Indonesian Islam Down
The Jakarta Post
July 30, 2012
Here’s a suggestion for Indonesian Muslims who feel their faith is flagging: move to a country where you’re a minority.
“It can be a challenge and there may be downsides, but after 10 years in New Zealand I’m more pious
than I was in Jakarta,” says Agam Jaya Syam, chairman of the Indonesian Community Association in Wellington.
“Back home, I accepted a lot of things uncritically, but here we find our beliefs and values being challenged. For example, my son Fachry asked why we couldn’t eat pork. In the past, I would have said it was forbidden. Now, I’ve had to add the reasons why, explaining how pigs feed and how their digestive systems work.”
There’s another plus: Worshippers with conflicting views on how their faith should be practiced bury divisions when faced with the reality of being the few among the many.
“When you’re in a minority — and a very small minority — you tend to overlook little things,” says Fawzan Hafiz, a past president of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand (IMAN).
“Differences don’t seem to matter so much. The larger the group, the less the compromise. That’s when history, culture and custom come into play.
“In New Zealand we have a multicultural, multiethnic community. More than 40 nations are represented in the congregation at the Wellington mosque. The beauty of Islam is that it can adapt.”
A few Chinese Muslims arrived in New Zealand during the South Island gold rush about 150 years ago. However, they had little influence in an overwhelmingly Christian nation; in 1950, there were only 150 Muslims throughout the whole country.
Eleven years later, the number had not even doubled. Then Indian Muslims started arriving from Fiji. Students from Asia began to arrive, along with refugees from the Middle East.
Islam also began attracting locals disillusioned with other faiths. Now, 10 percent of Muslims in New Zealand are from Maori or European backgrounds.
Today, the nation is home to around 40,000 Muslims. They worship at 35 prayer centers and mosques, including one in Invercargill, which at latitude 46°42′S may well be the world’s most southerly — and coldest.
About 150 of the 400 Indonesians in Wellington use the local mosque and a central city room in a shop for Friday prayers.
The mosque, a printing warehouse converted with local funds and money from Malaysia, can accommodate more than 1,000 worshippers. It was opened in the midst of the global wave of Islamophobia that followed the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center in 2001.
Although there was less Islamophobia in New Zealand, according to Fawzan. There was some graffiti and a broken window, but these were examples of vandalism by gangs of youths and not linked to bigotry.
At 7 a.m. on a cold Sunday, the outside gate was open and the doors unlocked. No guards were present. On a Saturday afternoon, the rooms were full of Somali children and their mothers in colorful ankle-length ethnic dress. A few headed for the shops wearing black burka.
“The atmosphere here is different,” said Fawzan. “New Zealand is generally pretty tolerant. The people are good — there’s no religious prejudice.”
But then there’s not much religion in the South Pacific nation of 4.25 million people.
Census statistics show that one-third of the population is indifferent to religion. Church attendances have tumbled and Sunday service pews in the traditional denominations grow thinner and grayer every year.
The present Prime Minister John Key is not religious, although his mother was Jewish. His predecessor Helen Clark is, like current Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, an atheist. Laws on the separation of faith and state prevent the government from funding religion or having a related ministry.
But absence of piety does not mean immorality or lack of compassion. A George Washington University survey of 208 nations titled “How Islamic are Islamic countries?” gave New Zealand the top ranking for implementing policies in keeping with Islamic values. Indonesia was number 140.
When Kiwi businessman Tim Mackay was killed in the 2009 Jakarta terrorist bomb, the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington offered unqualified public apologies and sympathies.
Agam Syam wrote in the local press that he felt “betrayed and ashamed” by the terrorists, adding: “If we cannot create peace and instead make trouble and take human lives, that is not Islam.”
“It would be impossible for an Indonesian president not to be Muslim,” says Nourina Djamal, who spent seven years in Indonesia after a similar period in Australia.
“However, we must differentiate between those born Muslim and those who want to be Muslim. If our politicians were truly Muslim, there’d be no corruption and there’d be care for the poor.
“I’m happy that there’s no official religion in New Zealand and I don’t think that causes problems. People don’t ask about religion and it’s illegal to question faith when applying for a job.”
Nevertheless, there are things she does not like.
“I don’t like the sex education in schools – I think there’s too much information, it’s too extreme.”
Nourina wears a headscarf in her job at a supermarket, but her 20-year-old student daughter does not — although she did at school.
Agam’s wife Silviana Dewi Warli works for New Zealand Post. In the street, she dons a headscarf — but not in the office. “I’m not ready for that yet,” she says.
The couple have been wondering whether to send their son back to Indonesia for Islamic schooling because there’s only one Muslim school in New Zealand — in Auckland, 700 kilometers north of Wellington.
Both Nourina and Silviana claim that neither they nor their children have experienced discrimination or abuse, but have sometimes been greeted in the street by others who recognize fellow Muslims.
However, stories of casual racism are often reported in the media. New Zealand Human Rights Commissioner Joris de Bres has acknowledged that although race relations are “relatively healthy” in the country, some prejudice exists, with Asians the principal target.
Asians are expected to overtake Maoris as the second largest ethnic group in New Zealand by 2026.
The Wellington mosque administration appears to have made earnest efforts to merge with the wider society. Every year, it holds an Open Day, inviting visitors and questions, and offering a wide variety of foods from Islamic countries.
Leaders are involved in interfaith groups and the Koran has been read from pulpits in some progressive churches.
There are no loudspeakers atop the minaret, although Fawzan says there would be no broadcast calls to prayer, even if there were no noise abatement laws.
“Why should we disturb local residents who aren’t Muslims?” said Fawzan. “That doesn’t help improve relations with the community.”
Source:The Jakarta Post