Monday, July 29, 2013

My Indonesian Experience in a Nut Shell

If I was to be honest, when I arrived in Yogyakarta, I was really nervous and a little frightened. I was excited to get the Luce Scholarship; however, that moment was also bitter sweet. Before coming to Indonesia, the longest that I have ever left the United States was a week, and even in these trips, I was always with friends who shared common beliefs and goals. My experience in Indonesia was completely different; I left my comfort zone alone and for a very long period of time. I entered a foreign country where I had no familiarity either culturally or individually. This was my most difficult challenge to overcome; however, with the new friends that I made as well as the cultural experiences, the homesickness was cured. Once that was accomplished I began to realize many things about myself, life, and especially Indonesia.
            My religious background is Christian, but I attend Florida International University and am a student in religious studies. My primary focus in my studies is Islam and this made Indonesia a great opportunity for me to visit and study. Prior to my experience in Indonesia, I fell into the same trap as many other people do concerning Islam. I always thought that Islam mostly revolved around the Middle East. I thought that the Middle East was what all of Islam represented. Thus, this was one of my first lessons in coming to Jogja. Indonesia is the largest Muslim majority nation in the world. It contains more Muslims then every nation in the Middle East combined and within it is a multitude of voices and interpretations of Islam.
            The reason why I chose to study Islam is because I have a desire to share with the masses. There are many people that look at Islam in a negative aspect. When some hear the term Muslim, terrorism and Osama bin Laden comes to mind. Indonesia destroys this misconception. Islam is not a monolithic story; there is not just one interpretation. On the contrary, Islam is more of a Mosaic that holds numerous interpretations and outlooks. This is true when it even comes to the interpretation of the Quran. Some people in Indonesia look at the Quran as promoting exclusivism, while others see it as promoting pluralism. Others see Islam as a perfect way to govern society, while others see flaws that will bring injustice and corruption.
            There is one specific event that exemplifies this during my stay in Indonesia. One evening, a group of Luce students went to see Cak Nun speak. It was a very powerful evening. None of us realized the honor that we were given to be in the presence of this very famous individual. Cak Nun led an event that reminded me of an evangelical conference. There was music, jokes, preaching, etc. There were also hundreds of Muslims in attendance. There was a lot that happened during this evening; however, there are not nearly enough pages to record its entirety. What stood out were the beliefs of Cak Nun. He categorized himself as a Muslim; however, he stated that even claiming that he was a Muslim did not really come close to what he really believed. He believed that once you categorize religion, you categorize God. His view was that God is so much more then Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. In actuality, all these religions were manifestations of truth that attempted to describe God and the ways of God. Not even the Prophet Muhammad had it all together. This is definitely not an orthodox way of thinking.
            This event also helped confirm an idea that I already held: salvation and faith is a complex phenomenon. I know many people who are very exclusivistic in their ideas of faith and salvation and there are plenty who would state that Islam, or any other religion for that matter, is a lie. In some of their interpretations, Muslims’ are deceived and in the end will be judged by God. Before coming to Jogya, I held a conviction that salvation and religion is not so simple; on the contrary, it is very complex. During the time with Cak Nun, there was a major prayer session where hundreds of Muslims were crying out to God during a prayer of intercession, many of which had tears streaming down their face. It was a beautiful and powerful moment. To hold a view of salvation and religion with such simplicity is a major error. It reveals a deep ignorance (or maybe even arrogance) of the individual. Though I am not Muslim, there was no doubt in my mind that those individuals were experiencing something very powerful. It was their desires, hopes, dreams, etc., put into a powerful cry to Allah. This event for them was not a lie, nor a deception, but an experience of the Divine.
            The problem to seeing religion as exclusive is due to the fact that the majority of these individuals don’t personally know people of differing faiths. This is something that I explicitly learned from my trip to Indonesia. When an individual has no interaction or relations with people of other religions, it becomes easy to reject their ideas, culture, and religion as a fallacy. It is a completely different situation when these different ideas or religions have a face associated with them. This was one of the main points in my interfaith class that I took at ICRS. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., have something very powerful in common; they are all human. Each individual, both religious and nonreligious, are trying to figure out meaning and purpose for their lives. They are all on a journey and find hope in different things. Some find it in Allah while others find it in Krishna or Jesus. This actually resonates deeply with me because I personally believe that it is impossible to ‘know somebodies heart’. It is easy to make a fast judgment on someone; it is much more difficult to try to understand them.
            The last thing to be discussed is another interesting element in Indonesian society: syncretism. From my observations, there seems to be syncretism in almost every religion I encountered, at least to some degree. I was previously familiar with religion syncretism with culture, and I encounter it a lot in America; however, I never really experienced religion syncretizing with religion, I mean I was aware that it occurred, but I never seen it practiced. One example was found in an outdoor catholic church. From my experiences in Catholic churches, there are usually a plethora of Christian symbols being represented. There are crosses, statues of saints, and other religious symbols being represented all over the building; however, at this Catholic Church, there were only a couple of Christian symbols that I could see. Most of the symbols were of Hindu and Javanese ( a large culture within Indonesia) origin. It was very interesting and this church was a very popular one. Also, outside the Church was a Hindu temple, and usually within the temple there is a statue of a deity to whom people will pay their respects to. Within this temple was not a Hindu god or goddess, it was Jesus! That honestly blew my mind. It seemed like it brought multiple cultures together into communion. It was really fascinating to experience.

            These few things that I mentioned barely cover my experience as a whole. I also learned a lot through relationships with people of differing faiths and even from the unique architecture of different temples. Stating everything in writing is too vast for this little report; however, this experience is something that I will never forget. Through my trip to Indonesia I have become more knowledgeable in my field of studies, but even more importantly, I have become a better and loving person because of realizing that people are just that: people.