Living in a Religious State:

11 Dec

I came to Indonesia with this idea of living in a “Muslim nation.” Indonesia is often given this image of being a Muslim nation, but this nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, larger than Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria combined, is truly diverse. Now almost four months in Indonesia, I realized I came to this country with the wrong notion. I have learned that Indonesia can’t be framed as a Muslim nation, better yet it should be called a faithful nation (of course if your faith lies within these five: Christianity, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism). The idea of God is prevalent and instituted in people’s minds and hearts by every sector of society since the day they are born. The idea of not having God is irrational.

The Pancasila, the philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state, commands over this idea. The Pancasila stands for the five principles that form the Indonesian state. The first and most important principle, and most relevant to this post is: Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa à Belief in the One and Only God. This principle came about in the time of Indonesia’s independence to solve the conflict between the Muslims, nationalist and the Christians.

Similar to Jeff, I live in a place where Christianity/Catholicism is vibrant. Today I am an English Teaching Assistant in a Vocational Catholic school in Tomohon, North Sulawesi. North Sulawesi (SULUT) is famous for having the largest Christian population in Indonesia. The people here known as Minahasan people, are very proud of their culture and their religious tolerance. They are also proud of their weird but famous eating culture: eating extremely spicy food and eating anything that moves on four legs, it’s very easy to find dog, rat, bat, and snake meat.

I grew up in a Catholic city in Puerto Rico, but Tomohon is an extreme (or a role model) of what a Catholic/Christian town should look like. Given that Indonesia is about 88% Muslim, Tomohon is an odd town of about 99% of its population declaring Christians/Catholics. Thanks to this I’m having a sort of real Christmas, with Christmas trees, gifts, and Christmas music. I constantly visit seminaries, where hundreds of boys study to become priests. These boys start at the age of 15 their priesthood education. I wonder how does a 15-year-old boy know he wants to devote his whole life to God’s service? It’s truly fascinating to me, but it turns out that out of 100 boys who start educating themselves to become priest, only about 1 or 2 will actually become a priest.

On another note in addition to living in the heaven of Christianity/Catholicism of Indonesia, I also live in Indonesia’s Jewish heaven. Judaism is not an accepted faith in Indonesia. It’s a very delicate topic that can be brought up in North Sulawesi, a region that feels the strongest ties to the former colonizers, the Dutch and thus more acceptance of Judaism. Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi, now holds a 62-foot-tall menorah overlooking the city. The New York Times wrote an article about it, worth checking it out: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/23/world/asia/23indo.html?_r=2&hp&pagewanted=all

I think its pretty cool to live in such a liberal open-minded place. However, I’m not sure whether this people can call themselves open-minded, business-minded or against Islam-minded. It’s harsh to make this accusation, but the extreme pride of Christianity has created a “I am the best religion ever” point of view, which well, gets kinds of annoying. My counterpart in school refuses to take me to any Muslim activity, saying she doesn’t know any Muslims, and only takes me to seminary related events. If I have an idea, she will help me if and only if that idea is in someway related or impacting the catholic people. I get the same vibe from other people, who often mention what a horrible close minded place Java is, and often mention how “Muslim are extremist and not like us, we are more friendly and open-minded.” It seems they want to create a stronger forth against the growth of Islam and thus have accepted the arrival of Jews, while the rest of Indonesia refuses to recognized Judaism.

In general this area has definitely taught me all I missed out from skipping church mass as kid. It also gives tons of conform to my Catholic mom and her family knowing I’m learning about Catholicism and that I don’t live among “extremist muslims.” Though I originally wanted to be placed in a Muslim majority school and town, its pretty cool to get to see the other side of Indonesian. And hence declare that Indonesian being a muslim state is an equivocal statement, I would rather like to call it Religious or Faith Nation.

-melina

 

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One Response to “Living in a Religious State:”

  1. Jeff December 22, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    Mel,

    This post is fantastic. I was in the process of posting about my first Christmas Mass, which was with your family a few years ago, when I saw that you had posted.

    I definitely feel the vibe of no faith being irrational over here. I also share the experience of being in a country dominated by one faith, Buddhism, while working with a population of an entirely different faith (christians).

    Way to go, and keep em coming.

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