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  • MULTIDIMENSIONAL IN THE RELATIONSHIP OF ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY

    Posted on November 25th, 2010 tobroni No comments

    By: Dr. H. Tobroni, M.Si.

    (University of Muhammadiyah Malang Indonesia)

    Intruduction

    Religion has a large dimension in human’s life, and it’s not only about the ritual and spiritual aspects. Discussing the relationship between Islam and Christianity can also be seen from different dimensions: theology, philosophy, historical, social, political, and cultural. The history of relationship shows that Islam has a dynamic relationship with Christianity in the form of cooperation, competition, conflict, acculturation, and assimilation within the various dimensions. The relationship between Islam and Christian has often been observed only from the political perspective; therefore it is always colored with conflicts worse than others. This is not only unfair, but also makes things worse. In reality, their relation is very colored, not only by conflicts and tensions, but also filled with cooperation, tolerance, assimilation and acculturation that bring harmony, peace and beauty, and also advancement of civilization.

    The relationship between Islam and Christian is the most heated inter faith relation in the human history. The historical phenomenon of the Crusade and the demolition of World Trade Center (WTC) in New York in September 11, 2001, where Al-Qaidah had been accused as the actor by America, have created a more dramatic relation between the two religions. In Indonesia the tension has been higher since the reformation era in 1997/1998 that was accompanied by horizontal conflict involving two religions. Although the relationship between both religions has been colored by so many conflicts and clashes, there are still other goof form of relations namely cooperation, competition, tolerance, acculturation, and also assimilation. When and in what scope the relationship is shaped depends on the dimensions in diversities. The most significant dimensions in Islam-Christian relation according to Goddard[1] includes: theological dimension, philosophical dimension, historical dimension, social dimension, and political dimension. Meanwhile, R. Stark and C.Y Glock see the other five dimensions in religion: belief, application, experience, knowledge, and ethical.[2]

    A. Theological Dimension

    Theological theme is the most fundamental theme in each religion. It also occurs in the teachings and traditions of faith in Islam and Christian. Islam and Christian relationship cannot be detached from this theological problem. According to Goddard[3], the statement of Islam and Christianity about divine matter seems to be very close. Therefore, the stress on monotheism, the fact that God creates the universe, God who seems to speak to mankind, and the responsibility of human beings to their God, are basic similarities between the two religions. Those similarities highlight the fact that both Islam and Christian are celestial religions. These similarities in theological dimension have brought dialog, empathy, and cooperation.

    There is no harmonious and sincere relation than the relation between Islam and Christianity. Syaikh Shafiyyurrahman al-Mubarakfurry, the author of Prophet Muhammad SAW’s history who received an award as the best author from Rabitah Alam Islamy, has carved the beauty of friendship, tolerance, assistance, and respect among Prophet Muhammad, his friends and Christian priests based on the divine similarities and celestial religion missions.[4]

    Besides similarities, there are some principle and ideas differences between both religions. In some ways, they even stand against each other.  The fundamental differences including Christian doctrine on Trinity, Incarnation, and Penance is considered as fundamental failure which is cursed and even considered as an abuse to God. On the other hand, Christian philosophers seem to question Moslem’s faith on the true prophecy of Muhammad who started the history of Islam back in 7 BC.

    How should we react to these facts? Mukti Ali, the former Minister on Religious Affairs of Indonesia period 1971-1981 in his book entitled,” The Inter Faith Relation and Its Problems” stated the needs of dialog, cooperation, and competition to strengthen each other’s faith. While for some undecided points, we need dialog and tolerance.[5] In World Book[6], tolerance is defined as “Willing to let other people do as they think best; willing to endure beliefs and actions of which one does not approve”.

    Moslem and Christians use the same word to refer to God, “Allah”. The word “Allah” is an Arabic utterance used by Moslems all over the world and some Christians, especially those who speak Arabic. Islam and Christianity have several similarities on the essence, God’s character and action as the Creator, Care Taker, Giver, The Most Affectionate and Most Equitable in the Universe. Is God really transcendence, or immanent, involved in human’s creation or even human’s forming? Mostly, Christians and Moslems will give the same answer for the question. But it is different as they talk about God’s independence. Both Christian and Moslem agree on the oracle, but when they were asked to explain the meaning of the word, Christian would refer to Jesus Christ. For example is a cite from the verse – God is inside Christ, who reconciliates the world on his own (The Second Letter of Paul to Corinthian 5, 9). While Moslem will refer to the Holy Koran, as the main place for God’s oracle, “Verily, We have sent it down as an Arabic Koran in order that you may understand”.[7]

    From this theological perspective, Islam-Christian relation has been able to enrich each other’s teaching tone. The teaching of love and sincere serving for others affect many religious thoughts in Islam. Also, the emphasis of Islamic teachings on the balance of life, the obedience to its religious doctrine, and its commitment to amar makruf nahi munkar really influence Christian theological doctrine.

