Doctrine divides, Action unites


  January 2014

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 pilgrimage.
Having grown up in a pesantren, Masduri had never experienced
living with someone from another faith community. The photo,
which was chosen as the first place winner in the photo stories
category, was entitled “Love” by the photographer as there is no
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 outing?

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 and ecology.

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 stronger.

“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.

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