Conversion; Ideological War

One of the central issues which has had an impact on the production and reproduction of the Muslim villagers' image of Christians is that of conversion. Conversion is quite frequently discussed amongst Muslims and numerous stories of conversion are circulated. The Muslim version of the conversion from Islam to Christianity contains all negative features: seduction, fraud, selfishness, foul play and violation of law. In reverse, the conversion story of Christians to Islam emphasises positive features: truth, spiritual pursuit, rationality and tolerance.

This gives the impression that Muslims wage an ideological war against Christians over the issue of conversion. However, this aggressive attitude is directed more at their own community than at Christians. This is because, first of all, no public sphere is available where Muslims and Christians can meet to discuss this issue. Secondly, Christians are generally reluctant to be involved in any religious discussions with Muslims.

According to the reformist villagers, none of the factors which induce a Muslim to convert to Christianity are directly connected to sincerity or pursuit of the truth but stem from the factors external to the converts. The first is economic benefits. The term Kristen Sari-mie (the trademark of a brand of instant noodle) summarises how the reformist villagers perceive the new converts to Christianity just as they were referred to Kristen beras (rice Christians) in the 1960s. As the Church is believed to tempt Muslims by distributing boxes of Sari-mie, Kristen Sari-mie symbolises the poor Muslims who sell their faith in exchange for material benefit. At the village level, the conversion stories are not connected to Sari-mie but water buffalo, cow or bull. A villager, when passing along the village path by motorbike with me, pointed out a big cow and commented that the owner received her from the Catholic Church when his whole family converted to Christianity. According to the reformist villagers, merely giving out material goods is a rather naive tactic of the Church, compared with the one which is said to have been used in the city:

Many Muslims living in the city slum converted to Christianity lured by economic benefits such as food and opportunities of work. However, these economic benefits did not last long after their conversion. Within a year or so, the Church withdrew all previous assistance since it was aware of the fact that the converts could not return to Islam again. Their re-conversion to Islam was impossible since Muslim neighbours of the converts already knew their conversion and severed relations with the latter. As a result, the converts were forced to stay Christians, begging charity of the Church.

In this example, the Church is identified as a company running a business. In order to maximise its limited resources, it makes a deliberate plan to distribute and withdraw economic benefits. Its members are aware of the future isolation of the converts and use this isolation as a way to retain them without spending further economic resources.

The reformist villagers are well aware that Christians legitimise their assistance to non-Christians in the name of humanitarianism. They also admit that one of the purposes of religion is to rid human beings of sufferings irrespective of religious difference, so that, for instance, the donation of funds to those who suffer from disasters is not an inappropriate field for the Church's social activities. This admission, however, does not mean they approve of the Church's humanitarian activities. The reason is simple: if its assistance to followers of other religions is based solely on humanitarian grounds and no hidden intention is involved in it, there is no need for it to carry out these activities by itself or under its own name. In other words, the Church does not need to donate something directly to the umat Islam. What Christians should do instead is to collect funds and then donate them to the government or even to the takmir masjid in each region. Then, the government or the Islamic organisations will distribute them to those who suffer from disasters or from economic hardship. Seen from this perspective, the insistence of the Church that it should be the distributor of material assistance does have hidden implications. Pak Bibit put forward this view as follows, comparing it with world politics:

Have you thought why America sent their army to Somalia or to the Gulf? Have you thought why America strongly supports South Korea rather than North Korea? Is it because she is so humane as to sacrifice herself to keep world peace? The answer is 'no'. There are underlying reasons America sacrifices her economic as well as human resources. ... The same logic applies to the activities of Christians in Indonesia. The donation of money by Christians to Muslims does not stem solely from humanitarianism. They have hidden intentions beyond the appearance.

As Pak Bibit mentioned, direct assistance from Christians to Muslims cannot be legitimised in any case. Therefore, the fact that these activities have been going on by the Church is proof that it does not give up its plan to Christianise the whole Muslim population in Indonesia. In this way, according to the reformist villagers, Christians have kept violating Decree No. 70 1978, which forbids proselytising activities toward those who already have a religion, and which prohibits the Church from giving out material benefits to Muslims.

Mixed marriage (kawin campur) is the second factor which is said to induce Muslims' conversion to Christianity. The experience of the reformist villagers easily supports this. In the Christian community of Kolojonggo, there are thirty-seven married couples. Of these thirty-seven marriages, five were between Christians, eighteen were between a Christian and a Muslim and fourteen were between Muslim couples, one or both of which later converted to Christianity. This relatively low ratio of marriages between Christians to the total marriages in the Christian community was partly due to the fact that no pressure had existed until quite recently for Christians to marry Christians or for Muslims to marry Muslims. When mixed marriages did occur, it seems to have been Muslims who changed their religion to Christianity. Of the eighteen mixed marriages discussed above, Muslims converted to Christianity in seventeen cases while in one case, husband and wife have retained their own religions so far.

The reformist Muslims understand this state of affairs well, so that mixed marriage is one of the frequently discussed topics in pengajian. In these discourses, Christians are depicted as immoral, being ready to use love, the most basic component of humanity, as a means to achieve their own ends. The typical marriage story goes as follows:

A Christian girl approaches a Muslim experiencing hardship and lures him. After they fall in love and decide to marry, the Christian girl requests her future husband to convert to Christianity. As he is already blindly in love, he readily changes his belief.

As the conversion of one member of a Muslim family is a factor that may trigger the conversion of the whole family [9] and marriage is one of the easiest ways for Christianity to be imported into a particular family, the reformist villagers stress the issue of mixed marriage and how to tackle this. According to them, one of the best means of hindering mixed marriages is to prevent the formation of close relations between Muslims and Christians. As a villager put it, 'Muslim parents should work hard so that their children will love Muslims and not fall in love with non-Muslims.'

This emphasis put on marriage between Muslims seems to bring tensions to social life where mixed marriages have not been stigmatised until recently. In 1993-94, there was only one case of mixed marriage and, differing from the previous mixed marriages, this aroused friction between the bride’s and groom's family.

It was not certain how this couple, a Christian man, Pak Peno, and a Muslim woman, Bu Peno, had started their love affair. When the news of their affair reached me, it was when they had already decided to get married. Borrowing the perspective of the reformist villagers, this love affair was possible due to the weakness of Bu Peno's religiosity. Previously, she was not actively involved in Islamic activities and her visits to the masjid were confined to the first phase of the fasting month and special pengajian. In the case of Pak Peno, he was quite frequently present at the kapel, although he did not attend Sunday service every week. At the first stage when they decided to get married, religious difference did not seem to be a serious obstacle to their marriage. First of all, they themselves did not call their religious difference into question. The family of Pak Peno also did not object to the marriage since they believed Bu Peno would change her religion and the marriage would be celebrated in a Christian way. In accordance with their expectation, Bu Peno started to attend the Christian learning course. In a short while, however, the first obstacle to this marriage came from the side of Bu Peno. Her cousin who was an Islamic activist in Kolojonggo learnt that Bu Peno was going to change her religion. He made every effort to persuade his father to intervene in the marriage, an action effective enough to make Bu Peno reverse her previous decision. With the excuse that the learning course did not suit (cocok) her, she stopped attending the Christian learning course. However, at that moment, she did not seem to have decided not to change her religion to Christianity. Rather, it was likely that she reserved her decision, watching over the situations in both her family and Pak Peno's. The moment when she had to choose one of the two religions, however, came suddenly when her cousin who strongly opposed to her marriage ran over a passer-by with his motorbike. Later, this accident was interpreted to be caused by the fact that he had thought too deeply about Bu Peno’s marriage and subsequent conversion until he had lost his control in the road. Whatever the actual cause of the accident might be, it worked as a turning point in her marriage. After hearing that the accident was caused by her, Bu Peno made up her mind not to change her religion and made her intention known to Pak Peno. After a few weeks, Pak Peno at last gave up his efforts to persuade Bu Peno. Instead, he decided to change his religion to Islam. This was a hard blow to Pak Peno's family and his parents did not approve of his marriage as a Muslim. The way they displayed their dissatisfaction with their son was somewhat extreme in village life. They did not attend the wedding ceremony which was held in Bu Peno's house. This step was followed by most of his kinsmen, so that only his uncle came to the bride's house as a representative of the groom's family.