    B. Historical Dimension

    The historical dimension has an important role in shaping the tradition of faith and mindset of religious followers to followers of other religions. History plays an important role in developing the Islam-Christian relation. At the time Islam emerged and proved its existence outside Arabian land, Christians reacted by showing their understanding of Islam in the context of religion that was already familiar for them. As written in their Bible, Islam is interpreted as the fulfillment of God’s promise in the Genesis towards Ishmael, son of Abraham, that one day a big nation will come from his heirs.[8] Christian’s first reaction of Islam was to understand it as God’s will.

    Mubarakfurry mentioned that when Muhammad received the first oracle and was terrified and confused, Khadijah brought him to Waraqah bin Naufal, a Christian. Naufal said to Muhammad, “You will be hated for what you bring (oracle), and if I am still alive at the time coming, I would defend you with all my life.” Muhammad’s relationship with Christians remains harmonious until the day he passed away.[9]

    However, the relationship between these two revelation religions developed into political logics, as harmony and friendship had changed. The change had also colored Islam’s interpretation towards Christian and vice versa. For example, the protection from Christian priests and King Habasyah (Ethiopia) to Muhammad and his followers changed upon Quraisy’s calumny.  The Crusade phenomenon and local conflicts among several powers in Islam and Christian has changed brotherhood doctrine, and Islam as mission continuity of attribute of a messenger of God which is believed in Gospel. Moslems that considered Christians as older brother at first had changed, and it has considered themselves as Christian opposite. Then, Islam was called as “Muhammadanisme” it means a religion which was created by Muhammad, it is not the continuity prophetic treatise anymore after prophet Isa, as it was written down in Bible. It also happened the opposite, it was Muslims interpretation toward Christianity and Christian followers. The first doctrine supported prophet Muhammad, and then it was revised so the new Bible is not the genuine Bible anymore. Christian and its followers that was first was considered as a part of monotheism religion then, it is now interpreted as polytheism religion and as polytheism followers. The change of perception and interpretation of Islam towards Christian and vise verse of course could not be separated from historical dimension of dynamical relationship between Islam and Christianity that was not only colored by brotherhood and cooperation, but also by conflict and competition.

    In Indonesian context generally, Islam-Christian relation is in condition that can support a harmony relationship in the future. Islam that came to Indonesia on 7th century had its sovereign power on 12th century and it was accepted and become the religion of Kings and of course it had been accepted massively as a religion and state identity on 15/16th century. At that time, Islam was the religion of Indonesian society. Then, on 16 century until the middle of 20 century, western colonial came such as; Portugal, Dutch, and England whose first aim was to monopolize spices trading, and then they became a colonizer. Besides, they strewed Christian. Their coming into this country was not welcomed by Indonesian people. It was not only to maintain their country but also to maintain their religion (Islam).

    This non conducive relationship continued until now. Dutch colonial traces was still very much felt until now in some regions in this country like; Batak, Ambon, North Sulawesi, that were Dutch inhabitant and the places of Dutch troops. In those regions, Christian inhabitants were higher than other regions. Concentration of Christian power in certain regions could have positive meaning, but also could raise communication gap since it is difficult to make renewing. The conflict happened in Ambon was caused by region dividing or concentration of certain religion group, so village A is Muslim village and Village B is Christian concentration.

    Christian and Moslem relationship that was not conducive still continued after Indonesian independence, especially at “Orde Lama” era (Soekarno Government 1945-1965) and in the “New Orde (Orde Baru)” era (Soeharto Government 1966-1998). It could be traced from the attitude of those governments toward Islam, especially politic Islam. According to Fatimah Husein, at Soekarno leadership, Muslims were treated carefully. Soekarno actually wanted a harmony among Moslems and they could apply their religion teaching cleverly in order to find Islam soul, it was civilization advance. However, thing that was not liked by Muslims was his secular ideology that was considered becoming an obstacle for Muslims to realize Islam as a state basic. Even, in the last ten years in his leadership, Soekarno was considered giving bigger expectation to a communism group. Related with Islam-Christian relationship, the Christian group was considered as the detractor in the meeting of Committee of Indonesian Indepence Preparation to determine Jakarta charter that consisted of obligation for Muslims to do their religion lessons.[10]

    At Soeharto’s era, dissatisfaction of Muslims reappears especially at two of first decade of his leadership. By his floating mass politic, Soeharto did not give a chance for  Politic Islam that was considered as “circumlocution” of Islam parties. Related to Christian, Soeharto’s Government was considered giving concession and preference to an “abangan” group (Muslims that do what is ordered in the Koran but they also do some things which are forbidden by the Koran) and non-Muslim especially Christian followers. This condition was worsen by an issue of Christianization of around 2 million people from ex Indonesian Communist party.[11]

