This is the message of Southeast Asian Muslim moderates to the rest of the world who, stricken with fear of terrorism, may harbor biases against Islam. The moderate Muslims of Southeast Asia are banding together to make their voices heard in various regional and world discussions, particularly on the issues of peace and tolerance. In a press conference following the First Southeast Asian Forum on Islam and Democracy in Manila on Thursday, Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID), said that the the regions Muslims committed to work together to emphasize the "moderate" voice of Muslims in the region.
A former senator and chair of the pro-literacy organization, Magbassa Kita Foundation, Santanina Rasul said that following the World Trade Center terrorist attack in New York on September 11, 2001, Muslims were made to appear to be in conflict with the rest of the world. The views of the Muslims, after that, were mostly represented by the Islamic extremists, she said.
"This forum will serve as a venue for the intellectual democrats of the region to project voices of Muslim moderates and not the views of the extremists. Finally the moderates will have a voice," said Rasul.
A delegation made up of 44 experts and leaders representing various Islamic think tanks, universities, religious, and civil society groups from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore gathered at the Manila Hotel this week as the country hosted the First Southeast Asian Forum on Islam and Democracy. As home to more than 200 million adherents of Islam, the forum highlighted the importance of representing the true voice of Islam in democratization and such pressing concerns such as ethnic conflicts, discrimination, and free and fair elections.
Dr. Syafii Anwar of the Jakarta-based International Center for Islam and Pluralism said in the briefing that the Southeast Asian forum would need time to expand and organize its network to be able to respond to issues affecting Muslims in the region.
For now, the group intends to use the forum to have a platform for the Muslims in the region in exchanging views and sharing experiences, according to him. In a statement, the regional forum said they wanted a mechanism to systematically engage and educate the world about the true tenets of the Islamic faith.
"Islam is often associated today with terrorism or violence. This is not a true reflection of Islamic values. Muslims, particularly Muslims in Southeast Asia, firmly believe in human rights, tolerance, and equality, as do the majority of Muslims in the world," said the elder Rasul.