"INTERFAITH ENCOUNTERS IN INDONESIA'
(With Emphasis on Christians and Muslims Relations)
Indonesia, the fifth most populous nation in the world, claims more Muslims
than any other country. The 1992 population is estimated to become 187.6
million, and approximately 87.5%, or 164.2 million, will be Muslim. This is
more or less same with all the Muslims in the Middle East. 8-9%, or 16.8
millions, are Christian; the reminder embrace Hinduism, Buddhism, or
indigenous religion. Indonesia is a nation of islands that extend over 3,000
miles from east to west and over 1,100 miles from north to south. Of all the
countries in the region of Southeast Asia, it was together with the
Philippines - also under European domination the longest. A brief summary of
its history will set the stage for understanding the interfaith encounters
in the life of Indonesia.
For our purposes, the historical background of Indonesia begins with the
coming of Indian traders in the twelfth century. They established permanent
Muslim settlements on the westernmost islands, which were ruled by Hindu
princes, the Sri Vijaya empire (7th-12th century).
One of the earliest Islamic settlements began in 1204, in Aceh in North
Sumatra. From there Islam spread to Java, over which Muslim sultans ruled by
the end of the sixteenth century.
The importance of these islands for trade and commerce did not pass
unnoticed by European nations. By 1292 Marco Polo had already visited
Indonesia, particularly North Sumatra, on his return from China, met with a
Muslim population in the town of Perlak. The Portuguese conquered Malacca in
1511. This marks the beginning of colonial presence in the islands and the
introduction of Roman Catholicism to the area. Portuguese control continued
until the coming of the Dutch East India Company in 1605. In the early
nineteenth century the Dutch colonial government replaced the bankrupt
company. By 1910 this government had control of all of the East Indies. The
Westernization of the islands had begun. Dutch rule finally ended with a
defeat by the Indonesians during the struggle for independence (1945-1949)
which followed the harsh Japanese occupation of 1942-1945.
With independence, the modern period of Indonesian history begins. From 1950
to 1959 a European style parliamentary democracy under the leadership of
President Sukarno was tried because this government did not provide
security, stability, and national unity, it was dissolved in 1959 by
Sukarno, who established a "guided democracy" and "guided economy" operating
under a constitution drafted in 1945. The next six years likewise failed to
bring national unity, political stability, or economic growth. An attempted
coup in 1965 was quickly put down by the armed forces and attributed by them
to the Communist Party. This led to widespread killings and disappearances
of those charged with being affiliated or in sympathy with the Communists.
As a result of all this, Sukarno lost power, and in 11 March 1966 the reins
of government were transferred to General Suharto, who had led the army in
putting down the coup. The army became the real center of power. The ensuing
period was labeled by its leaders the "New Order," the "Old Order" being the
period of Sukarno's rule, 1950-1965.
The determinative event in the history relations between Christians and
Muslims (and other faiths) was the adoption of the Pancasila (Five Pillars).
They are: belief in unitary deity, nationalism, humanitarianism,
representative democracy, and social justice for all Indonesians. The
formulation of the first pillar avoided giving preference to any one
particular religion. As a result, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and
Buddhism are all recognized as official religions of Indonesia. Enacted by
consensus in August 1945 as the foundation of the Indonesian state, the
Pancasila has continued in force until the present. In 1985, the New Order
Government expanded the scope and authority of the Pancasila to make it the
sole basis of social and political activity of all mass organizations,
including those under the banner of religion. However, this authority does
not apply to narrowly defined religious organizations like churches,
mosques, and temple congregations.
"The community of those who
submit to the will of God."
After taking root in Indonesia in the twelfth century, the Muslim community
grew gradually and steadily, following the expansion of trade and political
power throughout the islands. Once established, Islamization generally
proceeded peaceably though accompanied by a constant struggle between the
principles of Islam and the deep-rooted Javanism, which was a synthesis of
Hinduism and Buddhism with indigenous religion. The coming of the Portuguese
and the Dutch did not halt the expansion of Islam. If anything, Western rule
and Dutch colonial policies that kept religious communities relatively
separate may have aided in its expansion.
