R20 International Summit of Religious Authorities (ISORA):

Religion’s Role in Addressing Middle East Violence and Threats to a Rules-based International Order

“I would like to thank all R20 ISORA delegates for actively working with Indonesia to help bridge differences and uphold international peace and security. For it is unconscionable that in today’s hyper-modern world, civilians, women, and children are openly massacred, and wars continue to rage unchecked.”
~ H.E. Joko Widodo
President of the Republic of Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — On 27 November 2023, the president of the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy joined the leadership of Nahdlatul Ulama, the G20 Religion Forum (R20), and the Center for Shared Civilizational Values in convening leaders of the world’s major faith traditions to discuss “Religion’s Role in Addressing Middle East Violence and Threats to a Rules-based International Order.”

The R20 International Summit of Religious Authorities (ISORA) was convened in direct response to the 7 October 2023 surprise attack upon Israel, and the massive civilian casualties inflicted by both parties to the current Israel-Hamas war.

In a striking demonstration of his personal support for Nahdlatul Ulama and the R20, President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) delivered the R20 ISORA’s keynote address in the presence of multiple cabinet ministers, foreign ambassadors, and religious authorities from six continents, who gathered in Jakarta on short notice to discuss and develop effective strategies to: (i) prevent the political weaponization of identity; (ii) curtail the spread of communal hatred; (iii) promote solidarity and respect among the diverse peoples, cultures, and nations of the world; and (iv) foster the emergence of a more just and harmonious world order, founded upon respect for the equal rights and dignity of every human being.

(Above) Religious Affairs Minister H.E. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas greets President Joko Widodo in the presence of his older brother, Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, and KH. Achmad Said Asrori, General Secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council

(Below) President Jokowi arrives at the R20 ISORA accompanied by KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf and key members of his cabinet, including Foreign Minister H.E. Retno Marsudi

In his opening address, President Jokowi said:

The humanitarian tragedy in Palestine is intolerable. A ceasefire must be immediately implemented, humanitarian assistance must be accelerated, and peace negotiations must begin. Indonesia believes that independence is the right of all nations, a principle clearly stated in our constitution. We have long experience of knitting together different peoples, bridging differences, and forging Unity Amid Diversity (Indonesia’s national motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”)…

Unity Amid Diversity will not be realized if it is not supported by religious teachings. It will not be realized without the support of religious leaders who teach that loving one’s country and protecting its unity are integral to faith. Indonesia believes that religion and religious authorities have a vital role to play in establishing harmony, peace, and togetherness within nations, regions, and the world at large.

That is why I think this forum is so vital. Let us facilitate dialogues between religions and across nations that bridge differences and stop all forms of conflict, so that — together — we may create a more peaceful, harmonious, and prosperous world.

President Joko Widodo opened the R20 ISORA by striking a bedug, a drum traditionally used throughout Nusantara (the East Indies) to call the Muslim faithful to prayer. He was accompanied on stage by (above, from left to right), KH. Ahmad Said Asrori; H.E. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas; Hery Budi Hartono, Acting Governor of Jakarta; KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, R20 founder and General Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama; and H.E. Retno Marsudi.

Senior Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish (both Masorti and Hardali), Sunni, Shiite, Buddhist, Hindu, and Shinto leaders addressed the R20 Summit. These religious authorities hailed from regions as diverse as South Africa, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, India, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Jamaica, Canada, and the United States.

The R20 International Summit of Religious Authorities (ISORA) was heavily covered by print, broadcast, and online media, including Indonesia’s major newspaper Kompas (below).

Shaykh Muhammad Abdul Karim al-Issa, Secretary General of the Saudi-based Muslim World League, delivered a video address in which he explicitly supported Nahdlatul Ulama and the R20’s agenda of strengthening the rules-based international order that emerged following the Second World War, and called for a more just application of the United Nations’ founding principles in order to foster international peace and security.

In November 2022, Shaykh al-Issa (below) co-chaired the inaugural R20 International Summit of Religious Leaders in Bali, Indonesia.

President Widodo greeting The Hon. César Rosselló (Spain/EU), Secretary for Institutional Relations & Special Representative for Asia, the Pacific Region, and Middle East at Centrist Democrat International (formerly, Christian Democrat International), the world’s largest political network

Dr. Timothy Samuel Shah (above), co-founder and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Center for Shared Civilizational Values, moderated the day-long discussion, which featured 28 speakers from 18 nations.

KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf presents a token of appreciation to Dr. Jacqueline C. Rivers, Executive Director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies (Jamaica). To his left stands Ms. Zainab Al-Suwaij, a prominent Shiite figure from Iraq and refugee from persecution by the regime of Saddam Hussein, who founded the American Islamic Congress after 9/11. To Mr. Staquf’s right stands the Rt. Reverend Dapo Folorunsho Asaju, Bishop Theologian of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Rabbi Yakov Nagen (c), Director, Beit Midrash for Judaism and World Religions (Israel), flanked by (from left to right) The Rt. Rev. Hermy Damons, Evangelical Alliance of South Africa; The Rt. Rev. Yoshinobu Miyake, Chairman, International Shinto Studies Association (Japan); Venerable Dr. Yon Seng Yeath, President, Buddhist Association of Cambodia; and Dr. Henry Dang, World Fellowship of Buddhists (Australia)

Afifuddin Muhajir, Vice Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Supreme Council, presented a fiqh (Islamic jurisprudential) analysis declaring that the post-WWII international consensus — including the United Nations Charter, UN Organization, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights — are legitimate and binding from the perspective of Islamic law.

Maria Fauzi of the Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board, who served on the R20 ISORA Organizing Committee, with Masorti Rabbi Silvina Chemen of Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano (Argentina), who delivered an address titled “Transcending annihilationist rhetoric: from the Book of Joshua to Rachamana”

After a day of intense deliberations, the R20 International Summit of Religious Authorities issued a 3-page analysis and call to action. Key points therein include:

  1. Whereas there is an urgent need to universalize religions’ ethical and humanitarian teachings — especially those regarding the humane treatment of one’s fellow believers — and affirm that all human beings, without exception, are entitled to benefit from the application of these teachings, including love, compassion, equality, and justice;
  2. Whereas accomplishing this will entail identifying shared values and establishing reciprocity among the world’s diverse peoples, cultures, and religions, by treating one another in accordance with the highest moral standards embraced by our respective traditions;
  3. Whereas religious authorities have a moral and spiritual responsibility to ensure that their respective faiths serve as vehicles of mutual understanding and reconciliation rather than perpetuate the primordial cycle of identity-based hatred, tyranny, and violence;
  4. Whereas the international consensus embodied within the UN Charter, United Nations Organization, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the only currently existing and viable framework for resolving identity-based conflicts — including those that occur between religions, and violence perpetrated in the name of religion;
  5. Whereas the failure of global actors to respect and uphold the post-WWII international consensus as embodied in the UN and UDHR framework is a primary cause of instability and conflict worldwide;
  6. Whereas religious authorities — acting in service to God and humanity — should persistently and decisively work together to validate, preserve, and strengthen the post-war international consensus and demand consistency from all parties in its application;
  7. Whereas it is not sufficient for these efforts to be confined to traditional religious appeals alone; they must be complemented by a deliberate, long-term strategy to mobilize the collective power of religion — including the support of people from all faiths — in a joint movement to attain this noble objective;
  8. THEREFORE, we urge religious authorities of every faith and nation to marshal the power and influence of their respective communities to impact decision-making circles; halt armed conflicts raging in the Middle East, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and other regions of the world; develop effective mechanisms for dialogue and negotiation that may lead towards the peaceful resolution of such conflicts; and join Nahdlatul Ulama as well as the G20 Religion Forum (R20) in expanding and strengthening the global Movement for Shared Civilizational Values.

Click the image below to read the R20 ISORA Analysis and Call to Action in full.

“We are not gathered here today to deliver statements and proselytize the beautiful teachings of our religions. Rather, we initiated this gathering to mobilize religious authorities to act together in implementing a strategy that will, God willing, lead to decisive results. It is our responsibility, as religious leaders, to secure a better future for all humanity.”

~ K.H. Yahya Cholil Staquf
General Chairman, Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board

R20 ISORA delegates stand for a group photo with KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf, Chairman of the G20 Religion Forum (R20)

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