Muslim Leader Preaches Compassion, Compromise During Visit to the Holy Land

The week of Kooloolam event in Jerusalem Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf (L), the Secretary General of the world’s largest Muslim organization—Indonesia’s Nahdlatul and Yehuda Stolov, founder of the Interfaith Encounter Association during the Kooloolam event in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jun 14, 2018. Photo by Jo Friedman/TPS

Muslim Leader Preaches Compassion, Compromise During Visit to the Holy Land

Written by Andrew Friedman/TPS on June 17, 2018


Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, the General Secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama, a global Islamic organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia doesn’t understand what all the hullabaloo is about the Temple Mount. Sitting in the shadow of Jaffa Gate, in the Old City of Jerusalem, Staquf says his Muslim faith – and that of the 60 million members of Nahdlatul Ulamamakes it clear to him not only that Jews’ have an ancient connection to the holy site that is just 400 meters from the spot we are standing on, but also that Jews’ reverence for the Mount should be seen as an opportunity for Muslims to embrace what Staquf believes is the essence of Islam: Compassion.

“Religion has been used throughout history as a political weapon in order to maintain conflict and to seize power,” the sheikh told TPS during a gathering of interfaith activists held at the Tower of David fortress, adjacent to Jaffa Gate to mark Eid al-Fitr, the four-day holiday that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan before participating in a Kooloolam event to record a version of Bob Marley’s reggae classic One Love.

“The only way to (counterbalance) that phenomenon is to repeat the message of rahma, compassion. That is the way to defeat extreme views and people. Rahma, rahma, rahma.”

So as a Muslim, you wouldn’t be offended to seeing Jews pray on the Temple Mount?

“Would I that offend me? No. Why should it bother me? To the contrary: When we open ourselves up to the possibility that another (faith group) cherishes the same section of holy real estate, it gives us a chance to connect, and to practice our skills of being compassionate,” the Imam said.

Staquf, who served as presidential spokesman to Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia’s first democratically-elected leader from 1999-2001, added that his time in Israel  – it is his first visit – has been highlighted by talks with President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But even more importantly, he said, has been his interactions with Jews and Muslims, which have strengthened his belief that reconciliation between the warring sides is possible.

“We have to find the things that unite us, rather than the things that cause us to fight, and focus on those. We have to adapt religions to modern times,” he said.

The imam and members of his travelling staff added that they were taken aback at Israelis’ willingness to engage with obviously religious Muslims, and especially with the ideas they were here to discuss and to preach.

“Of course, it was very special to spend Eid al-Fitr at the Haram al-Sharif,” said Ahmad Nazif, an aide who is responsible for Yahya’s social media presence in Indonesia. “But the whole visit has been very exciting . We all share the same earth, the same sky.

“But if we choose (to focus on) justice, we will fail. Justice is near to rahma, but rahma is compassion. It means transcending justice and focusing on kindness,” Nazif said.

Predictably, some Palestinian groups, including Hamas, criticised Haji Yahya’s visit to Israel, saying the visit would serve to “normalize” relations with Israel’s “occupation.”

But Netanyahu, who met with the group on Thursday,  said that many Muslim countries have move to strengthen ties with Israel in recent years, both in order to improve security collaboration and to benefit from Israel’s prowess as a technology power.

“We are dedicated to building bridges between communities between communities through interfaith encounter- studying together, talking, exchanging ideas about religion, culture, faith and more,” said Yehuda Stolov, the founder of the Interfaith Encounter Association. “The opportunity to meet Sheik Yahya – a man who is very religious, but who is equally committed to an Islam of love and compassion is a phenomenal chance.”

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