In the early 1900s, Muslims began to form Islamic organizations of various
kinds. Some like Serikat Islam (1905), later the Partai Serikat Islam
Indonesia, the United Indonesian Islamic Party (PSII, established in 1930),
were committed to Indonesian nationalism. Others pursued different
objectives. The Muhammadiyah, founded in 1912 as a nonpolitical social
organization, stressed the adaptation of Islamic principles in order to meet
the challenge of Western secular thinking. It represented those people now
identified as "modernists." In the early 1920s the Persatuan Islam (Persis)
was organized to teach and spread Islam. The Nahdatul Ulama (Revival of the
Scribes) was established in 1926 as the political forum of the
traditionalists and advocates of traditional Islamic values in the
national life of Indonesia as it became modernized.
In the mix of the organizations just identified, there are represented the
divisions within the Muslim community over the way in which Islam is to be
practiced. The modernists and the traditionalists are two of the contenders.
A third consisted of those Muslims who were secular, Western educated, and
politically oriented civil servants and intelligentsia. From this group came
many leaders of the nationalist movement.
The traditionalists and the modernists were concerned with the Islamic
character of Indonesia and with Muslims participation in the affairs of
state. These groups and their concerns are the key to understanding Muslim
political activity in Indonesia today. Even before World War II Muslim
organizations began to formulate political thought to advance their
concerns. The Japanese invasion ended these efforts. But with independence
in 1945, the Pancasila was adopted, frustrating once again the desire of
some Muslims for an Islamic state.
When the 1965 coup was attempted, Muslims cooperated with the military to
eliminate the Communists and their sympathizers, expecting to gain for
themselves the political power that the Communists had enjoyed under
Sukarno's rule. The army, however, rebuffed them in the interest of
defending the Pancasila. As a result, many Muslims feel that they, as the
majority community, have been deprived of a political role that is
Several other considerations also aid in understanding the Muslim community.
Since Independence, the Muslims' sense of belonging to the world community
of Islam has grown markedly. This has resulted from their increasing
participation in the Hajj, their importing and translating the writings of
Muslim modernists and revivalists of Pakistan and the Middle East, the
influx of foreign money to help build mosques and Islamic institutions and
to support various outreach programs, and contacts with Muslims of other
countries made by those studying and traveling abroad.
Apart from the political positions just outlined, the Javanese Muslim
community exhibits other differences. There are the more orthodox Muslims
called Santri, the more heterodox, syncretistic Muslims called Abangan, and
the aristocratic intelligentsia called Priyayi. The traditionalists are more
likely to be represented by the Santri group (though many younger Santri are
modernists), while secular nationalists are found mostly in the Abangan and
There is an increased emphasis upon da'wah, stimulated by the impact of the
materialistic, secular values of the West upon the country, which many
Indonesians feel has been encouraged by the development policies of the
government, by widely publicized reports about the "flood of conversions" to
Christianity in Indonesia following the coup of 1965, and by the
unwillingness of the government to halt Christian attempts at conversion.
"The community of those who follow
Perhaps the greatest problem facing the Christian community in Indonesia is
the impression that others have of it as a foreign element in Indonesian
society. Unlike Islam, Christianity was introduced and is perceived to have
grown under the umbrella of colonial power. The establishments of the Roman
Catholic church, originally primarily in the Moluccas, coincided with the
arrival in that area of the Portuguese at the beginning of the sixteenth
century. When the Dutch trading interests replaced the Portuguese, the door
was opened for the introduction of Reformed Protestantism, whose chief enemy
in Europe at the time was the Roman Catholic Church. Muslim rulers did not
welcome the coming of Christianity. Not wanting religious problems to
interfere with their trading interests, initially the Dutch rulers remained,
for the most part, neutral with respect to religious issues. For example,
Christian missionaries were allowed to come but their work was generally
limited to areas where indigenous religion, rather than Islam or Hinduism,
was dominant. The Muslim community benefitted from this policy because it
allowed Islam to expand unopposed into the interior sections of Java and
Sumatra. In the latter part of the colonial period, Dutch officials became
more favorably disposed toward the Christian church. The Dutch government
had subsidized the salaries of pastors and teachers of the Protestant Church
of the Indies from the beginning, however.
