Holy Week in Indonesia: Practicing Shalom/Salaam

From Craig Detweiler of Purple State of Mind:

I am working on a documentary on peacemaking via music. We’ve heard of calls to arms, marching songs that accompany troops into battle. But can songs arising from Christian and Muslim contexts also forge a more peaceful future? Could songs written for sacred settings carve out a third way, to bring harmony where there has been enmity?
Last year, I went to Beirut for an academic conference of ethnomusicologists, “Songs of Peace of Reconciliation,” made possible by a generous grant from the Luce Foundation. The second half of the conference (and the documentary) takes place in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. It is a bit strange to be in the most populous Muslim country during Christianity’s most sacred week of the year. While one community is preparing to commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection, other religious adherents are quietly going about their everyday observations. Good Friday is a national holiday in Indonesia even though Muslims make up the majority of the population.
Indonesia is also laden with sacred seats of Buddhism and Hinduism. We’ve visited majestic sites like Borobudur, a long-hidden Buddhist temple that has only been discovered (and restored) in the past 100 years. The scale and skills necessary to pull off this construction in the 7th or 8th century is staggering.
The equally lofty Hindu temple, Prambanan, stands in the shadow of nearby volcano Mt. Merapi. Both of these mesmerizing monuments date from 1,000 years ago. They arose (and were abandoned) amidst Javanese kingdoms. Borobudur and Prambanan each tell their sacred stories in vivid detail, with countless carvings wrapped around their ascending towers.
Islam and Christianity arrived in Java much later. As a popular trade route, the islands we now know as Indonesia were a contested source of spices. Yet, the need for negotiation (and the diverse cultures contained within the archipelago) kept Indonesia from becoming a religious battleground. It has always been multicultural rather than monocultural. The Indonesian people seem to have united around the notion of belief itself. The countless cultures and tribes in Indonesia have very different notions of the divine, but have agreed to respect each others’ practices.
Christianity and Islam have also been adapted to local contexts. We saw devotion to Mary the mother of Jesus at Sendangsono, a shrine rooted in Javanese architecture. We attended prayers at a Muslim mosque in Kotagede that previously served as a Hindu temple. Instead of obliterating earlier cultures, the Javanese have adapted traditions to forge their own.
Those most ostracized (and even murdered) have been atheists. In the 1960s’ political upheaval surrounding President Sakarno, Muslims (and Christians) united in killing atheists/communists. It is estimated that up to 2 million Indonesians died in this horrific genocide (which served as the backdrop for Peter Weir’s film The Year of Living Dangerously). To not believe in any god is viewed with great suspicion.
While there have been recent instances of Muslim/Christian conflict (most visibly in the bombings in Bali), everyday life is remarkably civil given the millions of people inhabiting Indonesian islands. The organizers of “Songs of Peace and Reconciliation” chose Indonesia because it largely serves as a role model for interreligious coexistence and cooperation. We are gathered in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, under the aegis of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies. The director of ICRS, Bernard Adeney-Risakotta, suggested that the biggest flareups on its campus involve Christians who disagree with fellow Christians and Muslims who cannot agree with other Muslims.
From my location within a minority Christian culture, I am reminded that the “power” of Christianity arises from renunciation rather than conquest. Jesus turned the other cheek, willingly walked off with unjust authorities, and submitted to a crooked trial. His triumph came from pursuing a nonviolent path in the face of aggressive opposition. From Western shores, it is easy to reduce world history to a clash of civilizations. The Mediterranean has often been a battleground with only one religious “winner.” The rhetoric surrounding America’s “war on terror” adopted this totalizing theory. But there is real danger in reducing our increasingly pluralistic context to simply Muslims vs. Christians.
My documentary brought together an American Christian film crew with the backup and support of five young Muslims from Jogjakarta. We exchanged filmmaking knowledge and cultural/religious expertise all week. As foreigners, me and my crew were radically dependent upon Muslim hospitality and expertise to create this project.
In Indonesia, the fragile peace brokered between Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and atheists suggests a recipe for America’s multicultural future. Our divergent beliefs may call us all to the ancient Jewish notion of “shalom” (“salaam” in Arabic). The difficulty of translating this word into English may demonstrate how difficult it is to achieve. Shalom calls us all to peacemaking, to community, to the common good. Perhaps one way to honor and celebrate the Prince of Peace is by practicing some post-resurrection shalom/salaam.

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