In response to more than 25 years of violence and armed struggle in the province of Aceh, Indonesia, a group of academics and activists have undertaken the task of creating a peace education curriculum grounded in the core Islamic peace beliefs and rooted in the Acehnese social and cultural values.
Islam, derived from the word salam, peace, is at the core of its very name, a religion of peace.
Many times miscalculated as a religion of vengeance and retribution, Islam on a global scale has received defamatory attention in recent times. Yet its truest practitioners continue to quote the Qu’ran as a book of peacemaking directives.
Inequity, violence and a highly traumatized population serve as the backdrop for this curriculum and the accompanying teacher and student trainings. Many rural Acehnese are under-educated, while the city of Banda Aceh is experiencing a rapid rate of urbanization. These factors contribute to a level of dissatisfaction with the centralized Indonesian government, and cause the Acehnese to become further entrenched in the separatist movement.
In the past year alone more than 600 people have been killed in Aceh. Nearly every Acehnese has a story of witness to violence. Few are untouched by the bloody struggle.
For the past three decades, violence has been the modus operandi for resolving conflicts in Aceh. The GAM (Free Aceh Movement) and Indonesian military routinely and aggressively perpetrate acts of violence which often catch civilians in the crossfire. Like many international conflicts, the blame and frustration is so deep and the feelings so hot that this power struggle has assumed a life of its own.
Young people angry at the disparity of wealth and inaccess to better education and thus a better life have taken up arms to ameliorate their situation. Admittedly they recognize that weapons are a quick fix and permit no long-term solution, but are good tools for getting revenge and perpetuating the conflict.
Recognizing that violence only perpetuates more violence, the curriculum team began developing a peace education program for high school-aged students as well as teachers, and over the past year has conducted trainings and workshops which have reached both private and public schools throughout Aceh.
Thus far, the Acehnese academic community, including students, teachers, administrators and government officials, have embraced this peace initiative with open arms. Led by Director, Dr. Asna Husin, supported by UNICEF, AusAID, and the Washington, DC-based non-profit Nonviolence International, this curriculum seeks to bring an active, dynamic peace perspective to Aceh so that future generations of Acehnese need not live under the same threatening conditions that currently exist.
Six basic principles form the foundation for the curriculum: Introspection and Sincerity, Rights and Responsibilities, Conflict and Violence, Democracy and Justice, Plurality of Creation, and Paths to Peace. Embedded in the lessons in these chapters are crucial Acehnese proverbs that have superficial as well as deeper meanings for bringing about peace and justice.
Central to the curriculum is the teaching that Allah desires peace. It is not enough to have peace just between the individual and Allah, however. If there is injustice or inequality among humans, then Allah is not satisfied. Moreover, Islam teaches that peace is not a receptive, passive condition where only self-interests are served. Rather peace is a dynamic which must be continually refined, redefined and struggled to achieve.
In achieving peace, humans must examine our wants and needs. We all experience social, spiritual, physical and psychological needs, all of which must be kept in a rough balance to maintain peace. Our excessive wants, however, are often the cause of conflict and violence because this means that others needs are not being met.
The peace paradigm this curriculum espouses is one where Allah encompasses the realms of peace within, peace in the community, and peace with nature. The Aceh peace education curriculum teaches that in Islam, nature is meant to serve our needs not our wants.
Therefore, to have peace with Allah and peace between human beings, we must also respect the peace that exists in nature and not take advantage of natural resources which bring great wealth to a few and great poverty to many. It is the economic injustices that are perpetrated at a structural level which cause tremendous personal violence on an individual level.
In Aceh, peacemaking is not a theory or hypothetical question to be answered with leisure. It is an inventive means for proactively addressing the systemic, militaristic and interpersonal violence which disrupt every corner of society.
*Leah C. Wells serves as Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. She is currently in Aceh contributing to the student nonviolence trainings.