Au­thor seeks a lighter side of Is­lam


Around the time half a mil­lion In­done­sian Mus­lims packed Jakarta’s na­tional mon­u­ment park in late 2016 to pray for the blas­phemy con­vic­tion of the city’s Chris­tian gov­er­nor, Feby Indi­rani de­cided to test re­ac­tion to her new col­lec­tion of religious par­o­dies by pub­lish­ing one on­line.

It’s fair to say the feed­back to Baby Wants to Con­vert, in which a pig called Baby seeks per­mis­sion to con­vert to Is­lam, was mixed.

There was anger, of course, given the rise of Is­lamic con­ser­vatism in the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim na­tion, but also cu­rios­ity and even re­lief.

“Some peo­ple found it eye­open­ing,’’ says Indi­rani, a Jakarta jour­nal­ist turned au­thor who says she turned to fic­tion to have a con­ver­sa­tion about re­li­gion that oth­er­wise might not be tol­er­ated. “Some peo­ple found it shock­ing. Some even felt sym­pa­thy for the pig.

“The beauty of fic­tion is it is re­ally open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion and peo­ple can be trig­gered without be­ing of­fended. That’s im­por­tant be­cause right now (in In­done­sia) one group is en­forc­ing their religious in­ter­pre­ta­tion on oth­ers.”

Her an­thol­ogy of hu­mor­ous short sto­ries, Not Vir­gin Mary, in­cludes one about a sui­cide bomber who dis­cov­ers there are no vir­gins await­ing him in the af­ter­life; the night­shift worker who fan­ta­sises about killing the loud muezzin at the lo­cal mosque; and one in which the devil is sent back to Earth in the guise of an imam.

Indi­rani, from a tra­di­tional Mus­lim fam­ily, says she is not try­ing to poke the bear but to en­cour­age peo­ple to wear their re­li­gion more lightly.

“These are things In­done­sians talk about all the time”, the fact that hours-long ser­mons and call to prayers can be ir­ri­tat­ing, as can reg­u­larly clogged streets dur­ing Fri­day prayers.

“It’s just peo­ple are more anx­ious talk­ing about them these days.

“Un­der Suharto, it was hard for In­done­sians to ex­press their opin­ions without fear. Now that regime has been repli­cated by the fun­da­men­tal­ist groups. Many peo­ple say they feel as though they have a cen­sor in their heads — like Or­well’s 1984.”

Find­ing a pub­lisher wasn’t easy. When she did (in­de­pen­dent Pra­bikul­tur), Indi­rani de­cided the book should be launched as part of a broader counter-nar­ra­tive she calls Re­lax, It’s Just Re­li­gion.

The 10-day event last July in­cluded an art ex­hi­bi­tion, dis­cus­sions, and work­shops on how to prac­tise religious re­lax­ation, based on a man­i­festo she de­vised with her psy­chol­o­gist sis­ter.

There was also a mes­sage board where peo­ple were en­cour­aged to write ques­tions about re­li­gion they were too afraid to ask.

Some wanted to know why God al­lowed peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths to fall in love if in­ter-religious mar­riage was so wrong; were there pigs in heaven; would they go to hell if they voted for the Chris­tian gov­er­nor?

Indi­rani be­lieves fun­da­men­tal­ism has crept up on tra­di­tion­ally tol­er­ant In­done­sians, cit­ing grow­ing pres­sure to wear the hi­jab and in­creas­ing use of the blas­phemy laws, and that it is now up to mod- er­ate Mus­lims to cham­pion a counter move­ment.

This week UN hu­man rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein warned of ris­ing “strains of in­tol­er­ance” and ex­trem­ism in In­done­sia as par­lia­ment con­sid­ers ban­ning sex out­side of mar­riage.

He also took aim at In­done­sia’s “ill-de­fined blas­phemy laws”, used by Is­lamic vig­i­lante groups against for­mer Jakarta gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja “Ahok” Pur­nama, who is now in jail for blas­phemy.

“The hard­lin­ers have al­ways been there but mod­er­ates have al­ways thought of them as a small fringe group,” says Indi­rani.

“I be­lieved that, too, but in 2016 a group we thought was small be­came more in­flu­en­tial and now they have mo­men­tum.”

Mo­men­tum be­hind Re­lax, It’s Just Re­li­gion is also build­ing. Artists, writ­ers, pub­lish­ers and even In­done­sia’s Religious Af­fairs Min­is­ter are lend­ing sup­port.

A religious re­lax­ation road­show is in the works, as is a pro­posal to adapt some of the short sto­ries from Not Vir­gin Mary for film. An English trans­la­tion of the book is out in May.


‘The beauty of fic­tion is it is re­ally open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion’: Feby Indi­rani in Jakarta

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.