The Ahmadiya, intolerance, and religion as a priveleged class in Indonesia

So Jeremy Menchik’s awesomely researched article on Islam in Jakarta Post deals with semi-official intolerance of the Ahmadiya minority Muslim sect. And thus provides a counterpoint to the feel-good article about chilling out in the park listening to reggae in Jakarta on the Prophet’s birthday.

Menchik has a better grasp of this than most people. So it was a bit disconcerting for me to see how deep this knee-jerk, semi-official prejudice runs.

Ameliorating factors, I suppose, are that the average guy on the (Jakarta) street doesn’t really think about stuff like where to draw the line on people who claim to belong to our religion but believe different stuff than us. Even Americans are beyond that, as evidenced by recent bullishness on Mormon Mitt.  (I’d say the Ahmadiya are the Mormons of Indonesia.) A lot of Indonesians, quite frankly, would simply laugh at the ridiculous notion of  six official religions — Catholicism, Protestantism (that’s two), Islam (that’s one), Buddhism (that’s a religion) and Hinduism (that’s Bali). This type of line-drawing is such a joke, isn’t it. I mean, isn’t that the part about religion that everyone hates (except for religious professionals who have to constantly grown their base or else lose money and prestige)? (Atheists friends, please insert   most after hates in the preceding sentence).

And knee-jerk is an ameliorating factor. No one in their right mind would care how many prophets one recognizes. The more the merrier. Any other rule will and surely has led to war. Also, the fact that the average woman on the (Jakarta) street is going to be all the more gimme-a-break about people killing each other over prophet counts.  That’s just not the kind of thing Indonesians really care about, trust me. (Semi-official isn’t such a factor, since everything about the place is semi-official).

With privileged class — which admittedly rhyme with kiss-my-ass — I think you basically get the sense of something top-down. In other words, religion isn’t this thing that happens out there around the fire at the village level and catches on and spreads from heart to heart among the true believers. Instead it’s more the Dutch or Roman approach where the important thing is that everyone has exactly one and we know which it is so that we can divide, conquer, tax or whatever it may be.

In fairness (to myself : ) , I would say street-level Islam in Indonesia (don’t know about the Ahmadiya, however) lacks a soft spot for the “priesthood of the believer,” as it would be in Protestantism, or “being guided by the spirit” as the Mormons have it. Like so many other activities, Indonesians just find it more interesting when lots of people are involved and are hardly concerned about the politics of it, as long as it’s not boring. Ultimately, I think the large-scale buy-in very much increases its value to the individual. The thing Indonesians ask before going out to hear a famous preacher is just how famous he is, how big a crowd does he pull. It’s like they’re missing the appeal of catching a big-name act playing an unadvertised gig at a venue she just happens to like.

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