Commentary: Saving the 'Rainbow' of Religions in Indonesia


OCTOBER 28, 2016

Indonesia is a democratic country with a variety of religions. In short, this nation does not belong only to one religion. Indonesia’s founding fathers Sukarno and Hatta had chosen Pancasila as the ideology and foundation of the nation’s unity, of which the nation is proud.

Freedom plays a big and important role for people being able to live together. Each citizen can choose one of the five official religions: Islam, Catholic, Protestant, Hinduism and Buddhism. This individual option must be protected by the government.

In other words, everyone can freely practice his or her belief in God.

Indonesia’s population numbers more than 200 million people and belong to various religions. We must be proud of our diversity. We have different ways and we come from many different places to worship God. That is, in my opinion, the rainbow of the great nation.

Positively, this diversity, the many different views and experiences, can be our great strength. It is the wealth of the country. It can be used in a good way to create great things, whether in art, culture, business, politics in the local communities stretching from Sabang to Merauke.

The various ways of believing in God ought to serve as a bridge to create peace in Freedom, Brotherhood, Respect and love of each other. It is who we are; it is part of our life. We are Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists living in Indonesia. We all are citizens of the one nation. That is exactly why we cannot ignore our social-religious responsibility being part of the nation. If we try to ignore that we all will have to suffer.

Unfortunately, many people — especially the radical groups — do not respect it. The ignorance of radical and fundamentalist groups in the history of the world’s great religions leads us to hell and suffering. It is a dangerous mistake if we try to ignore others and their religions. It begins through simple things.

The dark reality which we have is not human. On many levels of society, in the work place and so on, we find threats, intimidation and even outright violence simply because of people’s religious identity. It is the bad effect of prejudice and intolerant thinking.

It is a sign of intolerance if you try to tell me that I have to forget my Christian faith since I live in one of the Muslim countries of the world. Likewise it is intolerance if I tried to tell you that you have to forget your Muslim faith because you live in Flores where more than 80 percent of the population are Catholics.

For example, the black campaign against Jakarta's incumbent Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama has occurred as a big problem in Indonesia; for the radical group of Muslims said that since he was a Christian he was not worthy to be a governor, let alone the nation’s president. He was a pagan. If we do something like that and try to ignore who we are, then this will foster resentment and legitimize intolerance.

What we need as a nation is the spirit of togetherness in order to build up our identity in plurality. Concretely, this means to have a feeling of living and working with each other and tolerating each other. Above all we have to understand each other. To stop extremism, racism and violence its tracks is so crucial.

Interfaith dialogue

The plurality of religions is the very positive reality of Indonesia. To support it we need a strong and positive inter faith dialogue. It is absolutely vital that this happens on all levels of society. All of us need to come together and see just how much common ground we share with each other. In theological terms, we can say, we are together on the way as “People of God,” like M.K. Gandhi said. That is why inter faith dialogue is the essential condition for living peacefully and harmoniously together.

Upholding living in peace means that we work together; communities and the government must build resistance towards all forms of violent extremism, whether politically, religiously or racially motivated. This is done by the government’s program to counter violent extremism in order to combat the threat posed by home grown fundamentalist groups, like FPI. Indonesia must be protected from travelling overseas groups like IS which looks for people to participate in conflicts.

Building friendships across ethnic and religious divides, creating the trust is so important for resolving local issues, for overcoming suspicion and for defeating intolerance. I think that the best way to counter and prevent violent extremism and radicalization is by building strength in diversity and by social participation. The government’s social policy can enhance the social cohesion of the people. To support the economic participation of the people is also needed.

The social- political effort of the government and academics and many elements of society must go hand in hand with the good will of each Indonesian in order to create freedom and peace in daily life.

The simplest way to being is through true sympathy and empathy. It helps us to understand others “as they understand themselves, not as we, often according to stubborn traditional prejudices, think we know they are” (Dupuis 2002). Seeing the others as yourself and near neighbors we can help people to understand the importance of dialogue and to bring it about.

This way, we can break down barriers.

The spirit of diversity, Bhineka Tunggal Ika

By talking to and with each other, as well as realizing that we look and sound different and believe different things, we are still one as the citizens of Indonesia and we are all human. That is Bhineka Tunggal Ika, or unity in diversity.

In the spirit of Bhineka Tunggal Ika we can no more stubbornly misunderstand each other due to ignorance and malice. The aim is dialogue  with one another that can open up the way to sincere and profitable relations and to attain the possibility of mutual enrichment. Inter-faith dialogue is needed. It consists of the acceptance of the difference of the others. Above all, there will necessarily take place an interpersonal encounter between different persons.

Mutual understanding and respect are basic for living and also cooperating with each other in spite of differences. It means the cooperative and positive interaction between people from five religious traditions at both the individual and institutional level are achieved.

I remember the experience of my people in Ruteng, west of Flores. We are living together with our Muslim neighbors (Pak Haji and his family). Our relationship is harmonious. It can take place in both formal and informal settings. We live our normal life, having daily contact with each other. We celebrate together the feasts of Ramadan or Christmas. From this my own experience I can say that dialogue is not just something that takes place on an official and academic level only. It is integral part of daily life. It happens when the different cultural and religious groups interact with each. It also happens where there are tensions.

Remember that we have to be able to build the wealth of people’s living together harmoniously on the fact that different persons complement each other. Let us come together. Let us stand up to intolerance. Let us build together a stronger, better Indonesia. Not by ignoring our difference, but by understanding them in order to come together in the future. By getting to know each other as the people of God rather than through labels which are caused by prejudices. That is the only way to save the rainbow of the religions.

Fr. Gabriel Adur is a catholic Priest and Missionary from Ruteng Flores Indonesia. He is currently working in the Netherland and Germany.