Religious freedom is good for democracy and human flourishing; International Conference on Islamic Case for Religious Freedom Concludes 

Jakarta: A two-days international conference “Islamic Case for Religious Freedom” held in Jakarta concluded today. The conference was addressed by prominent leaders and scholars in Indonesia, as well as speakers from many countries in South East Asia, South Asia, North Africa, Middle East, Europe, and USA. This was organized by Malaysia based Islam & Liberty Network, in partnership with Fatayat Nahdlatul Ulama, International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies and Religious Freedom Institute. 

Addressing the conference, K.H. Said Aqil Siradi, Chairman of Nahdatul Ulama, Indonesia, remarked that Islam intrinsically embodies the meaning and concept of peace. He said that Islam talks about the Ummah not as separate Islamic states and systems. Ummah is a concept that encompasses civilization, pluralism, diversity and acceptance. The Prophet of Islam built Ummah on the basis of those values and principles. Islam is against terrorism and aggression. It promotes religious pluralism, human dignity and diversity.

Prominent scholar of Islamic law, Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, CEO, IAIS, Malaysia, talked about the Freedom of Religion and Apostasy: Issues, Responses and Developments. He gave a brief overview of the classical, medieval and modern juristic opinions about the religious freedom and apostasy. He said that the Prophetic traditions (Ahadith) quoted in favour of the punishment of apostasy are misunderstood by ignoring the context and background. He also said that the state should distance itself from closely identifying itself with religion.

Anggia Ermarini, the general chairman of Fatayat Nahdlatul Ulama, and Member of Parliament, said that Indonesia has diversity based on the values of inclusivity and acceptance. Stable constitutional and political institutions have been playing pivotal role especially in this respect. 

Ali Salman, CEO of Islam & Liberty Network, said that this Network is working on exploring and promoting Muslim case of liberty in the Muslim-majority countries. He added that Charter of Madinah is an excellent and inspiring example of Islamic case of freedom which guaranteed religious freedom to all segments of the society and followers of all religious traditions and faiths in the newly established polity in Madinah. 

Dr. Tim Shah, Vice President of Religious Freedom Institute, said that religious freedom is good and beneficial for faith, democracy and human prosperity. He said that where there is less religious freedom there exists instability, terrorism and insurgency. He showed concern that no Muslim governments are speaking on the treatment given to Uyghur Muslims in China or Rohingya in Myanmar and Muslims in Sri Lanka. Religious freedom should be manifested in many levels such as the housing system, the education system and the working opportunities.

Addressing the conference, Professor Robert Hefner remarked that Islam provides several powerful foundations to guarantee religious freedom, such as the possibility of interpretation (Ijtihad) and Sharia Law, which affirms that Islam is definitely for religious freedom. Zainal Abidin Bagir, an Indonesian scholar argued that several Muslim countries fare very poorly on the blasphemy law and showed concerns on what he termed as increasing number of blasphemy cases.   

Speakers in the 7th Islam & Liberty Conference came from different countries in South East Asia, South Asia, North Africa, Middle East, Europe and the USA. The topics of these papers included: “The Concept of Freedom (Hurriyya) and Natural Rights in Classical Islamic Jurisprudence, (Hakan Ҫoruh, Australia)”, “Between “Religious Intolerance” and “Holy Ignorance”: Discussion of Misconceptions about Religious Freedom, (Ali Hassannia, Iran); “Apostasy, Religious Freedom and Individual Liberty”, Fida Ur Rahman (Pakistan); “Religious Freedom in a Muslim Democracy: Case of new Tunisian Constitution” (Amel Azzouz, Tunisia); “Revisiting Religious Freedom in ‘Secular’ and ‘Islamic’ Constitution (Azeemah Saleem, India)”; “The Ahmediyya question, the response of Muslim Scholars, and the (im)possibility of religious co-existence in Contemporary Islamic Thought (Hussain Gattoo Mujeeb & Zubair Ahmad Bader, India)”; “Secularism, Islamism and Religious Minorities: the Case of Bangladesh” (A.K.M Iftekharul Islam, Bangladesh); “Dialectics of Religious Freedom and Harmony in Post-Reform Indonesia, (Dicky Sofjan and Syamsul Asri, Indonesia)”; “Efforts for Religious Freedom in Nepal (Mohd. Izharul Haque Mikrani, Nepal)”; “Developments in Blasphemy Law in Indonesia (Zainal Abidin Bagir, Indonesia)”; Upholding The Principle of Proportionality in the Malaysian Hate Speech Laws (Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz, Malaysia); “Does democracy positively affect religious freedom- A case Study of Pakistan (Saeed Ahmed Rid, Pakistan)”; “The Role of Freedom of Religion and Political Regime for Human Development Indices” (Jani Kinnunen & Irina Georgescu, Finland);Religious Freedom and Economic Development: A Conceptual and Empirical Review (Waqas Ahmed, Pakistan)”; “Jews in Iran since the Islamic Revolution: Social Status and Anti-Semitism (Ankita Sanyal, India)”; “Reflections & Perspective from Malaysia (Eugene Yapp, Malaysia)”; “The Jurisprudential Principles of Equality between Muslims and Non-Muslims in Sharia (Abbas Mehregan, Iran); “Attitude of Muslim Ummah towards Non-Muslims: Theory and Practice (Md. Thowhidul Islam and Dr. Md. Ataur Rahman Miazi, Bangladesh)”; “Minority at Home and Abroad: The Islamic Theory and its Challenge (Md. Moniruzzaman, Malaysia). 

Other speakers included Farahnaz Ispahani (US), Rebecca Shah (India), Irfan Engineer (India); Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil (Malaysia); and Dr. Almut Besold (Germany). 

Islam & Liberty Network Foundation is based in Malaysia and organizes international conferences and workshops, publishes papers and produces podcasts and webinars for advancing a Muslim case for freedom through knowledge creation and human development. 

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