. Chapter 8. War of Words: The Muslim Villagers' View of Christians, Christianity and Christianisation [1]

Table of Contents

Harmony and Tension in Everyday Life
Conversion; Ideological War
Superiority of Islam

The Preamble in the 1945 Constitution of independent Indonesia contains an ideological tenet called Pancasila, which is composed of five principles: Belief in One God, Humanity that is just and civilised, Unity of Indonesia, Democracy guided by the wisdom of representative deliberation, Social justice for all Indonesians. Since its installation as a state ideology, Pancasila has been the most commonly used rhetoric in political discourse and the governing principle of social life. In spite of this significance, Pancasila has remained an abstract doctrine which should be supplemented by concrete ideas, depending on the socio-economic and political considerations of each period.

The first principle, 'Belief in One God', has been a source of controversies since the independence of Indonesia. Each religious group has tried to exert its version of this principle on other religious groups and to implement it as official government policy. Two of the critical debates centring on this principle have been how to define 'One God' and how to interpret religious freedom included in it. There has been continuing ups and downs, but history shows that Islamic groups have been more successful in this struggle than other religious groups. Their definition of religion has been accepted by the government, so that only five religions, considered to be religions by Islamic groups, are officially recognised in Indonesia. On the other hand, the concept of religious freedom supported by Islamic groups was formulated as decrees in 1978, so that it is forbidden to carry out missionary activities among those who already confess another religion.

In spite of this success of Islamic groups and contrary to their expectations, the Christian population kept increasing in the New Order period (See Chapter VII), while Islamic groups have had no effective and direct measure to counteract this. Most importantly, they have no coercive power to put the law into practice without assistance from the government, which, fearing an open explosion of conflicts, has desisted. In this situation, the reaction of Muslims who are dissatisfied with the expansion of Christianity and the government’s inertia has concentrated on exposing the nature of Christianity and of Christian missionary activities to the masses. They have published polemical books comparing Islam with Christianity, have written articles in magazines exposing tricks played by the missionaries [2] , held pengajian to spread their ideas and founded an organisation to counter the expansion of Christianity. [3] It is not certain how effective these measures have been in decreasing Muslim conversion to Christianity. However, it is rather clearer that these have facilitated the flow of information on Christianisation amongst Muslim intellectuals, on the one hand, and from these intellectuals to the countryside, on the other.

The focus of this chapter is on the ways Christians, Christianity and Christianisation are viewed by the reformist villagers in Kolojonggo. In the first section, the negative image of Christians constructed by the reformist villagers will be discussed. This will be followed by a discussion of one of the key issues underlying Muslim and Christian relations in Kolojonggo, namely, conversion. The last section will deal with one of the key concepts with which Muslims villagers evaluate their own religion and Christianity: akal.

Harmony and Tension in Everyday Life

In Indonesia, it was rare for Pancasila not to become a subject of conversation when I first met Indonesians, especially those who had received a formal education under the New Order. After introducing themselves briefly to me, they began to talk about the racial, religious and cultural diversities of Indonesia. This was followed by a comment on the strength of Pancasila in combining all these diversities into one without conflict. These casual meetings could give an impression that the Indonesian government has been successful in indoctrinating her citizens with Pancasila. This success has not been achieved without intensive programs to expose Pancasila to her citizens. Not only students or civil servants but peasants and housewives have been mobilised to participate in a special course designed to learn Pancasila. There, they are taught that Pancasila condemns behaviour such as objection to the collective consensus of a meeting (musyawarah); enforcement of one's own will on others; extravagant life; idleness; giving priority to private interests over state interests and intolerance to followers of other religions. If someone were brave enough to query some of this nationally-accepted ideology, he or she would be branded as ‘anti-Pancasila’, someone who should be corrected by the spirit of Pancasila.

The same situation applies to villagers in Kolojonggo. Almost all adult villagers have attended the special course to learn Pancasila once [4] and several have received a certificate as coordinators to guide the P4 course in a lower administrative unit such as a hamlet, RW and RT. Intensive contact with Pancasila made it possible for them, especially those who worked as teachers and civil servants, to have a comprehensive understanding of it. They knew its historical foundations and the detailed guidelines (butir) for each principle, [5] and they readily incorporated it as rhetoric in private conversation. Pancasila was also a frequent topic in official religious discourse. Pak Timan in a Jumatan explained why the first principle of Pancasila had been accepted:

We have to be conscious of the fact that the inhabitants of this world of Allah, in particular, those in Indonesia are not only Muslims. We are living in a differentiated nation consisting of different races, cultures and religions. Therefore, the land of Allah is not our monopoly but the possession of ours (golongan kita) and theirs (golongan sanes). We should recognise that they have their own religious conviction and values, which should be respected. This is why Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution promote harmony (rukun) and tolerance (toleransi) among followers of different religions.

