News / Asia

Chinese Indonesians, Muslims Ring in the New Year

Indonesian ethnic Chinese children pray at a temple in the China Town in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 7, 2012.
Indonesian ethnic Chinese children pray at a temple in the China Town in Jakarta, Indonesia, January 7, 2012.
Kate Lamb
— For Indonesians of Chinese descent, the freedom to practice their cultural traditions is still relatively new.  However, in the main cities across Indonesia, towns were painted red to mark the Chinese New Year. But not all Chinese Indonesians say they can practice their beliefs openly.

The Islamic call to prayer is not what you would typically associate with Chinese New Year. But for a small population of Chinese Indonesians, the Year of the Snake was celebrated in Islamic style at the mosque.

“This is my first time celebrating Chinese New Year in a mosque," said 27-year-old Cung Li Ha. "Because I just turned mulaaf, or I just declared myself into a Muslim just last year, September this year.”

As part of Indonesia’s Chinese minority, her choice of religion makes her somewhat of an anomaly in the Muslim-majority nation.

Of Indonesia’s population of 240 million, about nine million are diasporic Chinese - most are adherents of Buddhism, Christianity and Confucianism.  Very few have converted to Islam.

Cung LiCung Li
x
Cung Li
Cung Li
Cung Li says there are still big challenges. This morning, for example, she had to lie to her family about where she was going. “It’s very difficult because most Chinese families still cannot accept that their children or their families change into a Muslim they are usually more open to Christianity,” Cung stated.

During the three decades of the Suharto dictatorship, the language and cultural traditions of Chinese Indonesians was suppressed.

For the past decade, Chinese Indonesians have freely celebrated Imlek, the local word for Chinese New Year, with elaborate festivities.

In Jakarta, huge Chinese dragons hang suspended from the shopping malls and in the temples dotted around the city, thousands of prayers are whispered over incense sticks.

But the Muslim Chinese are less flamboyant.

Within the Chinese Indonesian community there is a perception that Muslim Chinese have forfeited their heritage and are no longer Chinese.

However, those at Jakarta’s Lautze Mosque beg to differ.

Ali Karim was raised a Chinese Muslim and says it is important to differentiate tradition from religion.

Karim says that most Chinese Indonesians believe that Imlek is not a religious ceremony, but rather something like New Year’s Eve. Culture, he says, is not the same as religion.

Lautze Mosque is the only mosque in the sprawling metropolis of Jakarta that is distinctly Chinese.

Rather than a traditional domed roof skirted by turrets, crimson lanterns hang above the arched entranceway.

Inside, ancient Chinese calligraphy - the words of the Prophet Mohammed - hang on the walls, and the mecca-print prayer rugs are bright red.

Forty Six-year-old Mudhi Astuti says she feels at home at Lautze Mosque, even though she is not Chinese. “When I come to Lautze it is like my home. Frankly speaking this is not only a unique mosque, our heart is here because when many Chinese friends come here and be a mulaaf and everyone has no family anymore, no job, no money," Astuti stated. "Not only do we love together, but we cry together.”

Mudhi says that of the roughly 1,000 Chinese who have converted to Islam at the Lautze mosque, most have been rejected by their families.

Some even leave their partners and children to follow Islam.

But time heals, she says, and sometimes after several years they re-establish good relationships with their families.

It is a delicate challenge that the newly converted Cung Li is still trying to navigate with her family.

She says she worries they might not accept her new religion but, so far, the New Year celebrations are not that different.  “I guess it is the same thing, I just didn’t go and say and prayer and chanting to the table full on the ancestors names. It’s just I didn’t do that and I try not to eat pork," Cung explained. "But I still eat the cake that my mum made and the noodles but the other than that I tried not to touch anything.”

In this new year of the water snake, Cung Li she hopes to build the courage to tell her parents she has converted to Islam.

Even though, she admits, they probably already know.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid