There are 3 things that Indonesians refer to when it comes to identity. Funnily enough, being an actual Indonesian national is the last of these.
First is their ethnic background. In its 17,000 islands, the archipelago is scattered with over 300 ethnic groups. All completely culturally diverse from each other; mini nations within a nation.
And you thought State of Origin season was intense. .
In fact, despite being married for over 40 years, my dad still can’t understand my mother’s dialect. He has no clue when she rambles with her sisters. His ears are constantly burning.
Then comes religion. Never to be taken lightly, Indonesians will give you a blank look if you tell them you’re “agnostic”. They’re eyes glaze over when you try to explain what is means to be “atheist”.
Soooo….you don’t believe in anything??? ANYTHING???
There is a section on every Indonesian’s national identity card that needs to be filled in with a religion. Most are Muslim; the minorities being Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. Rarely will you see that section blank.
Indonesians believe earnestly. Nothing can shake their faith.
Well, almost nothing.
I have a cousin on my dad’s side whom I adore. Her father and mine both raised us with strong Christian values.
She went to church every Saturday and despite being from a poor family, managed to get a stable Christian education.
So, it was all a bit of surprise when she met and fell in love with a Muslim guy. On marrying him she decided to wear the hijab and abide by the rules of Islam for women to cover themselves.
No big deal. Well, not to me, anyway. She was still my cousin who I had had sneaky beers with and clove cigarettes one night while watching trashy Indonesian TV.
However, it greatly concerned (and disgusted) my mum and her side of the family.
I love my mum but when it comes to religion, I sometimes wonder if there’s too much of a Judge Judy in her.
She approached my cousin with some extremely direct, slightly intimidating questions:
“How can you pray 5 times a day now to a different God?”
“Isn’t it weird that you enter a mosque rather than a church?”
“What would God think about you wearing that head gear now? Don’t you think He’ll be disappointed?”
Understanding that she still had to respect her elders and was prepared for this very kind of backlash, my cousin’s reply to my mother was simple:
“I still believe in my God. I may follow the Koran and live the life of a Muslim but when I bow down in that mosque, I pray to the God that I grew up with. No one else needs to know who that God is. Only me”
You can’t shut my mother up too often. Trust me. I’ve tried.
But what could she say after hearing such an eloquent, respectful, sincere response?
Despite knowing that a part of my mum’s family will never accept her religious decisions, this cousin of mine still attended Kak Rytha’s recent funeral. Because when a family is falling apart from tragedy and loss, you give them support and offer them your spiritual comfort – whatever form that may be.
Right now, I’m just hanging on to my faith. Yes, I’m a Christian. Yes, I go to church (most weeks…ahem). And these days I’m fervently praying to the God I believe in. The only one I know and feel comfortable with.
But, I get tired of hearing people question other’s religious beliefs; how they approach their faith; whether or not it’s justified.
All that stuff is peripheral.
There is no finite in faith. It’s blind for most of us. Unfortunately, it’s also intangible. But most of all, it’s personal.
What’s important to me is that you can still take away the abstract and cling hard onto the hope it offers.
No matter which God, Greater Force or Universe it comes from.
Joining Essentially Jess for IBOT