In In­done­sia, a mosque and a church fos­ter friend­ship

DE­SPITE DIF­FER­ENT FAITHS, THE HOUSES OF WOR­SHIP ARE FRIENDLY, HELP­FUL NEIGH­BOURS

Gulf News - - ASIA -

n a tree-lined side street in the In­done­sian cap­i­tal sits a colo­nial-era Protes­tant church with rus­tic wooden pews and stained-glass win­dows, and an an­tique pipe or­gan built into a large wall be­hind the altar.

Across the street is a mod­ern, 100,000-square-foot mosque with tow­er­ing arches at its en­trances and a cav­ernous prayer area laid wall-towall with red car­pet.

De­spite their dif­fer­ent faiths, the two houses of wor­ship are friendly, help­ful neigh­bours — and an ex­am­ple of plu­ral­ism in the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tion at a time of height­ened fears over re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance.

“We re­spect each other,” said Nur Alam, an imam at the Sunda Ke­lapa Grand Mosque, which opened in 1971. “If we never of­fend other peo­ple, then we will be re­spected.”

Across the street, Adri­aan Pi­toy is a pas­tor at St. Paul’s Church, which was built in 1936 un­der the Dutch colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Our re­la­tion­ship is just one of many steps we take,” he said of the neigh­bours at the mosque. “We also go to other mosques to pro­mote di­a­logue. Our re­la­tion­ship with our friends next door is nor­mal.”

For the two houses of wor­ship, nor­mal means shar­ing park­ing spa­ces dur­ing busier ser­vices: Fri­day Prayer for the mosque, Sun­day Mass for the church. They also host in­ter­faith di­a­logue ses­sions, and even volleyball tour­na­ments. Dur­ing Ra­madan, the Mus­lim holy fast­ing month, the staff at St. Paul’s, some of whom are Mus­lim, carry boxes of food to the mosque for wor­ship­pers there to break their fast.

This type of re­li­gious har­mony among neigh­bour­ing houses of wor­ship is ev­i­dent not just in Jakarta, but across the In­done­sian ar­chi­pel­ago. About 90 per cent of In­done­sia’s 260 mil­lion peo­ple are iden­ti­fied as Mus­lim, but the coun­try also has small but in­flu­en­tial Chris­tian, Hindu, Bud­dhist and Con­fu­cian pop­u­la­tions.

Yet these friendly re­la­tions are reg­u­larly over­shad­owed by in­ter­na­tional news re­ports and so­cial me­dia posts about racial in­tol­er­ance and fears of the “Is­lami­sa­tion” of In­done­sia.

In re­cent years, there have been hun­dreds of cases of hard­line Is­lamic groups ha­rass­ing, at­tack­ing and in some cases even killing re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in­clud­ing Chris­tians, Shi­ites and mem­bers of the Ah­madiyah, and forcibly clos­ing hun­dreds of churches and other houses of wor­ship across the coun­try.

Then there is In­done­sia’s do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism, dat­ing back to 2000, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple bomb­ings and at­tacks in Jakarta and the re­sort is­land of Bali by ter­ror­ist cells that pledged loy­alty to Al Qaida or Daesh.

Hard­line groups

“If you see the ac­tions of these hard­line groups, and threats from Daesh, or In­done­sian mil­i­tants com­ing back from Syria, they are a threat to in­ter­faith co­op­er­a­tion in In­done­sia,” said Theophilus Bela, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Jakarta Chris­tian Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Fo­rum.

A re­cent lo­cal chal­lenge to re­li­gious har­mony can be found in the case of Jakarta gover­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama who is serv­ing a two-year sen­tence for blas­phem­ing Is­lam in a case that ig­nited vi­o­lent street marches through Jakarta by hard­line Is­lamist groups. They de­manded he be pros­e­cuted or lynched out­right for cit­ing a verse of the Qu­ran that warns Mus­lims against tak­ing Chris­tians and Jews as al­lies.

De­spite the case and its stok­ing of Mus­lim-Chris­tian ten­sions, both Nur and Pi­toy con­tend that the episode of Ba­suki was more po­lit­i­cal than re­li­gious. “The peo­ple of In­done­sia know that there have been con­flicts among re­li­gious groups, but ac­tu­ally it’s not re­ally just be­cause of re­li­gious faith, but maybe it’s po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and things like that,” Pi­toy said.

In re­sponse to the fall of Ba­suki, who used to at­tend Sun­day Mass at St. Paul’s, In­done­sia’s pres­i­dent, Joko Wi­dodo, one of his key po­lit­i­cal al­lies, es­tab­lished a spe­cial task force to re­in­force the coun­try’s state ide­ol­ogy, known as Pan­casila, which en­shrines plu­ral­ism.

Nur and Pi­toy both said In­done­sia’s core prob­lem with re­li­gion is not in­tol­er­ance, but a lack of ed­u­ca­tion and un­der­stand­ing among its peo­ple. Less than half of all In­done­sians have com­pleted pri­mary school, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s sta­tis­ti­cal bu­reau.

“In­done­sia is Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity — you have to ac­cept it — but the lower class has a very sim­ple knowl­edge” of Is­lam, Nur said. “That is why, if you want to know about the essence of Is­lam, which is peace and tol­er­ance, study the Qu­ran.”

Pas­tor at St Paul’s Church

New York Times

The Sunda Ke­lapa Grand Mosque (top) and St Paul’s Church (above) are an ex­am­ple of re­li­gious co-ex­is­tence in the Mus­lim na­tion. This type of har­mony among neigh­bour­ing houses of wor­ship is ev­i­dent not just in Jakarta, but across the In­done­sian ar­chi­pel­ago.

New York Times

The Sunda Ke­lapa mosque in Jakarta shares its park­ing lot, meals, games and in­ter­faith ses­sions with St Paul’s church.

New York Times

A Mus­lim woman sells tis­sue out­side Jakarta’s St Paul’s church. Chris­tians share friendly re­la­tions with Mus­lims.

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