I have had an opportunity to visit Bandung earlier this year, the capital of West Java province in Indonesia. It is the 3rd largest city in Indonesia with a population of 7.4 million. Located in a river basin surrounded by volcanic mountains, it is a town located about 2,520 ft above sea level, which gives it a milder climate compared to other cities in Indonesia.

A former colony of the Dutch and dubbed Paris Van Java, I was mesmerized with the view and its surroundings. The environment was unspoiled, the hills and mountains were like heaven to me.

Even the farmlands were so pleasing to your senses. The air so pure and fresh.

Another thing that captivated me is the people there. Indonesia is the largest muslim nation in the world by population with more than 200 million muslims. Nonetheless, wherever you travel in Indonesia, you are bound to meet very friendly, kind people, like this makcik who sells baked corn at Tangkuban Perahu in Bandung.

As well as these tea harvesters from Kebun Teh.

Besides being a popular weekend destination for the residents of Jakarta, international tourists and a top shopping destination for cheap textiles and fashion products, Bandung happens to be a cultural melting pot that allows a fusion of western and Islamic culture. One such place that you could clearly see this unfold in front of your eyes is a street known as Jalan Dago. Every Saturday morning, teenagers and hip youngsters hang out at this street to express themselves.

Crowded with modified cars with beefed-up sound systems, one gets to hear loud music ranging from Pop, Hip-Hop to Reggae genres while getting spoilt for choices on which group of performances by these youngsters to watch. There are also some nice, cozy cafes and chic restaurants along the street where you can sit in and watch these performances. Some of the stuff you could witness along this street include:

Football juggling performances.

Local bands jamming sessions.

Charlie Chaplin-like performances.

Undergraduate activists like this one protesting against the government.

And Capoeira dances.

However, nothing interests and surprises me more than another group of youngsters, who used Jalan Dago as their weekly meeting point for, well, another kind of activity never seen in Malaysian muslim societies – A gathering of pet lovers.

Initially, it did not strike me that the group were Muslims as throughout my upbringing in Malaysia, it appears that the Muslims were discouraged to rear dogs. Hence, it is difficult to see anything similar to this in Malaysia. To my surprise, however, some of them were in their tudungs and were walking their pets around happily, without the fear of being reprimanded or questioned by the local religious authorities. At that point, I was dumbfounded and it was indeed a mind-boggling experience.

What is more interesting is when I saw a Muslim girl getting excited with a Golden Retriever and proceeded to pat that gorgeous creature,  openly in the public, with her bare hands, and without wearing any  glove to separate her skin from the golden coat of the dog.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

After the visit to Bandung, I can’t help but wonder:

Why Indonesian society, a country with a huge majority of Muslims, famous for the wrong reasons in the past where Islamic extremism bred eg: Jemaah Islamiyah and terrorism loomed eg: Bali bombings, seemed to be okay with their muslim citizens keeping dogs and bringing them out to play so openly in public?

In Malaysia, such action of a muslim touching a dog would be viewed as inappropriate.

Could it mean that the Indonesian society are more open and liberal when it comes to religion compared to Malaysia? Or are we more conservative and fundamentalistic due to the political maneuver whether by the past or current politicians?

I strongly believe that only when all Malaysians could take a more liberal approach in our religious beliefs and faiths, we will be more united, better integrated and progress as one.

Son, brother, friend, traveller, amateur photographer, scuba diver, and a palm oil mill engineer who pursues moderation in everything he says and touches. Follow his blog at www.jonathanfun.com and his...

12 replies on “My experience of Liberal Indonesia”

  1. actualy they're also know that as muslim keeping dog is inappropriate, well as muslim, I'm never been touching dog in my life, but some of my muslim friend have a dog to guard the house. So they feel responsible to take a walk the dog every morning. "Anyone who keep dogs, except dog to keep livestock, hunting and keeping the plants, it will be reduced as much as one day reward loyal qirath. (HR. Muslim, no. 1575)". So, Is it ok to keep the dog to guard the house? "Disputed in the case of a dog in addition to the above three objectives, such as to keep the house, street. Stronger opinion is allowed, as qiyas of those three things, because of the illat (reason) that can be concluded dalah hadith, namely: Needs." So as long as you know how to clean yourself after touching the dog I think it's ok, even tought I never dare to touch them.

  2. I have not been to Indonesia. What I know of indonesia is second hand news, articles, videos and the internet.

    To balance out these Disney-esque opinions, I have to bring up two recent contrasting points.

    One, in Aceh province, Christmas is suppressed and syariah law rules. The tsunami has given the province a reboot. This is a living experiment in how Indonesian society has evolved. It is not reassuring in the least.

    Second, has nobody remembered the attacks against the chinese in the late 90's? Chinese families who could not afford to flee has their women and daughters gang raped.

    I remain troubled.

    The veneer of civilisation is as thin as a condom. Everyone in KL will resort to animal instincts if some natural disaster like sinkholes were to sunder all water pipes supplying KL. There will be panic buying and hoarding and rush to the water tankers. You must have seen the hordes surrounding the petrol stations on the eve of a price increase regardless of the fact that based on the capacity of the petrol tank of around 25 litres, you could probably save RM2.

  3. Bandung is really a pretty fantastic city to visit. As like you I was visited there on last time and was wondering to see there stunning beauties. I'm willing to visit there again. Thanks

  4. I believe the Indonesian muslims are progressing while the Malaysian muslims are regressing. Similar behavior is occurring within some christian segments in the US, primarily amongst the "conservative" group.

    What disturbs me the most is that most of it is just political posturing leveraging religion as a tool. The non-thinking, like lemmings, just follows without nary a question nor thinking…

  5. As a Malaysian expat living and working in Indonesia for the past ten years, I am no longer amazed by Indonesian liberalism. I just revel in it!

    There are about 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia (and only one race – the human race), united by their national motto, "Bhinekka Tunggal Ika". This is often translated as "unity in diversity" although literally it means "many, yet one". In Indonesia ethnicity is not tied to religion, thus there are Muslim Bataks, Christian Javanese and so forth. And yes, it is possible to be a Christian Malay in Indonesia, although they are few and far between. In fact, in the largest Muslim country in the world, there are 22 million Christians (how many in Malaysia?), 7 million Hindus and 5 million Buddhists. Food for thought and time to change perceptions about Indonesia.

    It is possible for a Muslim to marry a Christian in Indonesia without either spouse changing religion, just as it is possible for a Hindu to marry a Buddhist and so on. Their children are brought up in a religion mutually agreed by their parents until they are 18 years old. Then the child can choose his or her preferred religion.

    Indonesian Muslims generally believe that their religion is between them and their God. Thus, Indonesian Muslims can eat openly during Ramadan without being arrested by the police and hauled off to court. They need to answer to their God, not the criminal justice apparatus.

    Nowadays the most common question i face from my Indonesia friends is: "What's wrong with you Malaysians?"

  6. I was told that the marriage of two different religions do not have to convert to either side of it till one is truely wanted to convert. The children are left to their own choices.

    Perhaps, this is another point that we need to research on.

  7. There are more examples. Hotel catering porks, Muslims selling Char Siew Rice, Indonesian beers, etc…. People just need an open mind.

  8. Jon, I guess you are new to Indonesia. Whenever in Jakarta, I stay in Mulia Hotel, Senayan. And the meals buffet there… you can see pork dishes and no one gives a s***. And thestaronline.com published this today:

    DPM: M’sians must start accepting nation’s diversity http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2011/1

    How disgusted am I?!!

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