SYDNEY, Australia, June 27 (JTA) — Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid told a meeting of leaders of Australia’s major religious communities that he has “learned very much from Judaism.”
Wahid, a Muslim, made his comments during a meeting Tuesday with the leaders, who included representatives of the Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths.
He said that one of his closest friends had “taught him the history of the Holocaust and of the Diaspora experience.”
“I cried together with him,” he added, before criticizing “Saddam’s madness” — a reference to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein — and the mistreatment of Jewish minorities in Arab countries.
Wahid, who was a leader in international interfaith dialogue prior to his election in 1999, told the group that the essence of Islam is to respect other faiths and that the Koran teaches that human beings are made into tribes in order to learn from each other, not to kill each other.
As the political leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Wahid stressed that Indonesia could only function as a healthy society when Islam is nonpolitical and nonideological, but functions as a code of morality.
Expanding on the theme of what Muslims can learn from Judaism, he told the meeting that he had requested material on the Kabbalah, Jewish mystical teachings.
He responded enthusiastically when told by one of the Jewish participants in the meeting that he would be presented with books on the subject at a state dinner scheduled to follow the dialogue, organized by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.
Wahid also said that he had a great deal of respect for ecumencial developments within the Catholic Church, beginning with the Second Vatican Council during the 1960s, and that his “hero” was Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi.