vrijdag, december 9, 2022

Interreligious harmony as practiced by IofC Indonesia

From August 6 to September 2, 2022, Willem Jansen, program coordinator at Initiatives of Change The Netherlands (IofC) visited the IofC team in Indonesia. In this article, he reflects on the profound connection between the religions in Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim community in the world. Together with his IofC friends, he visited Islamic schools, spoke with Islamic teachers and mystical leaders, and participated in compelling conversations between Muslims and Christians, with whom he visited Hindu and Buddhist temples and monasteries. How does IofC Indonesia bring these typically divided religious groups together?

For those living in secular societies, it is hard to imagine, but in Indonesia, religion plays a significant role in everyday life. The philosophical basis of the Indonesian state, the Pancasila, rests on five pillars, which include belief in God as the first. Indonesia’s motto calls for ‘Unity in Diversity’ and in accordance, a special Ministry for Religious Affairs has been established. Indonesia does not wish to be a theocracy nor a secular state. Instead, its government seeks the middle ground between religion and secularism.

Digging into the past

IofC Indonesia is deeply committed to establishing harmony between Indonesia’s many cultures and religions. They work towards this goal at various locations and organizations, in particular at educational institutions. I visited Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) in Bogor, a neighborhood in Jakarta. Before this visit, my IofC colleague Huda and I joined Imas and Wazin, seasoned IofC members, for a simple breakfast. Like her mother before her, Imas is now in charge of an Islamic school. Wazin provided some valuable history, revealing to us that Bogor was called ‘Buitenzorg’ (Dutch for ‘outside’ and ‘care’) in colonial times.

This breakfast turned out to be part of a full program. Later that day, I suddenly found myself on a sunlit stage in front of the school’s population. After a Koran recitation about the origins of different peoples and an introduction from the school board, I was asked to give an impromptu 20-minute speech, which demanded the most of my improvisation skills. Luckily, the theme of the speech, friendship across borders, is very close to my heart. And so I spoke of how Allah/God made different peoples and assigned to them the task of getting to know one another.

In a book about Jakarta, Philip Dröge wrote about the colonial remains that he and an archaeologist found in Buitenzorg. I asked the students to also dig for these remains, albeit in their imagination. Could this historical connection between Bogor and Buitenzorg establish a connection between them and me, the man from ‘Belanda’? Some students asked brave questions: Has the Netherlands considered paying reparations to Indonesia? Are there opportunities to study in the Netherlands? After the question round, it was time for some traditional gamalan music. As a thank you for my contribution, I was presented with a batik blouse, truly a gift from heaven. I was able to change out of my soaked white shirt and attend breakfast refreshed.


Later that day, I visited another Islamic school, where the students surprised us with dancing and music, this time also with an electric guitar, which was forbidden at the school I visited earlier. Huda asked the students what came to mind when they thought of the Netherlands (the students mentioned the colonial era, the United East Indies Company, and windmills). He also talked about the Dutch king who recently visited Indonesia and apologized for the colonial atrocities committed by the Dutch. Huda then asked the students if they could forgive me, the Dutchman.

After a loud ‘Yes’, Huda asked the students if they had to forgive someone themselves. Huda is a seasoned IofC trainer, as was evidenced by the silence that followed. With bowed heads, the students reflected on his question and bravely shared their stories. The adopted son of the owner of this school also shared his story about a quarrel on the football field that still needed to be resolved.

A meeting with 'the Sheikh from Tilburg'

The day ended on a special note, with an interreligious meeting with the owner of the school, Budi Rahman Hakim. He is an expert on Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, and obtained his doctorate at Tilburg University in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Together with a group of Roman Catholics from the neighborhood, school leaders, and teachers, we discussed with him the role of religion in society.

Budi Rahman stressed that Muslims should be good citizens according to the Pancasila principles. Allah is the creator of all mankind, including believers and non-believers, and what truly matters is that we are noble people and good citizens who respect the motto ‘Unity in Diversity, Budi Rahman said. I fully agreed with his vision and connected it to the importance of human dignity and human rights in society.

'Education, education, education'

What is the role of education in Islamic communities? Together with Huda, I attended a conference about this subject, organized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Islamic University. After a colorful Balinese peacock dance, the minister opened the conference with the sound of a large gong. During the conference, I received wonderful insights into the discussions about education in Indonesia. Unlike countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, the Indonesian government has succeeded in embedding Islamic schools in the national education system. These schools are sometimes breeding grounds for radicalization, but this is not the case in Indonesia. The message of ‘education, education, education’ as the antidote to extremism was highlighted time and time again during the conference.

‘Diapraxis’ and Gotong Royong in Makassar

Afterward, the organizers of the conference gave me an extraordinary book: Moderasi Agama, or moderate religion. This book provides examples of best practices on intra- and interreligious cooperation, which the Indonesian government also applies now. The government considers healthy nationalism and connections with the local community as a way to combat radicalization. In the Indonesian language, this harmonious convergence of cultures and religions is called gotong royong, or as I like to call it, ‘diapraxis’.

On Makassar, I met with Christine Hutubesy, whom I got to know during a previous collaboration on the subject of relations between Christians and Muslims. I had previously organized a meeting with her and others about sustainability in the Al-Hikmah mosque in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Sustainability, one of the pillars of IofC, is also a major theme in Makassar that connects mosques, mandirs (Hindu temples), and churches. Here, people of all cultural and religious backgrounds are stimulated by various organizations to work together for the improvement of society, beautifully applying gotong royong, which means ‘lifting, carrying together’.  Whether it’s about cleaning the streets together, standing up for human rights, or celebrating each other's holidays: in Indonesia, it's all gotong royong!

By Willem Jansen.