Written by Athanasia Safitri
Started as a dissertation for his doctorate, Akhmad Siddiq transforms the writing into a book entitled “Kristen Madura: Agama, Identitas, dan Pergulatan Sosial” for more people to understand about the existence of Madurese Christians and their social struggle in society. He realises that there has been a stigma stating that Madurese are all Muslims and it shapes not only their religion but also their cultural identity, which roots in Islam. This is one of the reasons of discomfort that Madurese Christians experience, to the extent that they are reluctant in revealing their religion to their community to avoid tension from the majority. For the time being, however, the growing number of non-Muslim Madurese, both on Madura Island and in other parts in East Java, has made assimilation inevitable and interreligious interaction even more unpreventable.
Siddiq tries to present the concrete reality of the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Madura by seeing both the interaction in the present and the history back then. These two timelines help in defining the identity of Madurese, which revolves in Islam and create the narrative for what other people imagine about Madurese and what lies in reality. They also shape the way religion is carried out in Madura, which is based on Islamic teachings, and how the insignificant social comfort of Christianity is gained through political and economic agenda, whether the Christians have more power in institutions or industries. It also appears that the interaction between the two groups is always in the grey area, abstaining from conflicts.
The nature of Muslim and Christian in Madura
Researchers have been interested in the concept of pandalungan which is cultural assimilation between Madurese and Javanese tradition. Identified as cultural fusion between two cultures or more, pandalungan transform the combination into a new culture. One researcher even specifies that it mostly means the generation born from cross ethnic marriage between a Javanese and a Madurese. Siddiq confirms that pandalungan is what best describes the interaction among Madurese of different beliefs and is mostly accepted by both groups to allow the existence of the minority.
Madurese Muslims consider Islam as their cultural identity and Siddiq argues that the rejection toward another religious belief brings a new culture as a result of a tendency to perceive new ideas as a threat to their religion and culture. However, as previous studies on religious activity in Madura tend to discuss the relationship between Muslim and non Muslim Madurese from one side, Siddiq himself made the assumption that the Madurese Muslims view Christianity will put their life in jeopardy, without making further study about the matter. From the Christian Madurese perspective and track of history, the development of Christianity is cut short due to the exclusion they receive, which forces them to flee outside Madura, commonly to East Java and practice their belief more actively. Closer observation toward the Muslim Madurese will answer truly the questions on why there is harsh treatment to the non Muslim Madurese to minimise the rejection from happening again and to avoid prejudice.
Interaction to increase contact in the new space of respect for both religious groups in Madura is known as the ‘silent’ ideology, where both groups accept the differences willingly and do not exactly speak up about what they are struggling with inside. The concept of ‘white swan’ also helps in understanding the fact that all Madurese are equal with the same demands and rights accordingly, even though they are Muslims or non Muslims, regardless of their residence, as many non Muslims live outside Madura. The assumption that all swans are white is in line with the thoughts that all Madurese are Muslim whereas discovering the existence of non Muslim Madurese feels like finding the black swan in the pond. There are indeed Christian Madurese existing and it does not hide the truth that they are all Madurese after all.
Madura these days
Siddiq explains that almost all Christians and other non Muslims in Madura these days can be confirmed as not Madurese, and to most people there Islam and Madura cannot be separated from cultural identity. But geographically speaking, these non Muslims can be considered as Madurese since they live in Madura. Christian issues have been a sensitive topic in Madura and can trigger religious conflicts. Several conflicts such as riots in Sampang and Bangkalan only show that ethnicity and religiosity still affect the harmony among the faithfuls in Madura, besides particular political and economic hidden agenda. Conflicts, however, can be reduced by fostering mutual respect through social activities that honor the traditions of two or more religious groups.
The interaction ritual chain enables people to interact with one another and build up their identity by managing in person or using direct communication. Both individual and collective encounters play a significant role in this religious harmony, including the interaction in the economic sphere. There are at least three economic encounters that help in nurturing religious harmony among the people in Madura: tobacco production, local hotels, shopping, and the trade market. This mutual interaction brings benefits to all parties, from using hotels as a prayer place for the minority, job procurement, to holding training programs to enhance basic skills for the youth. Another approach done by the Madurese, as mentioned above, is to practice ‘silent’ ideology, where keeping silent and staying away from comments is the best way to maintain religious harmony. It functions well to reduce conflicts and avoid collisions between demands and rights for all religious groups regarding the one they expect to have and the reality they experience.
Given the facts that harmony is more likely to occur in the relation between non Muslim Madurese and the community outside Madura, initiatives to hold an active dialogue between Madurese and the non-Muslims in the island need to be encouraged. Siddiq knows this lack of interaction and has suggested interreligious dialogue to strengthen the encounter between Muslims and Christians in Madura. The process may take a long time and even create misunderstandings, misperceptions, fears, and contradictions, nevertheless, a driving push is urgently needed. Social media exposure, art and socioeconomic projects on interreligious fields, and personal approach are among the many methods which can be alternatives to raise awareness on the need for concrete dialogue. Another thing that must be maintained is an understanding that Islam is the collective representation of Madurese but on the other hand, all Madurese including the non Muslims should be given a space for other cultural religious representation to grow side by side. Therefore, the method used to create dialogue must respect the nature of the authentic Madurese culture, which is rooted in Islam, and at the same time it gives space for the non-Muslim to grow and collaborate within the society in peace.