20 Jul 2016

Interfaith dialogue: an Australian experience

Not many people have had the unique opportunity to experience both secular and religious formal education growing up, but Dr Muhammad Adib Abdushomad’s experience has been exactly that.  Adib’s maternal grandfather was a kyai, or Islamic religious leader, at one of the oldest religious boarding schools commonly known as pesantren at Pekalongan, Central Java. Coming from a family with such a strong religious background, Adib’s parents insisted that he attend the pesantren in the afternoon after completing his lessons at the public high school.

His education and upbringing formed his views on Islam and religious tolerance. The pesantren taught moderate Islamic teachings, which became the basis of Adib’s understanding of Islam. “I also distinctly remember the students participating at the al-Qur’an lessons my mother taught at homecoming from different Islamic denominations. My mother did not differentiate between religious and social-economic backgrounds,” the 40-year-old Adib said.

Adib took this influence to heart throughout his tertiary education in Indonesia and during his studies for a Master of Education in Leadership and Management at Flinders University in 2007 under an Australia Awards Scholarship and a PhD in Public Policy and Management at his alma mater in 2010 under an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship.

While he was in Australia, Adib and his colleagues established Adelaide Islamic Research (Kajian Islam Adelaide, or KIA), a non-partisan forum that values diversity and difference of opinions—the co-founders mostly coming from pesantren and Islamic higher education backgrounds.

Adib also actively engaged in interfaith dialogues and corrected misconceptions about Islam during his time in Australia. “The friends I made became my partners in interfaith discussion forums such as the Oasis at Flinders University. I was even invited to give a lecture on Islam at a church association in Australia,” Adib said of his experience. He also appreciated how the people in Australia respected those practicing their Moslem faith.

“The South Australian Government had organised an Ied Mubarak celebration, and we were to able participate together with the South Australian Moslem community. What impressed me was that the Indonesian Moslem community was later able to observe Ied prayers on the Flinders campus with the support of the Moslem community and Oasis. The security was also very helpful,” Adib recalled fondly.

Needless to say, while Adib went to Australia to further his secular education, interfaith collaborations and dialogue were important parts of his Australian experience. “These forums are key to strengthening relations and to see the truth through the eyes of another.”

Following his childhood and Australian experience, Adib continues to integrate both secular and religious knowledge at his current position as Head of Academic Quality Section, at the Directorate of Islamic Higher Education, Ministry of Religious Affairs.

“The reason I decided to major in Leadership and Management as well as Public Policy and Management was to complement the deep understanding of Islam and Islamic education that I already have. I wanted to improve the organisational structure of the Ministry,” Adib, who holds a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Islamic Law from the State Islamic Institute (IAIN) Walisongo, said.

“I am fully conscious of how my position as Head of Section could make a tremendous contribution in terms of impacting policies,’’ Adib said. He looks forward to being able to implement the knowledge he gained in Australia with the religious knowledge he gained in Indonesia for the betterment of key public policies.

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