Sunday, September 17, 2006

Moses in Indonesia

My eldest daughter, Yona, is working for an international NGO in Ache Indonesia (the epicentre of the 2004 Tsunami). Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority country, and Ache is the most “conservative” area of Indonesia, when it come Islam. It was the first area of Indonesia to convert to Islam – being closest to Arabia and having long been a sea trading post on the Indian Ocean and thus in contact with Arabia for millennia. It was once the centre of a powerful Muslim Sultanate, and it was from Ache that Islam was introduced to what is today Malaysia, Thailand, and most of the rest of Indonesia. It is the only Indonesian province that imposes Sharia Law, and so my daughter tells me, the Achenese view the rest of Indonesia as lax in the extreme in their practice of Islam.

My daughter’s job in Ache is to promote “inclusive education”, which involves getting children with disabilities to attend the regular school system. (Currently they either attend special, and usually inferior schools, or do not attend school at all.) This past week, she was leading a seminar where her and the local staff where promoting their cause with school officials in some village. And in order make his point, that children with disabilities can become productive members of society given proper opportunities, on of her Indonesian co-worker used the following line of argument.

Even the prophet Moses, had a speech impediment, yet he rose to become a great leader of the Jews.

What I found interesting is that both he and his audience where obviously so intimately familiar with the story of Moses, and the various midrsahim (and I assume here that there must be parallel Islamic tales) that he stuttered or slurred his words. What I found heart-warming was that he used religious imagery to promote tolerance and inclusiveness, things we in the West do not usually – in these time any way – associate with religious Islam.

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