The next part of his speech explained how Muslims should understand rukun and tolerance in religion stipulated by Pancasila:

With these other groups, we will have both parallel and discrepant ideas. When ours is different from theirs, we are not permitted to be silent, just folding our hands. We should not be confused but hold our own identity tightly. We, Muslims, have to be certain that the only true religion is Islam, as is written in the Quran. ... [6] What Pancasila teaches is not that we do not need to have certainty as to the truth of Islam. What is taught is that we Muslims need not deride other religions and others do not derogate us, and we do not interfere in religious matters of others and others do not intervene in ours. This will then bring about the situation of 'agreement in difference'.

The condition that Pak Timan refers to as bringing 'agreement in difference' is the Islamic interpretation of religious freedom in Pancasila: all Indonesians have freedom to carry out their religious duties in their own community, without violating the boundary of other religions. Just as Muslims confine their activities to Muslims, so should Christians.

Since the independence of Indonesia, whether a religious community should confine its religious activities to its own community has lain at the core of the debates between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially Christians. Christian leaders interpret religious freedom stipulated in Pancasila in its broadest sense. For them, it implies freedom to choose religion, to change one's religion and to manifest, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, one's religion in teaching, practice, worship and observance (Sudjabat,1960:288). Therefore, religious freedom should include freedom to carry out missionary activities to those whom the Bible has not yet reached. This broad interpretation has not been acceptable to national Muslim leaders. For them, Pancasila cannot imply total religious freedom since no such freedom of choice is given to those who have already entered Islam (Singodimejo,1969:73). In the eyes of Muslims, therefore, the interpretation of religious freedom implied by Pancasila should go as follows:

Islamic groups are not permitted to force others to accept Islam. But this command of Allah signifies that non-Islamic groups are not allowed to force Muslims to become apostates or to leave Islam, whether it be done subtly through cheating or openly by building a church, monastery or temple (klenteng) in Islamic areas mainly occupied by Muslims (Singodimejo,1969:73-4).

The controversy surrounding freedom to spread one's religion finished in favour of Islamic groups in 1978 when two decrees were issued by the Ministry of Religion, one of which (No.70) reads [7] :

The spread of religion cannot be approved of when:

1) [it is] directed to a person or persons who already have another religion;

2) [it is] done by resorting to enticement/distribution of materials of money, clothes, food/drink, medicines and so on to attract persons who already have another religion.

3) [it is] done by disseminating pamphlets, bulletins, magazines, books and other materials in areas/houses where the residents have a different religion;

4) [it is] done by making door to door visits on whatever pretext to those who already have a religion.

According to national Muslim leaders, this decree, if observed strictly by all religious communities, eliminates any possibility of massive Christian expansion in Java since all Javanese confessed one of the five official religions at the time that the decree was issued. The only possibility that a certain religious community can expand is through voluntary conversion. However, in a situation where no information on a certain religion can reach those who do not confess that religion, it is almost impossible for someone to change one's religion. Although it happens, it may be confined to only a small number of people.

No. 70 Decree 1978 is well known to villagers in Kolojonggo and they share the same mode of interpreting this as national Muslim leaders. One villager who worked in the sub-district office explained:

According to the government law [No. 70 Decree 1978], non-interference (tidak campur tangan) in the internal affairs of other religious communities is the most important principle for living without conflict in a multi-religious society. The core of this policy is that, if someone is of a certain religion, others are not permitted to say anything about other religions to him or her. Therefore, it is possible to say that a Christian son violates the law when he talks about Christianity to his Muslim parents. ... To invite a Muslim for Christmas celebration is not permissible in this context since it is definitely a religious activity rather than a social one. Therefore, the invitation of Muslims by Christians is a violation of this law.

To the reformist villagers, religious non-interference is the only principle that can combine the diversified population under the banner of Indonesia. This is also what was commanded by Allah to mankind, as the Surah of 'The Disbelievers (Al-Kaafiruun)' in the Quran reveals;

Say: O disbelievers!

I worship not that which ye worship;

Nor worship ye that which I worship.

Nor will ye worship that which I worship.

Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.

The last verse of this Surah was so popular among the reformist villagers that many of them memorised its Arabic pronunciation (lakum dinukum waliyadin) with ease. Another Quranic verse frequently quoted to emphasise the urgency of implementing this principle into social life is: 'And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth; so vie with one another in good works' (ii:148). To the reformist villagers, harmonious life between followers of different religions is not such a difficult task since the ideas in Pancasila and in the Quran show the right and easy way to achieve it and as both Indonesians and Muslims, they are ready to actualise it.

In contrast to the hope of the reformist villagers, the reality is, according to their own evaluation, gloomy and disappointing. There have been many incidents which were incongruent with the spirit of Pancasila and which, as a result, complicated the realisation of harmonious life. The reformist villagers attribute such happenings to Christians. As a proof of this, they refer to the rapid growth of the Christian population in Indonesia. If Pancasila and No. 70 Decree, which only permits a conversion based on one’s free will, have been observed by Christians, there should be little, if any, growth in the Christian population.

This opinion is somewhat ‘prejudiced’, in the sense that Muslims attribute all sources of inter-religious conflicts to Christians. This 'prejudiced' view of inter-religious relations cannot be appreciated without understanding the negative image that the reformist villagers have constructed of Christians. In this framework, Christians are depicted as ignoring Muslim presence in village life, disturbing the religious life of Muslims and luring Muslims by unfair methods. Below are two examples of how this image is used by the reformist villagers to interpret certain social phenomena. The first was delivered in the Jumatan. The second one was spoken by the chairman of a youth committee preparing for the fasting month:

As the Prophet did not give us an example, playing with fireworks in the fasting month cannot be permitted. This is also contrary to the regulation of the government which forbids it. Above all, this forms the best opportunity for someone (sa’tunggaling tiang) who is not friendly to Islam to distract the attention of our children from religious activities. ... Let's work hard, so that the atmosphere of this month is freed from the sound of fireworks.

Shall we always be influenced by them (golongan mereka) or shall we possess our own strong devotion to Islam? This is dependent on our own will. A good example is food. In Islam, all problems connected to food are spelled out while in their religion (agama mereka), no rules are made to regulate food. As a result, their bad influences make us confused and some of us have been lured by this temptation and drink alcohol. Only by strong and mature will on our part based on Islamic teaching will we free ourselves from the addiction to alcohol, which originated with them. ... I am saying this because we all are brothers, belonging to the same umat Islam.

The two speakers did not explicitly indicate who belonged to the category of the 'someone' or 'they', who had possessed the vicious intentions of disturbing Islamic activities and of confusing the umat Islam. However, it is quite obvious that these two words pointed to Christians. No Muslims, in the view of the reformist villagers, would want to obstruct Islamic teachings or would get benefit from it. Only Christians would be damaged if Muslims follow the right track of Islamic teaching.

The reformist villagers' negative image of Christians has been constructed by influence from the outside world and from their own everyday experiences. Many routes have been found to import the ready-made negative image of Christians into the village. Pengajian is one of the best media for this flow of information. In 1993-94, five pengajian were held in Sumber and one in Kolojonggo, where the speakers from the city were specialised in so-called Kristologi, a polemical critique of Christian theology. Other routes are the regular and special courses held in the city by Islamic organisations to teach how Christians use certain tactics to lure Muslims to Christianity. A few anak masjid in Kolojonggo attended these courses and the cassette tapes of these lectures circulated among Muslim villagers for several months. In addition to the public flow of information, other chances of personal contact were also abundant. Below is an example of an indirect flow of information and of what this is about:

On returning home after photocopying two sheets of paper that I had just acquired in the masjid, I found two village youths who had handed over this material to me sitting in front of my house. As soon as they entered the house and sat down, one of them asked me whether I had made a copy of it or not. Hearing my affirmative reply, he apologised and then asked me to return the original copy as well as the photocopied one to him. He explained that Mas Guno who had originally circulated that paper requested that they find me so that I might return it to him. Although I regretted a lot that I had not written this material into my field notes, their desperate attitude urged me to hand it over to them. Looking at the relieved smile on their faces, I asked them to take me to Mas Guno's house, which they willingly agreed.

