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

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs