Opinion

An irony to religious tolerance

It has been years of agony for GKI Taman Yasmin Protestant church congregation members as Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto has defied a Supreme Court decision to allow them to attend Sunday mass in their place of worship.

Budiarto’s bureaucratic move reflects the failure of not only law enforcement in the city, but also of the country’s civil justice system.

A number of civil society groups under the Bhineka Tunggal Ika Forum, which also includes Muhammadiyah Student Association and Nahdatul Ulama’s Indonesian Islamic Student Association, have tried to resolve the issue to no avail. The Asian chapter of Human Rights Watch and the World Church Conference have also stepped in, but their efforts did not work either.

Indeed, the Bogor case reflects the irony of Indonesian religious tolerance, which has been dubbed a global model for inter-faith relations. In an international discussion at the Islamic Studies Program at the Graduate Theological Union Berkeley, Marriane Farrina, a professor in Christian-Muslim dialogue, ranked Indonesia among the most preferable sites of peaceful relations among religions.

Thus, in the eyes of the international community, Indonesia is an interesting phenomenon where Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists can live in one house or get along side-by-side peacefully.

Is Bogor a reflection of religious relations on the whole in Indonesia? I do believe that Islam is a blessing for the universe and what’s happening in Bogor doesn’t reflect the general state of religious relations in Indonesia. I would rather say Budiarto represents his political allies’ perspective instead that of Indonesian Muslims.

The contribution of Muhammadiyah and Nahdatul Ulama youth groups in efforts to resolve the case proves my point.

My research on Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Indonesia has come up with a unique Christian-Muslim relationship in Hunitetu land (negeri) in Maluku. Hunitetu is a predominantly Christian society with only one Muslim member of its population. Fascinatingly, the current Raja, the traditional leader of the area, is a Muslim. The only Muslim leads the Christian community.

Culturally speaking, the example of the negeri shows that unprejudiced relations are possible. The collective memory narrates that they are more Hunitetu people than Christians or Muslims.

Here, the Christian people of Hunitetu feel no problem for having a Muslim Raja as for folk narrative opens the gates of tolerance and respect for others. Hence, the Hunitetu cultural narrative, which perceives other religions with a friendly image, unites people regardless of their religious affiliation.

From the perspective of the collective memory, cultural relations create a “topos” or common ground for religious relations in the minds of the people. Besides relations within the Hunitetu community, a strong cultural attachment (Gandong or blood relationship) with Latu, a Muslim negeri, strengthens the collective memory of the friendly image. Therefore, with such a cultural relationship, communities would have a communal image of peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians.

Budiarto and his allies’ beliefs are the enemy image of other religions. Their beliefs have nothing to do with economic status or education levels. People in Hunitetu who live in poverty and go to elementary or high schools do not mind to be led by Muslims since their cultural narrative has created a friendly image toward Islam.

Unlike Bogor, which has advanced levels of education, Hunitetu does not have any colleges or universities. Therefore, comparing Hunitetu with Bogor also leads me to criticize the common theory of religious conflict, which blames poverty and a lack of education for religious violence. In my opinion, the core factor of religious violence is political interest.

Junaid Rana’s book Terrifying Muslims supports my study. His study of terror in Pakistan argues that orientalism and colonialism are the source of religious violence (Rana: 2011, 52-53). Hatred toward Christians in Pakistan is triggered by the image of the enemy. In memory of narrow-minded Muslims in Pakistan, Christianity came to Pakistan through Western missionaries, so Christianity is the enemy of Islam because of its attachment with the Western paradigm.

However, Islam teaches Muslims to respect and tolerate people of other religions. The Prophet Muhammad’s understanding of the Christian prophet Waraqah’s prophecy upon his prophethood, the first Hijrah (migration) of the Prophet Muhammad to Abbesyah (a Christian kingdom) and when he graciously allowed a Christian delegation from Najran to pray in the Nabawi Mosque after a long, peaceful discussion with the Prophet are historical foundations of peaceful relations between these two Abrahamic religions.

Political agendas and the construction of an image of “the enemy” have driven Budiarto and his allies away from the peaceful relations that the Prophet established in the Golden Age of Islam. Removing political interests is the best way to resolve the GKI Taman Yasmin case. As Nietzsche said, politics assumes that there is always a strategic victory (Hyde 2010:44). Thus, politics is always seeking a strategic victory, not amicable action.

In the Benedict Anderson concept, Indonesians live in an imagined community. Although one never knows or meets his/her national fellow, the imagination binds people as a community (2006: 6). Living in an imagined community, Indonesia needs to develop a friendly image, or else it will not achieve persatuan (unity) but persatean (coerced unity).

The GKI Taman Yasmin case is a challenge for Indonesia as a nation, and whether or not it can manage its imagined community. At this point, the friendly image serves as a lesson from the Hunitetu community to promote better interfaith relations in Indonesia.

The writer is a Fulbright PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union Berkeley and an extended member of North California Islamic Cultural Center.

Post Your Say

Selected comments will be published in the Readers’ Forum page of our print newspaper.