UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has lauded a move by Malaysia and Indonesia to form a joint educational strategy to combat religious extremism, amid a common threat posed by the Islamic State (IS) terror group.
The involvement of Islamic scholars and clerics from the two neighboring nations in devising the strategy is a positive step, she told BenarNews
At a meeting in Jakarta last week, inaugurated by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, leading clerics and religious scholars from Malaysia and Indonesia formed a joint secretariat to fight extremist ideology through promoting a moderate brand of Islam.
“In the face of rising intolerance that is a threat to all societies, I commend the initiative of Malaysia to collaborate with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, in leading a reflection on the teaching of Islam in their societies,” Bokova said.
She welcomed the involvement of religious leaders in this effort “to agree on a common narrative.”
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is prepared to help member-states fend off extremism by teaching young people to embrace tolerance and non-violence through schoolbooks and curricula, Bokova said.
“Nothing can justify violent extremism. Education is the most effective way to combat distorted views of religion and promote understanding, values of tolerance and respect for human dignity and diversity,” she added.
A larger role
Muhyiddin, who is also Malaysia’s Education minister, met with Bokova at UNESCO headquarters in Paris this week.
According to a report in the New Straits Times (NST), the deputy prime minister said later that the U.N. agency wanted Malaysia and Indonesia to play a larger role in fighting extremism and Islamophobia.
“UNESCO wants Malaysia and Indonesia to show the world the proper Islamic education and not the ones depicted by the Islamic State,” the NST quoted him as saying.
During his meeting with Bokova, she “proposed that Malaysia and Indonesia lead the way in showing the proper Islamic education,” he added.
The minister went to Paris as part of Malaysia’s campaign to lobby UNESCO to grant the country membership on its executive board, the state-run Bernama news agency reported Thursday.
The need to practice wasatiyyah
During his speech in Jakarta last week, Muhyiddin urged Indonesian and Malaysian Muslims to “stand firm on the principle of wasatiyyah – as required by the true teachings of Islam – to reject extreme religious practices.”
Malaysia and Indonesia are joining forces to fight extremism as both countries say they are facing a growing domestic threat from IS.
Since last year, the two governments have worked to arrest suspected IS members and supporters at home, and to prevent the jihadist group from recruiting young Muslims for its cause via classrooms and social media.
According to Malaysian authorities, 95 Malaysians have been arrested as suspected IS members, 46 are at-large in Syria or Iraq, and 10 have been reported killed in combat there.
The number of Indonesians believed to have joined IS in the Middle East is much higher. As many as 540 citizens have ventured abroad for jihad. At least two suspected IS members have been killed in police raids back home, while more than 50 have been arrested in Indonesia.