The 1980 statistical picture shows a Roman Catholic Church of 3.8 million
people, or 29.5% of the Christian population of Indonesia; 55 conciliar
Protestant churches, joined together in the Communion of Churches in
Indonesia and consisting of 7.1 million people, or 55%; Pentecostal churches
with a membership of 1 million, or 7.75%; and nonconciliar, non-Pentecostal
churches, which consider themselves to be "evangelical" rather than
"ecumenical", with nearly 1 million, or 7.75%. One half of the evangelical
churches were established by foreign missionaries after 1965, with some of
their membership coming from the older church groups.
In the pre-independence period, a number of Christians were deeply involved
in the nationalist movement. This involvement was related to the struggle of
many Protestant churches to obtain autonomy from the state supported church
of the Dutch, and also independence from the domination of Western
missionaries and Western church organizations. Their struggle was aided by
the Japanese invasion, at which time Western presence was eliminated.
When independence came, a significant segment of the Christian community
participated fully in the development of the new nation. Not only had it
fought the Dutch in the struggle for independence, it gave its support to
the governments that have followed. For example, Christians, as over against
the Muslim Community, generally advocated the Pancasila. In later years, the
church, though continuing to cooperate with the government, did voice
disagreement with government attempt in 1978 and 1979 to restrict the
propagation of religion and to limit or control overseas assistance to
religious institutions. As a result, the government has not carried through
with these attempts. Then in 1985 the church, along with Muslim
organizations, expressed concern about the application of the Pancasila to
In 1950 the churches, concerned for the unity of the church and of their
country, formed the Council of Churches in Indonesia. Under the leadership
of this council, the churches established ties with the World Council of
Churches and have remained active participants in that body even at the risk
of being accused once again of being foreign. As evidence of this growing
ecumenism, the conciliar Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church
have come closer together, working side by side on many issues.
This growing spirit of unity has been challenged since 1965 by the dramatic
increase in the presence and activities of foreign (not just Western)
conservative evangelists and parachurch agencies. Their work has offended
older churches because they have lost members to the new missionary
churches. Their missionaries have offended other religious groups by their
ignorance of the situation, their aggressive, insensitive approach, and
their "Christian" chauvinism.
In addition to these concerns, the churches have been critical of the
materialistic and immoral aspects of the modernization process. This agrees
with much of the Muslim criticism of Westernization.
Finally, Christians are concerned about any attempt on the part of Muslims
to change Indonesia into an Islamic state or to make the Shari'ah law normative. Their fears in this matter have been influenced by the
memory of the Dar-ul-Islam rebellion in 1950, which was motivated by the
desire of some Muslims to establish an Islamic state. They also fear what
they perceive to be the impact of Islamic revivalism upon some Muslim
Relationships Between Christians
Muslims and Christians in Indonesia
have, for many years, been adversaries. This was caused in part by their
ignorance of each other, an ignorance fostered by the Dutch colonial policy
that kept the two faith communities separate; they did not really know each
other, though in some regions they lived side by side peaceably, when
external pressures did not interfere. Due to the largely negative experience
of the two faith communities in the Middle East and Europe (since the time
of Islam invasion to Europe and the Crusade), which was carried to Indonesia
by the Muslims and Christians who came, the Muslim and Christian communities
that grew in the archipelago inherited attitudes of antagonism, mistrust and
fear toward one another. The "we-they" attitude grew sharper and more
negative in the Moluccas, North Sumatra and Kalimantan, among other regions
between 1550 and 1850, with the eruption of clashes within and between
ethnic groups indirectly related to policies and behavior of colonial
powers. The same thing happened on Java in the 19th and early 20th
centuries. Thus the Republic of Indonesia began its life with a substantial
heritage of negative feelings between Christians and Muslims. From the
Muslim point of view, Christians were the favorites, at Muslim expense, of
colonial and national governments, in spite of these governments' declared
neutrality with respect to religions. During the first fifteen years of the
Old Order, fanatical guerrilla forces in West and Central Java and in South
Sulawesi waged terrorist attacks with the aim of establishing an Islamic
state in the new republic. Since Islamic political parties did not repudiate
these efforts, though they did not support them either, the clear impression
was given (to those non-Muslims susceptible to it) that their future was
threatened by a militant Muslim community committed to changing the
foundations of the Indonesian state.
