Opening Day

June 7th, 2010

This morning was the opening ceremonies of our undergraduate exchange and study trip studying  “Religious Plurality, Democracy, and Multiculturalism.”  The opening ceremony that was very lovely, warm, and welcoming was held at UGM’s University club.  The three participating universities took time to introduce themselves and the participants and advisers stated their excitements as well as expectations for our program.

After the opening ceremonies, the group had a lecture with Zainal Abidin Bagin, Ph.D. the Director of Center for Religious and Cross- Cultural Studies (CRCS), a master’s program at the Graduate School of Universitas Gadjah Mada.  Professor Bagin lectured about “Religious Pluralism & Democracy in Indonesia.”  One of the most interesting points of the this lecture covered Indonesia’s requirement for every citizen to be one of the six religions; Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddha, Hindi, and Confucianism.  Under the Indonesian constitution, every person must believe in “One Supreme God.”  On each citizen’s identification card there is a section for your religion.  As an American this is very startlingly, because one of my most basic freedoms is the “Freedom to Religion” even if that means having no religion.  In Indonesia, this is not a government recognized path.  This interesting point makes me think about the place of religion in democracy.  Is it appropriate for the government to require you to have a religion?  In the United States, we pride ourselves on being a “secular” nation.  We pride ourselves on being able to hypothetically “separate” church and state, but in actuality is this true?  Is it ever really possible it ever possible to separate one’s personal religious choices from his or her political views?  Many different political opinions and views are shaped and determined by the religious views of the individual.  Look at American political issues such as abortion and stem cell research, these issues are political yes, but depending on a person’s religion can strongly alter or change how a person feels about the issue.  At what point is it possible to draw a line between religion and politics?  Is it possible?

Following the CRCS, we left UGM to visit the Interfiedi, which is an organization that encourages and facilitates interfaith dialogue in Indonesia.  This was discussion was also incredibly interesting.  Three separate individuals spoke to us; the Vice President of this Interfiedi office, a female Islamic religion teacher, and a woman who had grown in a Catholic- Muslim home.  The first speaker made the point that the main challenge to interfaith dialogue is prejudice; “the main policy of the Indonesian government is not set up well to facilitate and encourage interfaith dialogue.”  The goal of the Interfiedi is to work against this challenge by bringing individuals of different faiths together to learn from each other.  They hold workshops and retreats that help allow individuals of different faiths to meet and discuss not only their differences, but more importantly similarities.  These similarities help both sides realize how much in common the two opposing faiths have with each other.  This helps break down the superficial prejudice that often exists between different religious faiths and then build bridges for open and honest communication.

The second speaker was a woman who taught Islam religion classes at a  local high school.  This woman was taking measures to break down the separation created by religion classes in the education system through unconventional teaching methods.  This woman was incredibly inspirational, because of her views on interfaith dialogue, her courage to stand up for what she believes in, and her ability to make change that influences her students in a positive manner.  She was incredibly insightful and had really taken the time to examine what injustices were occurring in the national education system.  The woman had three major barriers that prevented interfaith dialogue; misunderstanding of a different religion, exclusiveness of each religion, and negative stigma towards other religions.  She explained that in the Indonesian education system, depending on what religion one is determines what religion classes one takes from the time he/she enters elementary school until completion of high school.  A student will take religion classes in only his/ her own religion, but will not learn about the other 5 major religions the Indonesian government recognizes.  This prevents students from learning about other religions and allows for rumors or stereotypes to be generated quickly.  As a result, the prejudices are then perpetuated due to the exclusivity of the religion classes.  This negative stigma is hard to challenge, because  there is no way to break down these stereotypes.  The students are not provided with the means to get past these false prejudices.

The teacher also made an important observation about her own transformation from only seeing the preconceived judgments to being open towards other faiths.  She realized that she had to first change her own mind and realize that “God is all loving and compassionate and only God judges.”  She told us that the judging of any person should be left up to God and instead we should emulate God in His all loving and compassionate nature.

The final speaker was Angitta, a woman that was incredibly open and honest about her faith journey while living in Indonesia.  Angitta had been born into a family that was a interfaith marriage.  Angitta’s father was Muslim and her mother was Catholic.  Throughout Angitta’s entire life, she struggled with her faith identity and more importantly her personal identity.  This woman was constantly being torn between two sides of her family; both sides felt that if she chose the other side it would be disrespectful and they would not longer speak to her.  Even within families, the prejudice against other religions can arise and tear families apart.  Angitta was also constantly being forced to declare her religion, but she was unsure of her beliefs.  Angitta shared a story from when she went to get her I.D. card.  The clerk asked her what religion to be designated on her I.D., unsure Agnitta asked “What if I do not have a religion?”  The clerk’s response was “We will just put Islam and it will be fine.”  Agnitta felt trapped and being forced into a something that she was not.  She was offended feeling that her true views were not being expressed nor could she confine herself to one specific religion when she did not follow the tenets of Islam.  Agnitta came to realize that for her “faith is finding what soothes your heart.”  It is about finding the ideas, values, morals, and beliefs that make you feel at peace with the world.  Agnitta felt that “His [God’s] love is not segmented.  There are values and traditions to enrich us and make us more complete.”  When we look at interfaith dialogue through this lense, it becomes much to easier to reach a mutual respect for a different religion.  It allows one to see the beauty of the religion and the reasons why one finds or feels comfort in his/her religious traditions.  It allows us to see past the superficial differences and understand that religion serves the same purpose of providing followers with peace of mind and trust in something/someone that is greater than themselves, but through different practices, rituals, symbols, and traditions.

Selamat Malam!

Anne Marie

Ps. Selamat Malam means good evening.

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