Siti Sarah Muwahidah (CRCS 2004), has no fear walking the dialogue world as a researcher at the same time an inter-religious dialogue advocate. “I have known interfaith issues since I was young, because I was born in Pabelan boarding school environment, Magelang,” Sarah said.


Sarah is now in Bangkok, Thailand, and absorbed in finishing her research report funded by the Asian Public Intellectuals (API). She did her research on Interfaith Dialogue, Moslem-Christian, in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Southern Philippines, a place where conflicts are often colored with inter-religious issues. She had just finished her six-month (October 2009-March 2010) field research in Mindanao.


“The situation there is quite safe, because the Peace Talk, which failed in 2008 (MILF-GRP), has resumed since December 2009,” Sarah expressed about the latest situation with regard to the Moslem-Christian relation in Mindanao. She saw there were many initiatives in doing dialogue among the people, but the clear situation of the minority-majority has hampered the development of the initiatives.


“Interfaith dialogue is usually initiated by pastors, or peace institutes, and they do not just do dialogue, they also build dialogue with community program. They build school, Madrasah (Islamic school), and among others. So, dialogue in action and grassroots outreach are felt well. They also make programs in jail, they have radio program, and feeding program for the poor,” Sarah explained about the materialization of the dialogue.


Although the interfaith programs in Mindanao are appertained so well, Sarah still sees the condition of the minority-majority and the representation of the communities to the dialogue influenced the process of the dialogue.


“The representation of the Moslems, culturally and politically, is not yet sufficient, so there are many unsatisfactory voices in seeing the dialogue. Some figures said that even though they do not ‘resist’ interfaith dialogue, they feel the dialogue is held ‘to pacify’ Moslems. They do not see any changes in the perspective of the Moslems,” Sarah said. “But if dialogue also talks about the history of the conflicts and alternative solutions, everyone can do that,” Sarah added.


Sarah also explained how the dialogue, which is built there, seems to hide the real problems that are happening among them. “Interfaith dialogue in Mindanao will still be developed and needed, but they have to have willingness in talking about the real problems. Some interfaith initiators avoid talking about the current conflict and the history of the conflict, they just talk about the similarity and difference between Islam and Christianity (theology, texts), and ethics,” Sarah expressed with her dissatisfaction.


For a woman who inherited her culture from Aceh, Bengkulu and Yogyakarta, there is a difference in the quality of dialogue between interfaith dialogue and peace/reflective dialogue. For her, in interfaith dialogue, the participants are conditioned to represent one community, for example Islam. While in peace/reflective dialogue, its process is more fluid and free to talk because its participants can talk personally, without any burdens to represent a certain community.


The problem of the process is also seen as a problem of identity which has been with the Moslem community. Sarah said that some Moslems in Mindanao reject to be called “Filipinos.”


“We are lucky that we still have shared identity as Indonesians. As a result there, Moslems are just accepted as Moslems, but they are also ‘acculturated’ to follow the dominant culture. Culture and local history have been ‘forgotten’ by them. Is it a shared identity or an imposed identity? On the other hand, they have worries with the influence of Saudi Arabia and Wahabi. They feel that they are more harmonious with the Saudis,” Sarah emphasized.


For this research, Sarah has been looking for the right theory to formulate or apply. Although she understands many theories on dialogue, the accuracy of the theory is very important, because she sees that every practice of interfaith dialogue is unique. She has already presented the outline of her research report at the Ateneo de Manila University in Manila, Philippines.


Besides finishing her report on the interfaith dialogue research, Sarah is also collecting data for her research on the “Top 500 Most Influential Muslim Figure in the World” sponsored by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Institute in Jordan for its 2010 Edition. In this project, Sarah is still a researcher and consultant the same position she held as the last edition.


Sarah is a woman who received quite a number of academic awards, such as from Florida International University and Asia Research Institute, she also had a chance to join the Muslim Exchange Program in Australia. Even with those under her belt, she still attempts to improve her knowledge. She has just currently received a Ph.D. Scholarship program from Fulbright. She plans to pursue her PhD degree at the Department of Religious Studies at Emory University.


With the many successes she achieved, this woman who was born in Magelang perceives that CRCS has contributed to her successes. “CRCS has given me “ammunitions” and “supplies” to build a network, and to the fields. CRCS is a winner in networking, and we are free to explore and access that opportunities offered by CRCS. There are Wednesday forums, visiting professors, visiting researchers, international forums, which can be accessed, those are the plus points of CRCS,” Sarah said.


Her experience that she liked very much during her stay as a student at CRCS was ‘syukuran’ and farewell party together with the visiting professors, this happened when each semester ended. Sarah, whose hobby is reading novels and comics, shared her happiness when she was with the event: “In addition to eating together with them, there was always a sharing session, and singing. So, it was relax and informal. During the sharing time, we usually talked about our impression to the professors, it was so fun,” Sarah beamed. (JMI)


This post is also available in: Indonesian


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