The Jakarta Post | Sat, 12/24/2005 11:57 PM | Opinion
Some Christians might have felt that Santa Claus came early when Din Syamsuddin -- the chairman of the country's second largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, and also vice chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) -- on Wednesday offered the use of Muhammadiyah buildings for Christmas services. However, most Christians feel skeptical about the offer by hard-line group, the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), to protect churches during the Christmas celebrations.
It is a lesser surprise to see such a friendly offer coming from the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), as this organization has had an impressive track record on tolerance and pluralism over a long period of time.
The goodwill gestures from Muhammadiyah and the FPI are encouraging for Christians. It is a pleasant surprise that a major Muslim organization, and the FPI -- to be frank the FPI engenders a strong a perception of intolerance and violence among non-Muslims -- have offered facilities and protection to Christians in the exercise of their religious rights as guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution.
However, like gifts from Santa Claus, which are always very welcome but do not normally have major implications for our lives, Christians need more than just gestures of goodwill.
Especially after the Christmas Eve disaster in 2000 where self-proclaimed Muslim warriors bombed a number of churches around the country, Christians feel anxious about their security during Christmas services, despite a strong police presence at nearly all churches.
Jesus, actually, is not a stranger to Muslims as Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet and messenger. Islam, however, does not recognize Jesus as the Son of God and his crucifixion as the salvation of mankind.
The offer from Muhamadiyah is especially heartening. Many Christians have lost their places to worship over the last several years following forced closures by radical Muslim groups, particularly in West Java, with the excuse normally being a lack of official permits. In reality, most closures are due to the fact that Muslim groups cannot accept the presence of churches in their neighborhoods. Many of the places of worship that were forcibly shut did, in fact, have official permits.
There is a strong fear of ""Christianization"" among Muslims as Christians are perceived as being wealthier, and because of the imperative of spreading the Christian message. Although about 90 percent of the population is Muslim, worries about the proselytizing issue remain high.
Many Muslims do not understand why there are so many churches in the country compared to the number of Christians. Many of them, perhaps, do not realize that the Christian religion is made up of very many different churches.
While the 1945 Constitution firmly guarantees the freedom of religion, the government is often weak, if not actually unwilling, in carrying out its constitutional obligations.
Non-Muslims often complain about what they feel is increasingly discriminatory treatment from state institutions. They feel they are being treated as second class citizens just because their faith is different from that of the majority of the population. On the other hand, the majority sees the minority as suffering from a persecution complex, especially given the economic power of the Christian section of the community.
Of course, Christians must try to comprehend the sentiments of other people and stop practices that could upset Muslims, especially as regards proselytizing
We sincerely hope that the Muhammadiyah offer is the starting point toward discussing a more substantial issue: the protection of Christians and other non-Muslims in the performance of their religious obligations in their daily lives, not just at Christmas, while also ensuring the freedom of Muslims to exercise their rights.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation and is often cited as a model for its relatively tolerant, moderate and pluralistic character. It is matter of pride and honor that we preserve this character, especially given the current situation where many in the West perceive Islam as an intolerant and violent religion.
On this Christmas Eve, it comes as a big surprise to hear Christmas carols being sung in Muhammadiyah buildings. This should be seen as concrete evidence of tolerance and pluralism, a perception that would be reinforced should it be followed by more concrete actions by all sides in this country.
What would be more significant would be for organizations like Muhammadiyah to start fighting against discriminatory treatment not only against Christians, but even against non-conformist Muslim groups like, for example, the Ahmadiyahs.
The real problem in Indonesia in the fact that people need to be protected while praying. Thus, the most important thing is to eliminate the need for physical protection for worshipers as this need flies in the face of all the values espoused by the ""Pancasila"" state.
In conclusion, it only remains for us to wish all our readers a very merry Christmas!