Relationship in the period of the New Order have been affected by the
response to the coup of September 30, 1965, which was attributed to the
Communist Party. Shortly after the coup, the Communist Party was outlawed
and all Indonesians were advised to choose the religion they wished to
adhere to, since to have no religion was to be considered a communist, and
all suspected communists were either hunted down to be killed or imprisoned.
The result was a large-scale movement of people into Islam, Hinduism, and
Christianity. Dramatic reporting by Western media of mass conversions of
Indonesians to the Christian faith aroused strong negative reactions within
the Muslim community. This, in turn, led to attempts by the government in
the late 1960s to get the two communities to agree to cease using the other
as a target in their propagation. This attempt failed on the grounds that it
constrained both faiths from carrying out their religious duty.
Aware of Muslim feelings about the constraints imposed on their
participation in government, the New Order has sought to demonstrate to
Muslim groups the government concern for them by giving, for example,
through the Department of Religion, financial support to Muslim
institutions of higher education and for religious instructions. Since
Christian instructions have not benefited equally, some Christians feel that
the department is strongly biased toward the Muslim community.
Because both the Christian faith and Islam are concerned to propagate their
beliefs, the relationship between Christian mission and Islamic da'wah is of
importance to the two communities. The regulating factor in this
relationship has been the government, which has ruled that relations between
the religions must handled in such a way as to avoid open contradictions in
the efforts of religious adherents to carry out their calling to mission and
da'wah. In this connection, the expression "Religious communities must
create harmonious relations in society" has become popular in recent years.
As a result, the relationship between mission and da'wah has not been a
serious issue within Indonesia.
The unique aspect of the interfaith situation is the active participation of
the government in religious affairs as a "neutral" party. Its concern is for
peace, harmony, and stability. The country will not advance and develop if
it is disrupted by internal strife. In response to this concern many
Christian and Muslim leaders have worked together to achieve this harmony.
Christians have emphasized themes of tolerance, dialogue, and cooperation in
an effort to encourage the church to participate positively in the
achievement of harmony. Some Muslim leaders have initiated similar efforts
within their own communities. In addition, numerous interfaith consultations
have been held between Christian and Muslim leaders. Further, these leaders
have attended the international dialogue programs sponsored by the World
Council of Churches and other agencies. It is this development which is a
harbinger of what the future of relations between the two groups might be.
With the right kind of government involvement and encouragement, Christians
and Muslims in Indonesia might become an example for others who in their own
situations look forward to the development of better relations between the
Possibilities and Hope
The following paragraphs regarding
prospects for the future for Muslim-Christian relations was written for an
Indonesia case study.
1. Islam-Christian relations in Indonesia, as evident from their
history, have been characterized by darkness. A Muslim Teacher once told his
students, "Every time you meet another person and there you see your brother
or sister, darkness will disappear and light will dawn." The first
possibility and hope that can be put forward is that beginning now we should
write the history of Islam-Christian relations in Indonesia as a history of
brother /sisterhood. The brothers and sisters have an identical direction in
their struggles, that is, to oppose human injustice and poverty, to wipe out
division and oppression, and to fertilize the growth of peace and liberty.
