Religion in Indonesia
Bogor (Indonesia), April 12th 2012 

Indonesia is world’s biggest Muslim country and the way people experience their religion is, as in most other countries, very diverse. At least, that is what we experienced during our stay in a little home stay on the Indonesian island Java. Our host is more than 70 years old and speaks fluently Dutch. We visited his home stay also four years ago, and at that time we didn’t notice that he is a very religious person. Of course, also then he went to the mosque several times a day, but religion wasn’t his main day activity. But today it is. Since he had a minor stroke, he studies the Koran and Arabic. He also plans to visit Mecca for the second time and during the Ramadan period he prefers to spend his time in a Bandung madrassa (Islamic School). His main goal is to be on the ‘right path’ again by the time he closes his eyes for the last time, as he literally put it into words.

During the day, Koran verses sound from his radio and on a regular basis he tells us how he sees the world. During our stay, Northern Sumatra was again struck by a massive earthquake, and as during Boxing Day in 2004, one was afraid for a destructive Tsunami, which fortunately never came. But our host wasn’t surprised about the new disaster that hit this area, of which Aceh is a significant part. “These people do not live in conformance to God’s words”, is what he tells us. The earthquake is the anger of God, is what he assures us. However, when we visited Aceh in 2008, we experienced this part of Northern Sumatra as a very conservative Muslim area. But that doesn’t change his mind. “These people are no good because they grow marihuana”. Our host doesn’t have much compassion for the massive majority of the Aceh people who have of course nothing to do with the growing of this drug. The actions of a few can result in death and destruction for complete societies, is his opinion.

Bit not everybody is the same. During that evening we talked with his son who is a very different personality. He is also a believing Muslim, but he does not see the world as black and white as he father does. The young adult is working in a 5-star Jakarta hotel and admits that he prefers to work in the bar. “The bar is the best place to get a good tip” is what he assures us. “When people are drunk, they don’t see the difference anymore between a 10,000 Rupiahs and 100,000 Rupiahs bill. And a difference in tip between Euro 0.80 of Euro 8 is a huge difference for somebody in Indonesia who has to live from a normal salary.

After a couple of days we leave the village again and take a small Bemo (Suzuki Minibus) to the next village for our onward transport. We share the very small minibus with a group of school children. The children come from religious families as the young girls wear cute headscarves and the boys the typical white Muslim hats. From the car radio squalls music that can be categorised as very non-Islamic. The rapper sings ‘dirty’ songs about what he wants to do with different kinds of women. He especially seems to like Latin women is what we understand. But English is not much understood in Indonesia, so nobody intervenes. However, at the end of the song the real intention of the song becomes very clear when a woman groans in a very erotic way that she want more. You do not have to speak English to understand what this song is all about. But again, nobody seems to be disturbed, including the young driver. To the contrary, the next song on his tape is of exactly the same category. We look at each other with a smile and without saying a word, we both think about our host of the home stay. What should he have thought about this music?

The general impression of Indonesia experts in the media is that Indonesia is becoming a more and more conservative Islamic country. We don’t know if that is true but what we saw last years during several visits to this country, is that religion is becoming more and more important for the Indonesians (both Muslims and Christians). In Sumatra and Java huge numbers of new mosques are built, often financed from the Middle East, while also the number of new churches in for example Northern Sulawesi is surprising. We are curious if Indonesia can maintain its relatively high tolerance towards different religions, or that it will change in the coming decades, resulting in new confrontations between the religions (as in 1999 in the Moluccas and Sulawesi). But as of today, the ‘hot’ music is still tolerated in Islamic Java. But that doesn’t mean a lot, because if our host at the home stay would have been God, the small minibus, including us and the Muslim school children, would not reach its end destination. But fortunately for us, the kids and of course also the driver, it did.

© copyright - / 2012