Indonesian Leaders Visit IRLA Headquarters

News March 2005

Dr Graz and Dr Kuntaraf (center) with Indonesian visitors

Silver Spring, Maryland, USA... "We work to make religious freedom work," said Robert Nixon, one of the vice presidents for the
International Religious Freedom Association (IRLA).

Addressing Ms. Chofifah Parawansa (National Chairperson for theMuslimat Nadhlatul Ulama) and Mr. Zuhairi Misrawi (Program Officer of
the Emancipatory Islamic Netowrk, the Indonesian Society for Pesantren and Community Development), attorney Nixon shared a brief overview of the religious climate in the United States of America.

"Religious freedom is guaranteed by our Constitution," he explained. "Every federal office is open to any religion. All laws say you cannot discriminate in our schools and work place. If local people do not see the advantage of being respectful of religious differences, there cannot be religious tolerance."

Parawansa and Misrawi who are here under the auspices of the State Department's International Visitor Program, toured the United States to learn about multiculturalism in a democratic society such as ours. According to the visitors, in the town of Aceh, the Shari'a law (Muslim law) has been approved by the central government and is currently implemented in that part of the country. "The challenge for us" said Mr. Misrawi "is to know how to promote a culture of peace and respect. The PKS (a political party) is a growing party that promotes the Shari'a law.

"The visit of Misrawi and Parawansa is significant because it provides an opportunity for dialogue and exchange of information," says Dr. John Graz, IRLA general secretary. "Indonesia is a country with the largest population of Muslims, and for many years citizens have enjoyed peaceful existence together. But now, part of Indonesia's peace is being threatened, and we have to encourage those who are building understanding and respect to avoid conflict and possibly civil war."

A non-denomination organization, the IRLA has worked to promote religious freedom since 1893 and is active through its affiliates in over 70 countries. [Viola Hughes]