Islam In Southeast Asia: Towards an ASEAN understanding?

Updated On: Nov 27, 2006

Last week, the Centre for Moderate Muslims (CMM) in the Philippines hosted a meeting of Islamic teachers from ASEAN.

The delegates to the meeting agreed to formulate a plan for the ASEAN members to develop their own regional standard for preaching Islam. Currently many of the Islamic materials (e.g. books) are from the Middle East. Many of the Islamic teachers in ASEAN were also trained in the Middle East. This heavy reliance on theMiddle East means that there is a danger of the ASEAN members being influenced by the rising tide of radical teachings from the Middle East.

Professor Salipada Tamano who had been the former secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) urged thePhilippines government to play a bigger role in the Madrasah (Islamic) schools. Many of the Madrasahs were not financially supported by the government, leading them to seek donations from the Middle East.

Professor Talib Benito of the Mindanao State University’s King Faisal Centre for Islamic and Asian Studies said that Madrasah education in the Philippines faced three problems- lack of systematic organisation, irrelevant curriculum and a lack of financial support. He explained that since the curriculum of the Madrasah was copied from Muslim colleges and universities in the Middle East, they “are not responsive to the educational needs of Muslims in the Philippines since they are tailored to the needs of the place from which they are copied.”  Moreover, since the Madrasah’s curriculum generally excluded science, Mathematics, English and Filipino, the Madrasah’s graduates could not pursued higher education in any of the national university and college.

The meeting in the Philippines came just after another international conference “Changing Stereotypes in Europe and the Islamic World” held in Jakarta. Ulrike Knotz, the head of the German Federal government’s task force on dialogue with the Islamic world proposed an intercultural dialogue for people to come together with respect, to get to know and even like one another.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda pointed out that the current intercultural dialogue had existed mainly on an intellectual level among the leaders. However, he warned, “But it is also important to promote intensive dialogue at the grassroots level because it is at that level that most constructive forms of community building can be carried out. It is also at that level that violence born of prejudice can break out and spread.”

One difficulty with such intercultural or inter-religious dialogues is that they tended to be held among moderates. Moderate Muslims complained that it was often difficult to discuss differences with conservative or hardline Muslims and hence excluded them. On the other hand, without the participation of the hardline Muslims, the dialogues could not promote understanding among the people who needed understanding and to be understood the most.

Notwithstanding the importance of inter-cultural dialogues, intra-religious or intra-cultural dialogues should also not be neglected. For instance, recently an Indonesian preacher, Yusman Roy who was imprisoned for leading Islamic prayers in Bahasa Indonesian rather than in Arabic. He wondered, “The clerics were saying it doesn’t matter what you pray as long as it’s in Arabic. That’s wrong. We have to know what’s being said when we talk to God… I’m an Indonesian Muslim, not an Arab Muslim! Why would anyone want to stop me?”


Streamline Madrasah Curriculum, Govt Urged (Manila Bulletin, 25 November 2006)

Moderation, Economic Growth Supported by Asian Muslims (Manila Bulletin, 25 November 2006)

SE Asian Muslims Plan to Preach Homegrown Islam (The Straits Times, 24 November 2006)

Media Accused of Spreading Islamophobia (Jakarta Post, 24 November 2006)

Plain Talk for Urged for Islam-West Dialog (Jakarta Post, 23 November 2006) 

Yusman Roy: Fighting To Pray in Peace (Jakarta Post, 23 November 2006)