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By the way: Marriage and religion, the pursuit of hospitality

Duncan Graham

The Jakarta Post

Malang, East Java  /  Fri, January 3, 2020  /  11:59 am
By the way: Marriage and religion, the pursuit of hospitality

If custom and religious law had been upheld, I’d be without my wife.

That’s because she wouldn’t have been born.

Let’s examine that enigma: The man who became her father committed a great sin before he married. He committed apostasy.

For leaving Islam and converting to Protestantism to wed the Minahasa woman who’d eventually become my mother-in-law, he risked the wrath of his Javanese parents. They’d raised him to be Muslim pure.

Overseas the penalty for apostasy can vary from banishment to imprisonment, even execution. Fortunately, Indonesia is not so brutal. Had my late father-in-law been in a Middle East country like Qatar, Somalia or Sudan, he’d have been hung or beheaded.

Next door in Malaysia, he could have been detained and “re-educated” like the Chinese are allegedly doing to the Uighurs in Xinjiang. In Brunei, the penalty is 30 years in jail.

That would have taught him to be careful about the books on his shelf. I have Al Koran alongside Al Kitab. Presumably that’s halal, because page-turning by a kafir (unbeliever) might lead to some form of revelation.

In fact, I enjoy the language more than the messages – but don’t tell anyone as we’d rather not have zealots seeking our street. They’d be unwelcome, because our Muslim neighbors accept our berkatan (blessed meals) following celebrations, and we theirs when distributed after khitan (circumcisions). Never stir the food-givers for they are the blessed ones, beloved by weary cooks.

Although Indonesia currently doesn’t prohibit switching religions, the US Congress Law Library claims either the Indonesian Penal Code or a 1965 Presidential Decision on blasphemy could apply.

Indonesian law forbids “every individual […] in public from intentionally conveying, endorsing or attempting to gain public support in the interpretation of a certain religion embraced by the people of Indonesia or undertaking religious based activities that resemble the religious activities of the religion in question”.

That legalese might encourage a furious community to make life so damn miserable that the apostate has to flee. 

There was more tolerance in the 1950s when my father-in-law agreed to attend church on Sundays and forgo Fridays in the mosque so he could woo his lady. His government career wasn’t damaged, as he was rapidly promoted and went on to lead two major departments.

Sukarno was running the show then and setting an example in freedom of (male) choice by having at least nine wives. Of course, the Lothario-in-chief was more interested in laying than praying, but the naysayers were a minority.

The proof that my father-in-law didn’t get showered with spittle and stones was clear this Christmas when a bus-load of his relatives turned up to break bread with my mother-in-law’s mob as they celebrated the birth of their prophet.

Women in jilbab (headscarves) gossiped at speed and length with their bare-headed cousins under a cross on the wall. They cracked jokes, ate the same foods and never asked if they were halal. Just as well, because we didn’t know.

Passers-by peering through the open gates would have seen religious harmony. Why is that so difficult to achieve in the wider community?

One answer has to be ignorance. Only one of the Indonesian Protestants at our get-together had ever entered a mosque and none of the Muslims a church. Most were bemused by my question – as though I’d asked why they breathe.

The other answer is fear. The action of visiting another’s place of worship might infect their soul with an incurable virus.

There are more fallacious fables of secret rituals and devices snaring the religiously weak than Donald Trump’s hoax news alerts. Holy water carries infections. Ghosts lurk in Catholic statuary. Like motion alarms they can detect unbelievers. 

Just seeing the beautiful and elaborate Arabic calligraphy will taint a Christian’s mind and they’ll never understand the Bible again.

So my wife told of her experiences in New Zealand, where the Wellington Kilbirnie Mosque has annual open days and runs guided tours. Much enlightenment. No conversion attempted.

Malang’s Islamic University Rector Masykuri Bakri once called 600 non-Muslims to his campus for an inter-faith event. I wanted to know if he’d been inspired by visiting churches. He replied: “I haven’t been in any. I’ve never been asked”.

Insya Allah, my extended family will meet again in late May to jointly celebrate Idul Fitri. We non-Muslims have been invited. We know what to expect. No fear. Amen.

-- Duncan Graham


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