Image Source: Anne Dickson for Inside Indonesia
Image Caption: Masjid Cheng Ho
Inside Indonesia has a rather nice article on Chinese Muslims in Indonesia. Based on the article it seems that Indonesia has made much progress in terms of race relations between the various races in Indonesia. Here is an excerpt from the article.
Just a few years ago, public displays of Chinese culture were forbidden, and a celebration like this would have been unimaginable. But even in reformasi Indonesia, this was a Chinese New Year celebration with a difference. The Gala Dinner was hosted by the Chinese Muslim Association of Indonesia (PITI). An Islamic song or two featured alongside Chinese items. In a brief address, a leader of PITI wished everyone a happy Chinese New Year and thanked those who had donated to flood victims through the organisation. Later in the proceedings, another Chinese Muslim leader led a prayer for the few Muslims present before the singing and dancing extravaganza resumed.
During the Suharto regime the Chinese Muslim community was discriminated against in Indonesia just like the rest of the Chinese community there but things seem to have gotten much better now.
New-found freedom for PITI
PITI was formed in Jakarta in 1961. Along with the rest of the Chinese Indonesian community, it experienced discrimination under the Suharto regime’s assimilationist policies from the late 1960s. In 1972 the organisation had to change its name so that it was seen to be ethnically neutral. Like other Chinese organisations, its activities were restricted. Lion and dragon dancing, for example, were definitely out of the question. In 1994, authorities detained and interrogated two of PITI’s leaders in Surabaya after the organisation published sections of the Qur’an in the original Arabic with translations in Indonesian and Mandarin, in defiance of the prohibition of the public use of Chinese characters.
The key to progress is the recognition that there is no opposition between Chineseness and being a Muslim.
In post-Suharto Indonesia, PITI is free to proclaim its message loud and clear – that ‘Chineseness’ is compatible with Islam and has its place in Indonesian society. PITI believes it is important for all to hear this message in order to break down barriers between Chinese Muslims and other Muslims in Indonesia, and to make the Muslim faith more accessible to non-Muslim Chinese. In fact, PITI is now thriving in Surabaya, where the national organisation’s most active branch can be found. These days, a new edition of the controversial 1994 Qur’an translation is available for enquirers and converts alike, and includes a guide for the performance of Muslim prayers. PITI people are proud to be Muslim, proud to be Chinese and proud to be Indonesian. They want to tell everyone about it. And now they can.
There are also some sources which indicate that Chinese Muslims were instrumental in spreading Islam in some parts of Indonesia.
The message is clear: Chinese Muslims have been around for centuries and even helped introduce the Islamic faith to Indonesia, so there’s nothing odd about being Chinese and Muslim.
Organizations like RITI can serve as a bridge between the non-Muslim Chinese community and the local Muslim community, whatever their ethinicity is or whatever country they reside in.
With the establishment of the mosque, PITI has become more active and visible in Surabaya, and better able to fulfil its objectives. The organisation sees itself as a bridge between the primarily non-Muslim Chinese minority and the Muslim majority in Indonesia. PITI endeavours to communicate the message of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, but particularly to those of Chinese descent. Those interested in Islam or wishing to convert can find information here and consult Chinese Muslim leaders. Almost every week, at least one person – who may or may not be Chinese – converts to Islam in a simple ceremony in the mosque after the prayers or in the mosque’s office. Classes for new converts, attended by enquirers as well, are held on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings.
To sum up the article.
Events and activities such as these not only show that Islam is compatible with being Chinese, but also promote an image of an Islam that is peaceful, tolerant and friendly. Islam has not always been viewed favourably by members of the Chinese community, who have experienced discrimination and persecution by elements of the majority Muslim community, and who perceive Islam to be the religion of the lower classes. In other words, Islam is in need of an image overhaul in the minds of many Chinese Indonesians. And PITI is perfect for the job.