2. Brother/sisterhood does not mean living without differences of
opinion or perspective. Such differences must be met so that together can be
discovered the "rule of perspective". Such differences must be met so that
together can be discovered the "rule of the game" for living together in
both the micro and macro spheres.
3. The next possibility and hope related to da'wah, evangelization
and dialogue. Da'wah and evangelization simply mean giving witness to one's
faith both by life or actions and by words. Persons of faith cannot hide the
riches of their faith. Those riches long to be expressed,
communicated, so that others can also enjoy them. Da'wah and evangelization
are not a
compelling but rather an offering and inviting. Therefore, da'wah and
evangelization must always take place in honest and respectful dialogue
with those to whom da'wah and evangelization are addressed.
That sort of dialogue should also take place between the Muslim and
Christian communities both on the theological-rational level and on the
spiritual-mystical level. Both the rational and spiritual dimensions enrich
persons to be more able to live their own faith on a deeper plane. In that
the Islamic and Christian communities and all others can become colleagues
on the road towards God.
4. Living out da'wah, evangelization and dialogue of the sort just
described demands of us a humble, honest and open attitude. The
implementation of mature da'wah, evangelization and dialogue cannot take
place on an attitudinal foundation of shallowness and indifference, or of
closeness and rigidity. A shallow, indifferent attitude says that my
religion and my faith are true, that other religions and faiths are also
true. Both are happenstance; so basically I can go this way, or that, either
posing no problem. A closed, rigid attitude stubbornly holds that my
religion and faith are most true; there is no salvation outside my religion
and faith; and there is nothing that can enrich my religion and faith.
A humble, honest, open attitude believes firmly that my religion and faith
are the most true; nevertheless, it does not reject God's saving work
outside my religion and faith. Nor does such an attitude lead to
indifference, drifting, without choosing and deciding, as if all are the
same and happenstance. A humble, honest, open spirit respects choice and
decision that are free and honest. And choice and decision that are free and
honest are also valued by my God.
5. Finally, all movements of brother/sisterhood that are genuinely
deep are embraced by the Lord, the Lover and Compassionate One of all
persons. That embrace of God becomes clear and is felt in prayer. Thus the
brother/sisterhood of the Christian and Muslim communities must be marked by
the ability to pray for one another.
Christian-Muslim relation in Indonesia and everywhere will have a good
future, if (i) leaders and governments will stop using religion as a means
to building or defending political power; (ii) if enough Muslims and
Christians really want better relations; (iii) if Christian and Muslim
theologians will carry out the task of exploring, deepening and broadening
their own faith in honest, humble and open dialogue with one another; (iv)
if and whenever Muslims and Christians, particularly youth and women, will
join in improving the quality of life for all, especially for the poor,
dispossessed and marginalized persons in their societies; and (v) if Muslims
and Christians will take their faith with the utmost seriousness and seek in
all things to do God's will and God's will alone.
The Draft of the Declaration of
Prepared by the Sub-Committee, and approved by the Investigative
Body for the Preparation of Independent Indonesia in its plenary meeting on
July 10, 1945 from 10:00-16:16 hours. See: Mohammad Yamin, Naskah Persiapan
Undang-Undang Dasar 1945, Djilid I (Documents on the Preparation of the
Constitution of 1945, Volume I) (Djakarta: Jajasan Prapantja, 1959),
Truly, freedom is the right of all nations, and therefore, colonialism
throughout the world must be eradicated, because it is not compatible with
(the principle of) humanitarianism and (the sense of) justice. We, the
people of Indonesia have had a glorious and happy history in the past as an
independent nation with our independent fatherland and free state whose
territory included the entire Indonesian archipelago as far as Papua, indeed
reaching the Asian mainland to the border of Siam; an independent nation,
which in peaceful and friendly relations with other independent nations in
mainland Asia, welcomed generosity any peoples who came (to us).
The arrival of the Western nations in Indonesia brought catastrophe to us,
the Indonesian people. For more than three centuries we the people of
Indonesia were confined under the power of the Dutch by their evil politics
(that): divided our unity, insulted and humiliated our dignity, and
exploited our wealth in the interest of the Dutch people themselves.
That evil exploitation could not remain forever hidden in the world where
there was increasing fierce competitions within Western imperialism to grab
the whole world's wealth. And gradually, there arose among us, the people of
Indonesia a most tremendous spirit of opposition which never was and never
will be extinguished. There seethed again in our hearts, as the people of
Indonesia, a spirited determination to rise up again as a free people in an
independent nation, giving birth to a disciplined movement in the Indonesian
people, based on the ideals of justice and humanitarianism, to demand
acknowledgement of the right of independence of every nation. The growth,
widening and deepening of this movement can not be prevented, can not be
stopped, among every strata and all echelons of the Indonesian people, no
matter how strong,
how wild, how furious the power of the Dutch government in trying to prevent
and stamp it out.
At the very moment the indication of that movement peaked, as if like the
moment of the birth of a child from its mother's womb, the Lord the Almighty
turned a corner in the world's journey, shifting the balance of power in the
world, particularly in the Pacific region, to predestine that birth.
The Japanese Imperium's demands, in contradiction to the goals of Western
imperialism, in contradiction to the goals of Western imperialism, namely
the demand for the right to free Asia based on the equal rights of nations,
together with a policy which they firmly and appropriately implemented,
aimed at the development of independent states and a Greater East Asia
co-prosperity sphere, finally caused the Japanese Imperium to declare war
against the United States and England. This Greater East Asia War, that
coincided with the peak of the independence movement of the Indonesian and
other Asian peoples, came at the culminating point of the independence
struggle of all peoples on the mainland and the archipelagos of Asia.
Acknowledging and honoring the excellence of the intention and goal of the
Japanese Imperium, each nation in the Greater East Asia region, based on a
common defense, is obligated to contribute its full energies with the most
wholehearted determination to that common struggle, as the firmest guarantee
of the salvation of the independence of each.
And now, the struggle of the Indonesian independence movement has come to a
happy moment bringing the people of Indonesia safety and tranquility to the
main gate of an independent, unified, sovereign, just, and prosperous
Indonesia, which lives as a true member in the family spirit of
Greater East Asia. In front of the gate of that Indonesian State, we, the
people of Indonesia pay our tribute and gratitude to all freedom
heroes/heroines who died.
Thanks to the blessing (and) mercy of Almighty God, (and based) on all
reasons (set forth) above, moved by the noble ideal of being responsible for
our own destiny of a free honorable and honored national life, we, the
people of Indonesia hereby
DECLARE OUR INDEPENDENCE.
In the name of God,
the Love and Caring (One)
In order to form a Government of an Indonesian State that (might) protect
the whole people and the entire territory of Indonesia, to promote the life
of the Greater East Asia family, and to participate in the realization of a
world order based on freedom, peace, and social justice, the independence of
the Indonesian nation is thus formed in an Indonesian State Constitution,
manifested in the form of democratic Republic of Indonesia, based on (the
principle of) Lordship, with the obligation to carry out the Islamic law (syari'a)
for its adherents, following the principle of a just and civilized humanity,
the unity of Indonesia, peoplehood guarded by the spirit of wisdom in (the
forms of) deliberation (and) representation, and the realizing social
justice for the whole people of Indonesia.
= one who submits to the will of God; is one who practices or is a
doer of Islam.
2. Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca - the fifth pillar of
Islam. The other pillars are: shahadah, the bearing witness to the
unity of God and the prophethood Muhammad - the first
pillar; salat, worship in the form of prayer, five times daily - the second pillar; zakat,
almsgiving - the third pillar;
and sawm, fasting (abstaining from food, drink, sexual
intercourse during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan) - the
fourth pillar of Islam.
3. The call to faithful obedience to God; used by some to
identify Muslim "missionary" activity.
4. The way or the divine path of true obedience to God; the
large body of legal tradition which informs the community about the nature of the faithfulness that
God requires of it.