In view of the Javanese social norm not to show one's real feelings in public, the absence of Pak Peno's parents and their kinsmen from Pak Peno's wedding seems to have been too extreme and this sort of reaction may not happen again in Kolojonggo. In spite of its abnormality, however, it shows the importance of religious identity as a factor in choosing one's spouse and the degree of friction which existed between Muslims and Christians concerning the issue of mixed marriages.

Apart from economic benefits and mixed marriages, what the reformist villagers enumerate as factors in causing conversion to Christianity include education in the Christian school, contact with Christian friends, involvement in a Western-style art group and indulgence in Western popular culture.

Many counter-measures were discussed by the reformist villagers to offset the proselytising activities of Christians. Deepening religious piety of Muslims to make them strong enough not to be tempted by the Christian mission was considered to be the most urgent one. The need to know more about Christian tactics, to give religious education to one's children, to improve the economic standard of Muslims and to intensify the welfare system in the umat Islam were also put forward. However, these measures are little more than principles and can hardly be realised with ease. The better and more practical way seems to be to clarify the boundary of the umat Islam and to strengthen the sense of collectivity within the umat, which will function to exert collective pressure on a Muslim who wants to change his or her religion. The effectiveness of this approach was actually proven when a Muslim girl gave up her intention of entering Christianity.

When the third section of the takmir masjid meeting came to discuss miscellaneous things, Mas Toro asked for time. With a voice full of excitement, he began his speech. 'Before I speak, I ask forgiveness of everyone, if there is something inappropriate in my speech. Here, I'd like to discuss a problem of Mbak Tinah.' Then, he summarised a rumour that she had participated several times in the meetings of the Bible study group. After this, he added: 'I tell this story in order for us, especially Muslim youth in our hamlet, to reflect upon ourselves. When I first heard this story, I felt ashamed. I wondered why the activities of Muslim youth had deviated so far from the right track. Why aren't our religious programs designed to embrace all Muslim youth before ? Once again, I ask Muslims in Kolojonggo in general and Muslim youth in particular to recollect our previous activities. In addition, I request Muslim parents to pay more attention to their children and Muslim youth to take more interest in their friends.' Without talking further about the problem of Mbak Tinah, he ended his remarks.

As Mas Toro mentioned, Mbak Tinah had attended Christian youth meetings. However, her attendance at these meetings did not mean her automatic conversion to Christianity. The Church decrees that someone who wants to be baptised should take instruction in Christianity for six months and Mbak Tinah had gone to these meetings just a few times, which was not enough to qualify her for baptism. The reason why she participated in these meetings was not clear. It was plausible that, as Mas Toro said, frequent contact with her close Christian friends might have played the major role.

It was unfortunate for her that publicisation of her intention preceded her actual conversion. A few days after the meeting of the takmir masjid, Mas Toro and a few others visited her. As they did not talk in detail about this meeting, it is difficult to know what discussion took place at that time between them. It might have been no more than making a simple suggestion or questioning her on the truth of the rumour. What is clear is that their unexpected visit conveyed a certain message to her. In Javanese social life where not many villagers are brave enough to express their hidden or real intention to others and where villagers are quite cautious about speaking directly of what they have in mind to others, this kind of simple but unexpected visit can mean something important. This visit could imply that their previous indifference to her was changed to deep concern about her. This show of interest in her behaviour clearly represented indirect pressure on her, alerting her to the fact that Muslims were monitoring her behaviour. As the Muslim youth expected, Mbak Tinah's visits to the masjid increased dramatically after their visit to her at home. A position was even given to her in the meeting to prepare for the fasting month, symbolising that she was fully incorporated into the umat Islam.

This success of the Muslim youth is somewhat exceptional. Their action seems to have been made possible by the fact that all of those involved in this incident belonged to the younger generation and somewhat aberrant behaviour could be more easily accepted, at least amongst themselves. However, if the news of an adult villager's conversion is heard, it would be unlikely that similar kinds of visit by adult Muslims would take place. They would not be brave enough to violate the social norms prohibiting direct involvement in others' private affairs until one is invited to do so by those directly connected with it.

