Conversations

The Taste of Tolerance

Buffalo (kerbau) meat is still somewhat of a culinary novelty in Indonesia. However, for adventurous palates curious to taste the best of this delicacy, you need look no further than a small town tucked away about 70 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Central Java. Stroll through any main street or obscure corner of Kudus regency, and chances are you’ll stumble upon multiple food stalls offering myriad variations of buffalo-based treats: barbequed on skewers (sate kerbau), stewed with rice on melinjo leaves (pindang kerbau), boiled in fragrant broth (soto kerbau), or even fried into crunchy rind crackers (krupuk rambak) – and all for less than the price of a glass of iced tea in Jakarta.

My interest in Kudus’s buffalo-dominated gastronomic landscape is ironic, considering I’m a pescatarian. But ever since my first visit to Kudus two years ago for my work in the education development space, and in all the recurring visits since, I’ve continued to be captivated by the story behind Kudus’s preferred choice of bovine cuisine and what it teaches us about Indonesian multiculturalism.

You see, besides cheap culinary treats, this small town I’ve come to know as a second home boasts a strong legacy of Islamic tolerance. A landmark Islamic pilgrimage site since the sixteenth century, Kudus’s name originates from the Arabic word “al-Quds” (Jerusalem) and translates to “holy” in the Indonesian language. (You can imagine the endless variations of puns at the disposal of Kudus natives, orang Kudus.) Yet, when Kudus was founded in 1549 by Sunan Kudus – one of nine Muslim saints renowned for their influential role in the spread of moderate Islam throughout Indonesia – many Kudus natives were still practicing the Hindu faith. In order to respect these Hindu residents who considered cows sacred, Sunan Kudus forbade his followers from slaughtering cattle for meat and encouraged the consumption of buffalo meat instead. Today, buffalo meat remains a staple of local Kudus residents’ diets and a daily reminder of the standing tradition of religious tolerance and Archipelago Islam in this city.

Recently, Indonesians and international audiences alike are voicing concerns that Indonesian pluralism has lost its way. News headlines such as the jailing of Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese, Christian ex-governor for alleged blasphemy, the three-fold series of church bombings in Surabaya this year, and a recent study finding nearly 60 percent of Indonesian Muslim teachers to hold intolerant views, all seem to confirm that Indonesia has veered far from the original vision of democratic, multicultural coexistence formulated by the nation’s founders. Even in historically peaceful, moderate environments like Kudus, radicalized teachings are finding their way into schools and universities. A study conducted by the foundation I work for found that roughly 60 percent of religion teachers in state primary schools backed the cause of a radicalist Islamist group (HTI) banned by the Indonesian government for suspected ties to ISIS. The nation’s climate has become rife with growing distrust and divisiveness, and generations who lived through the ’98 ethnic and religious riots wonder if history is bound to repeat itself.

Yet, in my two years journeying across Indonesia and interacting on a day-to-day basis with Indonesians of various faiths and cultural identities, from teachers in Kudus to farmers in Southeast Sulawesi to Go-Car drivers in Jakarta, I’ve encountered numerous counternarratives of faith-based reconciliation and care for neighbor across ethnic, racial, religious and socioeconomic boundaries that give me hope for a better Indonesia. I’ve seen how faith can be a force for good, a fundamental part of one’s identity and calling to love God and thus love neighbor. Some stories are relatively well-known and documented, like the history behind Kudus’s love of buffalo-meat-based cuisine, or the peace-building movement led by the fourth Indonesian president Gus Dur and continued by his descendants today. Many others remain to be discovered and told.

In light of all this, I have decided to begin a personal quest to search for, document, and share more of these counternarratives of hope for a multicultural, democratic Indonesia in which faith can still play an integral and positive role. As part of this quest, I will learn and write about the stories of everyday Indonesians – Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, teachers, farmers, businesspeople, politicians, development workers – their life backgrounds, how they understand and interpret faith in context of their other identities and callings, what loving God and loving neighbor means to them, and how they engage in peace-building within their own circles of influence. Some of my sources will be primary (from personal interactions and interviews), while others will be secondary or tertiary (from my ventures into historical documents and books to see what we can learn there). I will start with various relationships I already have, in the hope that I will not only gain understanding but also deeper friendships. Throughout this process, I commit to a posture of learning and seeking truth in love (please keep me accountable!).

I do not pretend to be an expert on interfaith and intercultural issues, nor a neutral observer and narrator. I am an ethnically Chinese, foreign-educated, a Singapore citizen with Indonesian-born parents, a woman, and a practicing Christian. I acknowledge that each of these identities and especially my Christian worldview will certainly color and shape my observations, conclusions, and even actions in the journey of interfaith reconciliation. Yes, I may be biased as a Christ-follower, but it is a bias toward hope and redemption: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, ESV).

