My experience of Liberal Indonesia

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.

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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 and his tweets at @jonathanfun.

Posted on 7 December 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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