In spite of this aberration, this example implies that the domain which was previously considered to be private is changing into that of collectivity. Conversion is no longer viewed, at least by some villagers, as an individual responsibility but a collective one. Islamic development and subsequent clarification of the boundary of the umat Islam have been the momentum bringing this change. When the boundary of religious identity can no longer be blurred, the religiosity of others is gradually incorporated as a concern of those who belong to the same 'in-group'.

This situation in Kolojonggo parallels the development at the national level in which the interpretation of religious freedom has shifted from the idea of laissez-faire to something that should be regulated. One of the factors which triggered this shift was the success of Islamic groups in prompting the stipulation of Decree No. 70 1978. Following this legalisation, Muslims have emphasised the need to interfere in religious life for the purpose of achieving religious freedom, as was exemplified by the inter-religious meetings (musyawarah antara agama) in Yogyakarta in 1983 and 1984. The primary aim of these meetings was to let delegates from the five official religions reach an agreement on ethical codes for followers of different religions. In the 1983 Yogyakarta meeting, the delegates agreed upon five ethical codes related to (1) construction of places of worship, (2) spread of religion, (3) marriage between different religious followers, (4) burial and (5) commemoration of religious days (Departemen Agama,1990:19-48). Some of them go as follows:

(1) When building a new place of worship, the number of the population who will use that place and its distance from the existing place of worship of another religion should be considered; an ordinary house should not be used as a place of worship. [10]

(2) Proselytism should not be directed to a person or a group of persons who already have another religion.

(3) The ideal marriage is one between a man and a woman who have the same religion. Thus, marriage between a man and a woman who have different religions should be avoided (dihindari) and prevented (dicegah) as much as possible. When a mixed marriage takes place, guidance has to be sought in order for the newly married to carry out their religious practices respectively. [11]

(4) The burial place prepared by the government is open to everyone who lives in a certain area irrespective of religion.

(5) In principle, the commemoration of the Holy Days of a certain religion should be celebrated and attended by those who profess that religion. However, those who belong to a different religion can also participate on this occasion on the condition that this visit is made to maintain family ties, good neighbourhood relation and community spirit (kegotong-royongan).

The behavioural norms between different religious followers are not confined to these five codes but are also expected to embrace all other domains of social life. Therefore, people are expected to be aware that their behaviour and speech could offend followers of other religions in everyday interaction. The spread of this emphasis on adequate behavioural codes to every level of the population has resulted in a gradual change to grasp the relations between followers of different religions. These have begun to be viewed as something that should be taken care of (dipelihara), cultivated (dibina) and taught in the family, school and community. This is a shift from the Old Order period when laissez-faire was a dominant concept in discussing such relations. In this framework, an individual or a given religious community was considered to be an entity fully responsible for making harmonious relations with other religious followers. With the shift of perspective, however, full responsibility is no longer given to an individual or a religious community since, according to Muslims, harmonious relations between people and groups having different religions cannot be attained without due attention and regulations. One Muslim intellectual puts the reason for this as follows:

The meaning of religious freedom ... is that the parents who have a certain religion have to maintain and take care of their own religion among their family members lest they should change religion. If conversion of a member happens, it will cause instability in a family. It is not totally impossible that the proselyte will leave the family. This will lead to a situation in which the basis of religious freedom and harmony supported by mutual respect will disappear in that family (Sahibi Naim,1983:38-39).

One of the results of this emphasis on adequate behavioural codes has been that it demands people should monitor the religious identity of others with whom they interact. This is because they cannot behave appropriately unless they know the religious affiliation of others. For example, Christians may offer pork or alcohol to Muslims and Muslims may use Arabic greetings to Christians if their religious identity is not clearly recognised. The only way to avoid these mistakes, which will jeopardise harmonious relations between different religious followers, is to be conscious of each other’s religion. In brief, the emphasis on appropriate behavioural norms has made people include religion as a factor in their everyday interactions, has highlighted the importance of religious identity in social life and has transformed religious life, at least in the conceptual domain, from personal responsibility to what should be taken care of and guided by others of the same religion.