Friends, in the face of complex, heated, emotion-rife issues like religious intolerance and radicalism, often the temptation is to fight or flight. To vilify the perceived enemy or other and bemoan their wrongs; or to withdraw altogether and resign ourselves to whatever fate may come. However, I invite you to join me in choosing a third option: to recognize with humility that we are part of the problem even as we try to be part of the solution, and thus by God’s grace commit to learning, listening, and persevering in the work of reconciliation.

My prayer is that this generation of Indonesians can be one that writes fresh stories of multicultural tolerance and interfaith reconciliation, continuing in the spirit of historical figures like Sunan Kudus, Soekarno and Gus Dur, and forging a fresh legacy for our modern times. Who knows? Perhaps some of these stories will continue to be told to locals and tourists generations down the line, roaming the street food stalls of Jakarta and Kudus and other Indonesian cities, captivated by the delicious foods, beautiful peoples and rich multicultural legacy of this nation we call home.

Felicia Hanitio, Jakarta Cohort 2018

Lifeʼs Little Detours

What do you when things donʼt go your way? Do you often grumble, do you often resist, and try to push forward? There are time when weʼre called to simply brave it through, to push through. But there are also the other times where detours are necessary.

How often do you get thrown off guard when things donʼt seem to go as you had planned it to be?

Thatʼs me most of the time. And as I took time to ponder upon the question: Why is it so hard for me to simply let things be? And I came to realize:

Resistance often comes when what we want (what we plan) isnʼt what He wills.

And ever since I come to realize that, I feel an immeasurable surge of peace and I choose to yield into His leading. Iʼm simply gonna let things flow, learning to flow in His grace. And to not let little things that doesnʼt seem to go our way throw us off.

With every detour thereʼs a blessing, or an opportunity to serve.

Therefore we must instead pay closer attention to what Heʼs doing, instead of getting irritated. Easier done when our will is no longer ours.

I would have not been here if it were not some of these detours. And I praise God for the little detours in my life. For it is part of His way, to drive me a little out of my “seemingly straight path”, a little further, a little off-the-road experiences, whereby the view is better, or where an unexpected encounter and experience occurs.

God is working in all things, including the detours.

So the next time, something doesnʼt go your way, consider that a “pause” sign from God. To ponder, and to come to Him, ask Him to open up your eyes, so you may be attentive to what Heʼs doing. Because our God is purposeful and intentional in every way. Therefore, with every detour, it could be a pause sign to ponder and pray; it could serve as a warning; it could be a way to get your full attention to what Heʼs doing; it could be His way to redirect you. It could be a million things. Therefore it is wise to simply consider and pause, rather than simply push through. Otherwise youʼd be going through life just zooming through it, managing it, and missing the whole point of life itself.

Lifeʼs little detours calls for us to learn to flow in His grace.
Lifeʼs little detours calls for us to learn to surf with the waves.

And I pray today that I may be able to understand this everyday and every time something unplanned comes my way. Iʼll pray the same for you too.

Sonia Wirya, Jakarta Cohort

Know Your Place

Tau diri  is a common term used in the Indonesian culture (usually by an older person to a younger person) as a reminder to "know your place". What does that mean exactly? It means:

  • Don’t speak out unless you are told to do so.

  • Respect elderly people and heed their advice; don't talk as if you know better.

  • As an employee, never outshine your superiors.

  • If you are the 2nd or 3rd born in your family, accept that most of the leadership roles will fall under your oldest sibling.

Tau diri. Know your place.

It is a phrase that is often times belittling, oppressive, and negative. It is usually used when scolding someone, that someone being of lower status, age, rights, and/or gender(women are still seen as “less” in this country).

A friend once told me that because her parents repeatedly told her to "tau diri," her insecurities grew. She expected less from herself. She didn’t want to stand out or speak up. To her,Tau diri meant keeping quiet and always nodding along in order to be the "proper person". It prevented her from seeing herself the way God sees her.

I challenge us to see this term "tau diri" in a different light. Yes, tau diri means know your place. But let’s try and see this with a positive perspective - know your place, as a child of God. Know your place as an ambassador of Christ. Know your place as someone that has been saved by the loving grace of God.

I agree that it is important for us to "know our place" with regards to our family, work position, and age. It is always good to have a humble heart and attitude. However, humble does not mean one is weak or less than others. We should know that God has placed us in this family, this country, this culture, this group of friends, and this company, all for a reason...know your place. Know your place as a child of God. A child that is loved, cherished, and saved. We do not need to look for fame or position to be secure because God is our security.  

With this “new” definition, I want to challenge all of us to Tau Diri from a kingdom perspective, God’s eyes. Know your place as a child of God. A child that has been given a mission and vision for the people around you.

Grace Liu, Jakarta City Director