    C. Social Dimension

    Every religion must have social dimension.[12] Social dimension of every religion holds an important role because teaching construction of certain religion could not be separated from its historical context. The formation of Islam teaching could not be separated from socio cultural of Arabic society.[13] Also, Christian Theology forming could not also be separated from socio cultural Europe Society because although Christian was born in the Middle East it developed and reached maturity in Europe.[14] Social dimension of those Islam-Christian relationship includes: a group or a community, leadership system, relationship between groups and relationship between a community and a leader.

    1. A group/a community

    A group/a community in any religion holds an important role. It is also in Islam and Christian. In Islam or Christian, a community is a group of people organized for the same purpose, activity, and leadership like a Mosque community, a Hajj community, religion learning community, Sufism community, and other religion communities. In Christian, no matter Catholic or Protestant, they use a “jemaat” term (community) which has the same meaning as  “jamaah” (community) in Muslims like “jemaat” Church. However, to show a Muslims broader community or a community that has religion identity, “umat” or “ummah” term is used. This term has the same meaning in Christian community by calling themselves as Christian “umat” of Protestant or Catholic. Christian “umat” has a special term to call their community, it is ecclesia that means a community. The use of the similar might be caused by technical term in Islam that had been standardized in Indonesian language, so its use is not limited just for Islam. Besides, the use of similar term will ease the community to understand the term. It also describes the close relation of Moslems and Christians.

    2. Leadership System

    There is a difference in religion leadership system in Islam and Christianity especially Catholic Christianity. Islam in South-East Asian based on Sunni does not recognize religion leadership hierarchy which has religion authority as God representative on the earth as in Catholic. In catholic religion leadership, it is started from Romo (Pastor) as the lowest level who has a direct contact with its followers to the highest, Pope (the only one in the world) who has the greatest authority toward its community, not only in Sacrament but also in live dimension including administrative authority. The similarity with Catholic is leadership system in Syi’ah Islam. Syi’ah Moslem which has 10-15% members from the total Moslem in the world has religion leadership hierarchy start from the lowest Mullah up to the higher Ayatullah. Mullah is not only as religion ritual leadership and administrative, in certain case -also has authority as God Representative.

    Leadership system in South-East Asian Moslem environment basically is almost the same as in Protestant in which is each leadership has his own role and it is not related in horizontally or vertically. The leader in Indonesia Islam community is divided into two categories: Pray Leader (Imam) and organization leader. Pray leader is a person with his strengths in charge of being a pray leader in a community. His authority is limited on ceremonial prayer. In traditional Moslem society, a pray leader is an informal leader whose thought is considered as guidance not only in religion duties, but also in every aspects of life including politic, the person to ask for advice in every daily problem, the one to consult for those with physical and psychological problem, and more than that as a God symbol and representative. The informal leaders in Indonesia has many names: In Java they are called “Kyai”, in Madura are called “Bendere”, in Nusa Tenggara they are called “Tuan Guru”, In Sunda (west java) they are called “Ajenan”, in west Sumatra called “Buya”, “Habib” and “Syekh”. But, in general is called as “Alim Ulama”.

    There are also the leaders of society social organization as a place to proselytizing/movement from different beliefs, organization and religious factions such as Muhammadiyah, Nahdatul Ulama, Nahdatul Wathan, Persis and others. This leader is elected through organizational mechanism and has organizational authority.

    The relationship between Islam and Christian religion leaders in Indonesia is considered good. They often share their ideas in managing their members and developing religion charity such as hospital and education center. They also gather in every activity which is conducted by government or interfaith harmony organization such as Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama (FKUB). They often communicate each other if there is a national or international problem which can disturb the harmony relationship of Islam-Christian in Indonesia, for example criticizing Israel aggression to Palestine. Interfaith corporation in Indonesia in general is good and harmonious. Muhammadiyah movement which mainly focus on education sector, health and social take many teachings from Zending Christian mission.[15] It is admitted that Christianity has contradictive attitude to Islam. In one side, they opposed and deny the religion; on the other hand they need protection from Islam as the majority.