The letterhead of that paper showed that it was published by a Christian Group calling itself the Movement of Christian University Students (Gerakan Mahasiswa Kristen). It was composed of sixteen passages, all of which concerned the tactics to be used by Christian students to realise their mission. Unfortunately, I could not remember all of these passages but some of them went as follows: do not help Muslim friends; do not lend any study material such as reference books and lecture notes to them; try to conceal Christian identity when getting acquainted with new persons; do not sit with other Christians when attending lectures or visiting other public places; put forward the issues of emancipation of woman and human rights when talking to Muslims; and, especially for Christian girls, keep close contact with Muslim male students.

According to Mas Guno, this manual had been secretly circulated among Christian students. He obtained it by way of his close Muslim friend and brought it to the masjid to help other Muslims to understand the orientation of Christian activities in Indonesia, whose ultimate aim was, according to him, to destroy the umat Islam. He then talked enthusiastically about the attitude of tolerance taught by Pancasila and about how this message had been observed by Muslims and transgressed by Christians. At last, he explained the reason why he could not permit me to have a copy of it. He alluded to his concern that this paper would be made known to Christians in Kolojonggo through me, which would eventually incite them.

In addition to influences from the city, everyday life has also provided Muslim villagers with opportunities to construct a negative image of Christians. One thing that should be considered is that everyday life itself has not changed a lot. What has changed is the perspective of Muslims in looking at a certain phenomenon and the way they interpret it. For example, when conversion occurred a few decades ago, it was not interpreted as a result of a vicious tactic employed by Christians. When it occurs now, however, it is perceived as a proof of the offensive attitude of Christians toward the umat Islam. Marriage held in the fasting month is another example. When only a few Muslims participated in the fast, marriage in the fasting month did not arouse any concern. The frequency of the weddings in each month of the Javanese calendar shows that the fasting month was not regarded as a bad choice for marriage and no dramatic decrease in the frequency of marriages was recorded in the fasting month from 1979 to 1990. [8] However, the situation has now changed. In the two fasting months in 1993 and 1994, only one wedding was held in Kolojonggo, which was celebrated by a Christian family and this marriage was evaluated differently by the reformist villagers.

Pak Sastro had several good reasons to hold his daughter's wedding in the middle of the fasting month. First, his daughter was three or four months pregnant. Second, he could not tolerate an unmarried daughter giving birth to a baby, although his future son-in-law had made a promise to marry her. Third, his future son-in-law, who worked in Kalimantan, had to leave Kolojonggo before the end of the fasting month. After deciding to celebrate the wedding in the fasting month, he had to choose one of two options. On the one hand, he could hold the wedding on a small scale, skipping a reception to which lots of guest would be invited. However, he could not accept this option. In accordance with his status as a civil servant and the status of his daughter and his son-in-law as a university student and a university graduate, he did not want to miss a chance to hold a reception. Moreover, his own religion placed no restriction on a marriage in the fasting month.

When the news of this marriage spread to the hamlet, the anak masjid viewed it as a typical example of the intolerant attitude of Christians to Muslims and Islamic activities. It was offensive and provocative since a wedding reception cannot be held without food. As Pak Sastro's family had to ask for assistance from their Muslim neighbours and since all the work was closely related to food, whether it be to cook or to serve the food, it was quite obvious that a person's participation in the preparations escalated the possibility of cancelling the fast.

The nominal ideal of village life, harmony (rukun), made it difficult for the anak masjid to express their anger. In spite of this inhibition, however, they found a way to express it. They used the strategy of sabotage. With the excuse that he was busy working, the president of Karang Taruna, Mas Sri, who was a core member of the anak masjid and whose cooperation was urgently needed to mobilise the youth into work, did not convene a meeting to organise a working party for the wedding. This sabotage continued until three days before the marriage ceremony when a Christian youth visited the masjid late at night to meet with Mas Sri. This visit was an extraordinary one since it was the only occasion that I witnessed in 1993 and 1994 when a Christian entered the masjid. At that time, Mas Sri had already returned home after finishing his prayer, so that the Christian youth was asked to visit him at home. The next day, Mas Sri opened a meeting where a compromise was made to organise the working party. The time for the Muslims youth to work was set after six in the evening when the fast finished.

This case shows how Islamic development helps Muslims to see the same phenomenon from a different angle. This shift of perspective then helps them strengthen their negative image of Christians. Throughout the year, the fasting month provides many chances for the heightened religiosity of Muslims to be offended by actions of their Christian neighbours. For example, when Christians organised gotong-royong and served a meal to the participants, they smoked freely in the face of Muslim smokers and they made a noise by singing a hymn at night and by loud music, all of these were considered to exemplify the intolerant and offensive attitude of Christians to Muslims.