A gentle breeze was blowing from a nearby hill, the noon call to prayer resounding from the top of a mosque in the compound of an Islamic boarding school.
Not far from the mosque, several people building a private temple in the yard of a Hindu family’s house began their noon break under a shady tree. The grunts of cows could be heard now and again and an air of peace prevailed.
Banuroja is the name of this place boasting a model multiethnic community. The migrant village’s name is an acronym for Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, Gorontalo and Java.
The remote village 250 kilometers from the city of Gorontalo has an Islamic boarding school, Salafiyah Syafi’iyah, that faces a large temple on a hill. A Protestant church and Pentecostal church are also in the neighborhood.
The presence of places of religious worship in such close proximity reflects the tolerance and harmony among believers in the community. “Tolerance is upheld by all religious followers and ethnic groups here,” said I Wayan Adhe, 56, a temple worker and Hindu communal chief in Banuroja.
Fostering diversity: I Wayan Adhe is a temple worker and Hindu communal chief in plural Banuroja village.
Banuroja in Randangan district, Pohuwato regency, accommodates nine ethnic groups — Toraja, Minahasa, Sangihe, Bali, Java, Lombok, Bugis, Batak and Gorontalo — and three religions: Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.
There are no awkward feelings among Banuroja residents living in such a plural atmosphere. Hindus, for example, often attend lectures and help maintain security at the Muslim school’s monthly Koran recitation programs, as well as visit local Christians to extend Christmas greetings.
Similarly, on the Hindu Day of Silence, Muslims and Christians in the village respect the religious holiday by minimizing the use of loudspeakers and church bells at their places of worship.
According to I Wayan Adhe who hails from Gianyar in Bali, religions nurture goodness among followers, so all believers should appreciate each others’ ways of worship.
Pluralism and tolerance can also be observed at Salafiyah Syafi’iyah, headed by KH. Abdul Ghofur Nawawi. The school, which offers all levels of formal education, has three Hindu vocational high school students, five Hindu college
students and four Christian college students.
“They’re willing to study here without being forced. A Hindu has become our vocational high school teacher and the soccer coach of our boarding school is a Christian minister,” Abdul, 68, said smiling.
During lessons about Islam, the non-Muslim students remain in class and listen to their teachers, according to Abdul. For their own religions, the students receive instruction from their respective religious figures.
The boarding school also teaches tolerance, which is included in its curricula as local content.
The respected figure is also a major source of information on the history of Banuroja. Kiai Ghofur, as Abdul is commonly called, was part of the first batch of migrants to inhabit the area in the early 1980s.
That first group was composed of people coming from Java, Bali and West Nusa Tenggara, with 35 percent Muslim, 30 percent Hindu and 35 percent Christian. Later, Kiai Ghofur said, the composition changed to two percent Christian, 35 percent Hindu and the rest Muslim.
Leader: KH. Abdul Ghofur Nawawi, better known as Kiai Ghofur, runs the Salafiyah Syafi’iyah school in Banuroja.
Realizing the pluralist structure of the community, Kiai Ghofur said leaders of the different faiths agreed to give prominence to tolerance and harmony. The consensus was achieved without any written accord. Sadly, he noted, the religious harmony in Banuroja has often been used to uphold the regional administration’s image.
“I can affirm that Banuroja’s religious tolerance has been fostered without any intervention by the regional administration. They’ve never provided any guidance or assistance in whatever form, except for the use of this fame to sell Banuroja at the national level,” he said.
Nonetheless, the people of Banuroja have never bothered about the matter. Local religious leaders and the faithful have continued to preserve their friendships. Any emerging problems and potential for friction have always been promptly overcome.
In early 2000, for example, not long after the riots in Ambon and Poso in Central Sulawesi broke out, Banuroja, located near the Gorontalo-Central Sulawesi border, was visited by a number of people claiming to be members of an Islamic jihad troop that tried to influence village residents.
“They came to persuade local Muslims to join their jihad, causing anxiety among the other religious leaders. I myself asked them to leave immediately, because it’s not the right way to wage a jihad in the path of Allah,” said the man from Cirebon in West Java. In his view, the essence of jihad in Islam is the control of one’s desires.
Geser Singon, a Pentecostal church minister in the village, said besides tolerance and friendship, mutual assistance is also a key factor contributing to religious harmony in Banuroja, with a population of only 1,137.
The 55-year-old from Minahasa, North Sulawesi, said tolerance, friendship and mutual assistance had been practiced for generations, and was an effective formula for maintaining religious harmony. The village administration has also always accommodated the interests of the ethnic and religious groups there.
Geser, once chairman of the village head election committee, said the election of village head was not based on a certain ethnic or religious majority. “Banuroja used to be headed by a Christian, which was a minority group. Now the village head is a Muslim. It’s the leadership quality that counts,” said the present chairman of the Village Consultative Board of Banuroja.
His statement was confirmed by Ahmad Wahid, 40, Banuroja’s village head since January 2012, who said that the structure of official positions in the village administration should represent all ethnic and religious groups.
The man from West Nusa Tenggara who migrated to Banuroja in 1981 referred as examples to the Hindu chairman of the Community Empowerment Institute (LPM) and the village secretary, a native of Gorontalo.
Developed: A Hindu temple is being constructed in the yard of a home in Banuroja village. The name is a combination of Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, Gorontalo and Java, places where the residents of the village hail from.
Banuroja is virtually a miniature Indonesia, the village a laboratory where tolerance, mutual respect and harmony are nurtured and developed.
In Banuroja, the beautiful things that are part of diversity — yet frequently a point of contention — are practiced and fostered with sincerity and reverence. — Photos By Syamsul Huda M.Suhari
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