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Jakarta Post

Merry Christmas: Interfaith tolerance colors joyful celebration in Indonesia's regions

  • Suherdjoko, Asip Hasani and Apriadi Gunawan

    The Jakarta Post

Semarang, Blitar and Medan   /   Wed, December 25, 2019   /   05:48 pm
Merry Christmas: Interfaith tolerance colors joyful celebration in Indonesia's regions The second Christmas Eve mass at the Cathedral Church in Central Jakarta on Tuesday. (JP/Dionnasius Aditya)

Despite reports that Christians in some regions faced problems as they were due to celebrate Christmas, religious groups and communities in many regions have proven that interfaith tolerance is still the norm in the archipelago.

Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), for instance, took to Twitter to post a Christmas greeting, seemingly brushing aside prolonged debate over whether saying “Merry Christmas” is permissible for Muslims.

“The Nahdlatul Ulama Central Board wishes Christians a Merry Christmas. May peace be upon us all. Amen,” the organization said via its Twitter account, @nahdlatululama.

Although the greeting sparked debate among Muslim netizens, many people expressed their respect for the example of religious tolerance promoted by the group.

In Semarang, Central Java, students of Roudlotul Solohin Pesantren (Islamic boarding school) from Demak gave a rebana tambourine performance to accompany the Mater Dei Church choir performance in Lamper Kidul on Wednesday morning.

The collaboration between the faiths surprised congregants attending morning services, with attendees recording the performance on their phones.

The pesantren’s caretaker, Abdul Qodir, said the collaboration was in line with the school’s vision to educate students to be capable of accepting all kinds of differences.

“This is a concrete example of that vision. We came to this church to mangayubagyo [be happy] with our Christian fellows,” Qodir said.

Mater Dei Church head priest Father Sugihartanto appreciated the participation of students from Demak.

“This is proof that people want to be united. We are all part of this nation contributing to civilization, so we must do what’s best for the nation. Christmas is that moment to reiterate that spirit,” he said.

Students of Roudlotul Solohin Pesantren (Islamic boarding school) from Demak gave a rebana tambourine performance to accompany the Mater Dei Church choir performance in Lamper Kidul on Wednesday morning in Semarang, Central Java.Students of Roudlotul Solohin Pesantren (Islamic boarding school) from Demak gave a rebana tambourine performance to accompany the Mater Dei Church choir performance in Lamper Kidul on Wednesday morning in Semarang, Central Java. (Courtesy of Central Java Provincial Administration/-)

In Blitar, East Java, authorities along with representatives of interfaith communities and youth organizations visited several churches ahead of services on Tuesday evening.

Dubbed Patroli Kebangsaan, young people of various faiths and representatives of student organizations the Indonesian Islamic Student Movement (PMII), Islamic Student Association (HMI) and Indonesian Nationalist Student Movement (GMNI) joined the church visit.

Speaking from the altar podium of Maria Fatima Catholic Church in Garum, Blitar Regent Rijanto said religious tolerance in Blitar had long existed, yet it should be nourished among the younger generation.

“Therefore, as we see here, young people from various religions have come along with us to see our brothers who are celebrating Christmas,” Rijanto said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Muslims in Semarang helped their Christian fellows with Christmas preparations at Gedono Monastery, which welcomed the visit of Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo.

Santri (Islamic boarding school students), though still wearing their peci (caps), gave their respects to the older nuns by kissing their hands, while Muslim women clad in hijab helped the nuns inside the building.

“We are used to helping around here. We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. The residents here can blend in and get along well,” Damirah, 50, a local, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Ganjar said he was happy to have visited the Gedono Nunnery as the place illustrated the beauty of Central Java religious tolerance.

“We want Indonesia to be beautiful, filled with love, happiness and help. I found all of that here,” he said.

“Let’s keep up this beautiful thing. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it and Happy New Year to all of us,” Ganjar said.

Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo (right) speaks with nuns at Gedono Monastery in Semarang, Central Java.Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo (right) speaks with nuns at Gedono Monastery in Semarang, Central Java. (Courtesy of Central Java Provincial Administration/-)

Separately, people living in Karangtengah Lor in Kulonprogo, Yogyakarta, said Christmas was a time for giving.

Married couple Sri Nurjanah and Harmanto started a tradition in the 1990s of handing out gifts to their neighbors.  

As the couple has a home bakery, the couple usually hands out bread.

“The present has always been this [bread]. We just change up the type of bread every year, such as last year we gave out bread rolls,” Sri said.

This year, Sri was assisted by some of her friends who came over to her house to prepare and hand out the presents to all 150 families living in their neighborhood unit.

Previously, the gift swapping only involved Christian households but there were only 20 of them in the village, so in turn some houses could get three to four presents or more. The families then decided to pitch in with Sri and did the gift swapping for all households, not just the Christians.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw rather peaceful Christmas celebrations in churches across the country, as services were carried out without any major disturbances or incidents under the alert of security personnel.

In Medan, North Sumatra, for instance, people flocked to churches on Christmas Eve, although the North Sumatra Police’s Gegana bomb squad secured 21 churches in the city.

“Christmas celebrations in North Sumatra were safe. We monitored Christmas services in several churches and they all went smoothly,” North Sumatra Police chief Insp. Gen. Martuani Sormin said on Tuesday.

In Timika, Papua, young Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists from the local chapter of the Interfaith Communication Forum (FKUB) joined hands to secure Tiga Raja Catholic Church during Christmas Eve Mass.

Timika FKUB chairman Ignatius Adi said the forum had enlisted 80 volunteers, who were Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, kompas.com reported.

He said it had become a tradition for people of other faiths to volunteer in securing Christmas services. “This is proof of interfaith tolerance,” Ignatius said. (ami)