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Interfaith sleep-overs help heal Ambon ‘s wounds

M. Azis Tunny

ICC Note: The situations between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia is very sensitive right now.

3/26/07 Indoensia For full story…(The Jakarta Post) Dozens of Christian priests were worried when their church assigned them to spend the night in pesantren Islamic boarding schools and homes of Muslim residents in Ambon , Maluku.

They were still haunted by frightening images from when the area was rocked by sectarian conflict in 1999. The violence, which continued on and off until 2002, left thousands of Muslims and Christians dead as well as forcing hundreds of thousands of others to flee their homes.

The Maluku Protestant Church (GPM) recently instructed 40 clergymen to spend the night with other religious communities as part of the so-called live-in program, a course designed to enhance their capacities as clergymen organized by the GPM synod.

As part of the program, participants stayed in Islamic pesantren, Catholic monasteries and in Muslim resident’s homes.

Traumatized by the conflict, some suggested to the synod that the live-in period be limited from morning until evening.

However, Rev. Jacky Manuputty and Muslim cleric Ustad Abidin Wakano from the Maluku Inter-faith Council, which initiated the program, convinced participants that staying with a community of another faith was something they no longer had to be afraid of.

“It’s useless to talk about pluralism, trust building and hold inter-faith dialogues if we lack confidence to break through the barriers of religious difference,” said Manuputty.

He recalled during a trip to Batumerah, a predominately Muslim area in Ambon , clergymen busily calling their worried families at home.

“When the condition in Ambon returned to normal, people only interacted in public places. They had never experienced the feeling of staying the night in the homes of those from different faiths. We purposely initiated the live-in program to break the ice and eliminate the sense of suspicion,” he said.

However, after staying a night in a Muslim or Catholic home, the clerics were not satisfied.

“A night is too short and not enough,” said Rev. Douglas Aponno, who spent the night at the Ahuru pesantren, led by H. Thaib.

He said that initially he felt insecure because during the conflict Ahuru was the scene of fierce fighting in which more than 500 homes and places of worship were gutted by fire.

He said he imagined strange things about the pesantren before going there, but the moment he set foot inside and held discussions with its members, he felt a cordial atmosphere and his sense of mistrust disappeared.