‘Ruko’ Churches and the Issue of Islamization

‘Ruko’ Churches and the Issue of Islamization

Jakarta Post | Fri, April 05 2013 | Paper Edition Page: 7

Not more than one 200 meters from our house, there are more than two ruko (shop houses) that for as long as I can remember have been used as places of worship every Sunday. During walks with my children in the morning or while wandering alone looking for daily needs in the nearby minimarts, we can spot our Christian neighbors going to their simple places of worship.

Thank God, so far, the availability of these “temporary churches” has not incited any violence. In fact, we know that in the housing complex where the rukos are situated, there are some hard-line Islamic organizations, which allegedly often provoke mass attacks on unofficial non-Muslim places of worship.

Many assume that the “temporary churches” will be safe as long as they are just as they are now.

Even some hard-liners whom I know well pay less attention to the ruko churches than to their wish to radicalize mainstream Muslims with focused religious services often called liqa.

However, the situation raises the question, “Will those Christians perform their prayers that way forever as it is too difficult to just get a building permit?”

Amid the smokescreen of legalities and political expediency, we also should ask another question, “Will the peace we have been so far enjoying last amid the ebb and flow of Muslim and non-Muslim

In West Java, especially, where temporary churches might be the most prevalent — there is no exact number — religious violence related to the issue of places of worship and Muslim minorities (Shiites and Ahmadis) has most frequently occurred in recent years. And sadly, we have seen no significant efforts from the authorities to change this.

The bulldozing of a church in Setu, Bekasi, a district in West Java, on March 22, was therefore the foreseeable result of the local authority plumping for one side and abandoning the other instead of trying to stand in between.

We could see clearly that the issue of legality was just a cover for political expediency.

And the people in the administration do not understand that they are actually raising snakes in the grass. Potential conflicts should not be resolved through one side winning and leaving the other in misery. Sooner or later, new forms of conflict will arise since the underlying issues are only papered over instead of being resolved.

An Indonesianist, MC Ricklefs, based on his apprehension of what is going on in Indonesia, dedicated his latest book Islamization and its opponents in Java (2012), “to those who, over the centuries, have lost their livelihoods, their homes, their friends, their loved ones, their dignity, their dreams, their health, their freedom and their lives, because of conflicts over what people believe.”

To avoid bias or misunderstanding, Islamization here should be understood in the context of other cases of proselytization, such as Christianization, Buddhistization and so on. The point is how people try to improperly change others’ beliefs related to the way they understand their religion or practice their religiosity.

Beside efforts to make an individual or a group of people convert, it also includes any endeavors which make someone or a group feel uncomfortable or threatened
to the extent of changing his or their minds and following the demands of the propagators, either partially or thoroughly. For the propagators themselves, it is usually done in the hope of gaining a godly reward as well as communal praise and benefits.

Looking at the present day, therefore, if one feels uncomfortable or threatened because of propagation or the way someone or a milieu looks at one related to one’s beliefs, it can be said that there is a tolerance problem.

And Ricklefs, after decades of studying Indonesia, senses the problem. In other words, scientifically, he would like to say that Indonesia is now facing a big challenge over the quality of religious tolerance.

Certainly, someone’s changing of a belief or the way he or she chooses to dress is actually a privilege. Whether all citizens of a country are Muslim or Christian is also not the point.

The point is whether someone or a group of people deprives others of their rights or interferes with those rights. If communal peace and harmony are really sought it is surely a must that problems be resolved both locally and nationally.

Back to the above story, in the current political and legal uncertainty, our Christian fellow citizens with their ruko places of worship are actually like people submerged up to their necks. Once the water ripples or a small wave comes, they will sink and we will see bloodshed or the loss of lives.

The places of worship will be there as long as a police or an army car is parked in front of them. Or, the congregations will feel secure as long as the local police are looked after and the security racketeers get their share. But, as long as they are still worshipping in the rukos, the quality of their “security” will not be as good as what their Muslim fellow neighbors enjoy.

The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta

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