Former Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs, Placing Importance on Interfaith Dialogue
Dr. H. A. Mukti Ali was the Minister of Religious Affairs in Indonesia from 1971 to 1978. His advanced education in Islam was earned in India and Canada, providing both Eastern and Western perspectives in his training. He developed a rigorous concern for academic research and brought that practice of research to Islamic studies in Indonesia, a primarily Muslim country. He was a pious Muslim who saw no contradiction between religious piety and serious research.
Ideas on Spirituality and Society
Mukti Ali believed that one’s faith had to be worked out within the social context of a people. There was a dynamic interaction between dogma and practice, between ideas and society, he believed. At its best, this dynamic produced a living religion, and in Indonesia an expression of Islam that was integrated into the country’s culture. As Mukti Ali liked to say,
I am an Indonesian Muslim, choosing not to split these two aspects of his identity.
Focus on Interfaith Issues
However, not all Indonesians were Muslims. As the Minister of Religious Affairs, he launched government-sponsored, interreligious dialogue, including many sessions in his own home. He also participated in global Christian-Muslim dialogs. One of his key concerns was that foreign aid and religious propagation not be mixed. He urged Christian relief agencies to give as freely to non-Christians as to Christians, especially since the former were the majority in many developing countries such as Indonesia. Sometimes, this attitude led to friction. Many Christian activists were not pleased by his viewpoint and regarded him as an opponent. Nevertheless, Mukti Ali did not turn his back on inter-religious dialogue, which he felt was essential in preventing conflict in Indonesia.
Development was a major concern for Mukti Ali. He saw the ultimate goal of development as
the development of the whole person—and that all people should have this opportunity. This included both spiritual and material aspects of life. In the process of development, Mukti Ali prioritized social justice over economic growth, and he saw aspects in all religions that called for justice.
Mukti Ali’s vision was that all people should be free to practice their religious rites and duties—living in harmony with neighbors, even if those neighbors followed other religious disciplines.
The harmony of religious life can only be obtained if every religious group becomes open-hearted to one another. To make this work there must be an
agreement to disagree.
Reaching that point of harmony was a major challenge, Mukti Ali realized, so he encouraged people to try to understand differing faiths and cultures by learning about them from an inside perspective. To flesh out this dream, Mukti Ali organized meetings of religious leaders and camps where students of different religions could meet and interact. The dialogs and camps included Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians and Javanese indigenous mystics. The participants formed relationships and sought common concerns.
Although his programs didn’t achieve all he hoped, future generations of interfaith leaders would build on his pioneering work.