Can Canadians learn from world’s largest Muslim country?

November 1, 2017

By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun |

When Canadians think about the Islamic world, they tend to focus on quasi-dictatorships in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran.

But the world’s most populous Muslim nation is actually Indonesia.

This equatorial Southeast Asian country is home to 260 million people, 87 per cent of whom are Sunni Muslims.

It’s been a democracy for two decades, a rarity among Muslim-majority countries.

Canada is a much different country, obviously. Our nation is predominantly Christian, increasingly non-religious, and has been a democracy for at least 150 years.

Indonesia, nevertheless, has surprising similarities to Canada, particularly in the way its moderate Muslim community leaders express commitment to values such as pluralism.

Surprisingly, the Muslim-majority country’s centuries-old motto is: “Unity in diversity,” which sounds a lot like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s go-to slogan: “Diversity is our strength.”

I recently attended a conference of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) in Jakarta, the world’s second-largest metropolitan region.

I was struck by how many times journalists, professors, top Muslim leaders and politicians used words like tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism and interfaith dialogue.

They do so for a reason: Indonesia is at a crossroads.

Its young democracy is increasingly fragile, threatened by rising intolerance and Muslim extremists, particularly those from the authoritarian Middle East.

I lost count of how many times speakers at the conference referred, in an almost casual way, to Indonesian “riots,” largely organized by Muslim radicals, some of which led to killings.

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