    D. Political Dimension

    Political dimension is the dimension which manages political problems caused by different group in society or country. It is the most crucial dimension in Islam-Christianity relationship all over the world including Indonesia or Malaysia. The history showed that Islam-Christianity relationship was colored with spectacular Crusade, also Israel and America aggression toward Islam. This phenomenon leaves a wound and stigma for each group (Islam and Christianity). Later, the stigma is awaken by Samuel Huntington from Harvard University with a term “Clash of Civilization” between West and Islam.[16]

    In Indonesia, political dimension between Islam and Christianity has existed since Christian mission in Indonesia brought by Netherlands, Portugal, and England which was confronted by local citizens who accepted Islam as their National identity. The confrontation against colonialism of Indonesia turned into Crusade (Jihad fi sabilillah) between Islam (as a right) versus Christianity (as the flaws/infidel). The tension between Islam and Christianity is continuing until recently.

    Quantitatively, Christianity only consists of 8 % members (Christianity protestant 5% and Catholic 3 %) but, qualitatively it influences national and local politic. It is because Christian strategy can maintain a good relationship with military, Chinese  ethnic, other minority religion members and Abangan society (Secular nationalism Islam or deviant group in doing their religion lesson). In Old Order era (1945-1965) Christian group had a strong position in Financial Ministry, Education and Information, and in New Order Era (1966-1998) their power was enlarged in the military sector. Although the domination in every department vanished in Reformation Era (in 1998), in some regions they succeeded to be leaders in Moslem society such as in west Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, and Solo and also dominated the important position in government territory. They take over and control electronic and printed mass media, organization or other interest such as labor united, Human Rights (HAM) and Non Government Institutions (LSM/NGO). Horizontal conflict which happened in Ketapang and Sampit in West and Central Kalimantan, Poso (Central Sulawesi), Maluku and East Nusatenggara is the form of Islam-Christianity conflict.

    E. Cultural Dimension

    Politic relationship between Islam-Christianity does not weaken cultural relationships of both religions both in global or local level. In global level, cultural relationships developed in literary, architecture and science sector. In literary sector, the relationship is so harmonious that creates a symbiosis mutualism relationship. Moslem scientists in philosophy and science always thank to Greek philosophy, and renaissance in West has moral duty to Moslem philosophy and scientists. In architecture, mosque, church, and other buildings in Middle East, Europe, and America describe cultural acculturation between West and Islam.

    In Indonesia, there is also Islam-Christianity cultural relationship. The architect of Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta was a Christian, and Muhammadiyah has learnt much from Christian about how to manage education, hospital, and orphanage homes. Religion social ceremony for Christian is mostly influenced by Islam culture such as gathering (Halal-bihalal), visiting each other (Silaturahmi), thanksgiving (Tasyakuran), wedding ceremony, and other daily expression such as: Ibadah, Insyaallah, Masyaallah, and etc. Islam song’s lyrics are also influenced by church songs lyric. Proselytizing model and method developed by Wali Songo with cultural colors such as creating/changing Wayang kulit, Gending-gending (Java) song and Java religious ceremony influence and imitated by Christian missionaries.


    [1] [1] Hugh Goddard, in  Alef Teria Wassim et. all. 2004. Religious Harmony: Problems, Practice and Education. Yogyakarta: IAIN Sunan Kalijaga. P. 84.

    [2] R. Stark dan C.Y. Glock, (1988) Dimentions of Reigiosity, in Roland Robertson ed. Sociology of Religion, Jakarta: Rajawali Pers,

    [3] Hugh Goddard, ibid. p. 84-5.

    [4] Syaikh Shafiyyurrahman al-Mubarakfurry, (2004) .al-Rahiqul Makhtum, Darussalam.

    [5] Mukti Ali, Hubungan Antar Agama dan Masalah-Masalahnya, dalam Eka Darmaputera, Konteks Berteologi di Indonesia, Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia 1991.

    [6] World Book Encyclopedia, 2005.

    [7] Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali,  Translation of the Meanings of The Noble Qur’an in the English Language.  Madinah: King Fahd Complex For The Printing of The Holly Qur’an, p. 303.

    [8] Kitab Kejadian: 21,12-13, 18

    [9] Mubarakfurry, ibid. hal. 89.

    [10] Bahtiar Effendy (1998)  Islam dan Negara, Transformasi Pemikiran dan Politik Islam di Indonesia. Jakarta: Paramadina.

    [11] See, Robert W. Hefner (1990) The Political Economy of Java Mountain an Interpretive History, California: University of California Press.

    [12] R. Stark dan C.Y. Glock, (1988) Dimentions of Reigiosity, dalam Roland Robertson ed. Sociology of Religion, Jakarta: Rajawali Pers.

    [13] Ira M. lapidus (1988) A. History of Islamic Society, Cambridge University Press.

    [14] Ira M. lapidus. A. History of Islamic Society, Cambridge University Press

    [15] Alwi Shihab (1998) Membendung Arus Respon Muhammadiyah Terhadap Penetrasi Misi Kristen di Indonesia. Bandung: Mizan.

    [16] Samuel Huntington, (1996) The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order, London: Touchstone Books.

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