It is interesting to study the results of a Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) survey regarding Indonesia’s inter-religious relations (The Jakarta Post, June 6). Regardless of its validity and reliability due to the lack of respondent representation, one thing needs deep consideration.
The survey points out that the government is not the only cause of religious intolerance in Indonesia, but that society is also to blame. As seen by the respondents’ answers, religious intolerance is evident among communities.
The Indonesian government may fail to enforce the law and uphold the principle of “Unity in Diversity” through many ways. This is not to mention the unwillingness of the government to act firmly against perpetrators of religious intolerance.
Yet, the problem itself, according to the survey, lies in society. Reluctance among communities to acknowledge other’s rights, particularly freedom of religion, has led to such intolerance.
Despite the fact that the government guarantees freedom of religion, society in the survey shows that this is not true, particularly when it comes to building places of worship of different faiths.
As a predominantly Muslim country, the assumption of intolerance seems to be directed toward Muslim communities.
Some observers may think this true as there is a tendency of “santrinization” (“madrasa-ization”) as confirmed by Azyumardi Azra (in his paper Islam in Southeast Asia: Tolerance and Radicalism, presented at the University of Melbourne, April 6, 2005).
A classic study by Clifford Geertz in 1960s, published in his book Religion of Java, proves that Islam in Indonesia is not monolithic. There are at least three major societies of Islam in Indonesia, particularly in Java. These are Abangan, Santri and Priyayi. The Islamic society grouping certainly creates different behavior.
Both Abangan and Priyayi criticize madrasa students who think very highly of themselves regarding morality based on Islamic values. This can be understood as Abangan and Priyayi call themselves Muslims, but in practice they tend to make the religion congruous with animistic beliefs.
Yet, Abangan and Priyayi have different social statuses. While the Priyayi hold a higher social, political and economic level in society, the Abangan usually live in rural areas and work as farmers as well as laborers.
On the other hand, the madrasa students firmly adhere to Islamic law and practice their way of life accordingly. Most of them live in urban areas and work as merchants.
“Santrinization,” according to Azyumardi, happens in the light of Islamic schools and madrasa that are widespread in urban areas. The presence of Islamic educational institutions certainly changes the worldview of Muslims and plays an important role in modernizing Muslim society.
This is in accordance with a strong tendency toward Islamic lifestyles, emulated by Muslims. The significant number of annual pilgrims demonstrates this.
In line with an improvement in their economic standing, Muslims obviously want to demonstrate their obedience to the fifth pillar of Islam.
In addition, an increasing amount of religious alms and donations are distributed to poor Muslims. This is not to mention a tendency to establish Islamic institutions in Indonesia, such as Islamic banks, known also as sharia banks, Islamic insurance and Islamic credit unions.
However, there are at least two reasons to debunk the perception that Muslim society is the only cause of religious intolerance in Indonesia.
First, the increasing number of madrasa students does not necessarily lead Muslims to act hostile toward other religious groups.
There is another psychological mechanism that leads to a “hater” becoming a perpetrator of violence. Kumar Ramakrishna calls this a “situated individual personality.” (Radical Pathways: Understanding Muslim Radicalization in Indonesia, 2009). They may dislike other groups but they do not necessarily participate in violence.
According to the Situationists, it does not matter “who you are but where you are”. They believe that radicalization is a product of interaction between identity, culture and personality that resulted from environment and small group context.
Second, religious intolerance in Indonesia is an action-reaction process. Muslims are not the only community in Indonesia. Other ethnic and religious groups live in coexistence with Muslim society, such as Christians.
Like Islam, Christianity in Indonesia is also diverse. There is Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, Charismatic and so forth (Robbie B.H. Goh, Christianity in Southeast Asia, 2005). Accordingly, they act and practice their faith differently based on their culture and doctrine.
Their diversity consequently leads each group to establish its own places of worship. This explains why in the same region there can be more than one church, even though the congregation is not many.
The principle of so-called church denomination has created this situation. Each group perceives its doctrine as the best. This subsequently triggers polarization among Christians.
Worse, the Christ’s Great Commission has been misconstrued. To some extent, it is assumed to collect as many congregation members as possible.
This situation arguably is perceived as a threat by other societies, mainly Muslims. This undoubtedly triggers religious intolerance.
Here, the role of religious leaders is important. Inter-religious dialogue is certainly needed.
Yet, it should not be merely talk among religious leaders. The substance has to be passed onto their congregations and implemented.
In addition, intra-religious dialogue should not be neglected. Dialogue is vital, in particular on the Christian side, to establish unity as well as to implement policies to support religious harmony.
Certainly, this would all be complementary to government efforts to maintain religious harmony in this country.
The writer is a lecturer at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the Indonesian Christian University, Jakarta