The Pesantren without Terrorists
and the Church without the Face of Jesus:
A Pilgrimage from Jogjakarta to Karanganyar to Solo
Masduri, a Muslim at right,
receives a hug from the father of the
Christian family that hosted him during his interfaith
Having grown up in a pesantren, Masduri had never
living with someone from another faith community. The photo,
which was chosen as the first place winner in the photo
category, was entitled “Love” by the photographer as there
prejudice between these people of different faiths.
(Photo by Gunawan)
Drizzle accompanied our last bit of energy on the
second day of this program. We are on the way to a pesantren,
or Islamic boarding school, by the name of Al Urwatul Wutsqo in
Karanganyar in Central Java. The place is quite far with the narrow
terrain of the hillsides and the climbing and winding serpentine
roads requiring that we transfer from a bus to a small car.
Our journey this night is very lively and eventful. It is not just
the trip, but it requires a difficult struggle when the engine of a
car full of our other participants suddenly stops. The passengers
have to get out and push their car so that the engine will start
running again under the drizzle of the rain and the cold mountain
weather. There is a big question in my mind though: Why should we
choose to be here and encounter this difficult and challenging
When the morning comes, this body feels so rigid and lazy to get up
from the bed. The rest of me is tired, and I still feel pain in my
body, but the rowdy sound of my friends who are busy lining up in
the bathroom wakes me up. I feel sleepy while I am walking behind
this house, which belongs to a family member of this pesantren,
and then I was surprised—it’s so amazing—the view outside is really
beautiful! I am in a hill station with a green vegetable garden
below the house, the morning fog covering the green trees. This view
is the answer for the big question in my mind last night. Why we
chose this place to visit is because it is under the great Mount
Lawu, which has this beautiful and amazing landscape!
This outing is my first experience, and also for almost all of the
participants who are non-Muslim, to stay in an Islamic boarding
school. We learned about pesantrens and multiculturalism from
Dr. Umay M. Dja’afar, who is the founder of Al Urwatul Wutsqo.
I also learned from the different perspectives of my friends.
Susanto, for instance, is a Buddhist and a participant from
Temanggung who is also a student in one of the Buddhist universities
in Central Java. He thought previously that an Islamic boarding
school is really assertive only about Islam and creates
fundamentalist Muslims who are difficult to do dialogue. After he
arrived and felt so comfortable because the big family of Al Urwatul
Wutsqo are so welcoming and humble and also he learned about the
Five Pillars of Islam, it helped to change his mind and thinking to
see what an Islamic pesantren is.
Like Susanto, a Buddhist, I also, as a Muslim, previously thought
that a pesantren is so exclusive and cannot be open for other
different identities, but now my views have changed. I started
talking, for example, with the santri—students in an Islamic
boarding school—and asked them a simple question: What is their
dream in the future after they graduate from this pesantren?
They give me an amazing answer, for most of them still want to
continue studying in the large university in Jogjakarta. Some of
them want to be a Muslim leader, and others want to be a policeman.
Their answers broke for me the stereotype that pesantrens
create radical Muslims, which some people label as terrorists. It is
not true, especially in Al Urwatul Wustqo. Now let us begin a
campaign— Stop Stereotypes of Pesantrens.
We felt so sad when we had to continue our journey. The students and
ustad, or Islamic leader, bid us farewell with waving hands.
Time is moving faster as the small car that picks us up rolls down
from the high slopes of Mount Lawu and takes us to the bus on the
main road that then takes us to the next destination, a Javanese
Protestant church named GKJ Dagen Palur near Solo in Central Java.
There was nothing at all that initially impressed me when I entered
this church. It looks like a simple design painted in a chocolate
color. There are some Java ornaments in some corners of this big
building, including a pair of Semar statues in front of the main
door (Semar is a character in Javanese puppetry). There is one only
small cross on the simple pulpit and some chairs for the followers.
This design makes me more interested. Why is this church not like
the usual church that I have ever have visited?
Pastor Novembri Choeldhano leads our discussion for this session. As
the head pastor, he explains to us many things about this church.
The main point that I understand is that this church is not afraid
to innovate because of its emphasis on the balance between humanity
I and some other people have a question about why Jesus has such a
handsome face and looks like a Latino with a long nose?
From the resulting discussion, we learn that, indeed, culture and
traditions have greatly influenced religious symbols. In this
church, however, Jesus is depicted without a face to make Jesus more
humane, a deconstructing of Christology to find the true praxis of
Jesus. Consequently, the Faceless Jesus becomes far removed from
ideological biases and the distortions of history and culture and
gives space for everyone in every culture the ability to interpret a
physical figure of Jesus.
I agree that religion as an institution of beliefs should be updated
to fit the times and place. In this way, religion will not go
against other forms of human existence because thinking that is too
conservative and traditional will bring us to look at religion in a
stiff and inflexible manner, making it difficult to accept new and
positive insights. Inculturation between local Javanese culture with
Christian teaching is a path to continue to maintain the values of
local wisdom so that the integration process can fortify itself
against capitalism, for example, and its emphasis on consumption and
materialism. What this church has done explains that the building of
this church, GKJ Dagen Palur, is not only for worship and prayer but
also is a place for positive activities for the congregation, and
this function is an important role of the church to build the
intellectual insights and spiritual character of the congregation.
I remember when I was in the School of Peace (SOP) in India that the
coordinator of Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF), Max Ediger, said,
“If you want to know my faith, watch my life.”
This program of interaction and dialogue with people from different
identities and living together with them and looking at interfaith
issues in the local Indonesian context has helped me understand
deeply about harmony and tolerance. Because of these interactions,
we can recognize our stereotypes; and by recognizing them, we are
able to understand, and then, because we have understanding, we can
eliminate prejudices. I will bring the values of learning and
experiences to my community and will share them with my network.
Then the “peace viruses” will expand everywhere stronger and
“Whatever your religion, it is important that you always do good
things. Then people will never ask what your religion is.”
—Abdurrahman Wahid (“Gusdur”), fourth president of Indonesia
* Gunawan, from the Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi, is
an alumni of the 2010 SOP that ICF conducted in Bangalore, India. He
took part in the IYP program above, whose lead organizer was the
Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), with youth from
different faiths from various parts of Indonesia. A primary purpose
of the IYP program was to offer ways to manage and resolve conflicts
that have often occurred among people of different faiths in
Indonesia in recent years, such as Gunawan’s community of Poso.