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Seeking unity in God’s mission

Are Muslims and Christians enemies?

by Bernard Adeney-Risakotta | Special to Presbyterian News Service

INDONESIA—I felt trepidation as I entered the auditorium at the Indonesian Islamic University (UII) in Yogyakarta. More than 500 students filled every seat and many sat on the floor. The women sat on the left and the men on the right. I knew I was not the main attraction. A radical Muslim cleric, who had been in and out of jail, was one of the speakers. Some of his students had been suicide bombers in Bali.

Another speaker was a younger Muslim intellectual known for inflammatory, anti- Christian, anti-Western writings. Some of my Muslim colleagues and I had been the objects of his published attacks.

One of my former students from the State Islamic University, Sunan Kalijaga, was now a dean at UII. When his students requested permission to hold a panel discussion sponsored by two militant Islamist organizations (Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia and Hizbut Tahrir), the dean agreed but suggested they should invite me to be on the panel as well. The theme was, “American Hegemony and the Future of Muslim Relations with the West.” I figured I was meant to represent American hegemony.

Bernard Adeney-Risakotta (left), mission co-worker and professor of religion, ethics and social sciences with the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, teaches a class in Indonesia. Photo by Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta.

Bernard Adeney-Risakotta (left), mission co-worker and professor of religion, ethics and social sciences with the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, teaches a class in Indonesia. Photo by Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta.

The younger firebrand spoke first. He used a sophisticated visual presentation to outline the greatest crimes of the West and of Christians, committed against Islam and humanity, over the past 1,300 years. He told a story of oppression, cruelty and injustice stretching from the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition up to the bombings of Iraq, the oppression of the Palestinians and the war against terror. Also included was a fierce indictment of Western capitalism, economic inequality, violence, racism, promiscuity, massacres of native peoples, slavery, crime, pornography, war, homosexuality, destruction of the environment, human trafficking, abortion, and the sexual victimization of women and children. In contrast with this gruesome story, he presented the noble teachings of Islam, including justice for the poor, defense of the weak, racial equality, peace, respect for women, care of the environment, sexual morality, and an ordered, law-governed society.

My presentation was next, and I was caught off guard, unprepared for such a vivid, wholesale attack on the West. Without using the term, his narrative reprised the theory of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. But unlike political scientist Samuel Huntington, whose Clash of Civilizations generally portrays the West as the good guys, in this story the forces for good are in Islam, while the West is the source of all evil.

During the question and answer period, I felt strong emotions rising within me. I knew I had not effectively addressed the imagination of reality, which the other speakers had presented so passionately. Those who observed closely could see smoke beginning to seep out of my ears. The moderator invited me to speak again. For half a minute I was silent. Then I said quietly:

Bernie says he enjoys being in a position of always learning, always struggling to catch up and participate in all God is doing in Indonesia. Photo by Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta.

Bernie says he enjoys being in a position of always learning, always struggling to catch up and participate in all God is doing in Indonesia. Photo by Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta.

“You know, brothers and sisters, America is much worse than you imagine. . . . All of the terrible things presented by the other speakers about the West are true. There are also many other ugly realities which they did not mention. There is much in our history and present reality which grieves and shames me.

“But the West is also much better than you imagine. There is amazing goodness and beauty in the peoples, cultures and civilizations of the West. The amazing achievements of science, literature, religion, art, education, civil society, law, and social institutions are all parts of ‘the West,’ which the other speakers failed to mention. The other speakers have only compared the worst crimes and problems of the West with the noble teachings of Islam. That is not fair.

“Are there no crimes and problems in Muslim societies? Does Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Indonesia embody the noble teachings of Islam? All countries have both beauty and ugliness in their history, including Indonesia. Every country does not live up to its brightest ideals nor sink to its lowest shame. If you must compare different countries, religious communities and civilizations, you should compare teachings with teachings, ideals with ideals, crimes with crimes, social problems with social problems. It is not fair to compare the worst crimes of one with the best teachings of the other.

“The world is not divided into black and white, good and evil, the good guys and the bad guys. Rather there is good and evil in all of us, as well as in all of our histories. Islam is now part of the West, and the West is part of all of us in this room.” I paused for them to think about it. Then I concluded by saying:

“Brothers and sisters, I am a Christian and an American. Am I your enemy?”

I sat down. In that large hall, you could have heard a pin drop. Finally the old Muslim cleric broke the silence. He said, “No, Professor Bernie. You are not our enemy. Only the enemies of Islam are our enemies.” When I left the campus, the dean thanked me with tears in his eyes. He said, “What you said is something we badly needed to hear.”

Today 62 percent of all Muslims live in Asia. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, more than the whole Middle East combined. It also has over 26 million Christians. The Christian church has grown rapidly over the last century. Islam is also experiencing a renaissance in Indonesia. Muslims and Christians have lived side by side as brothers and sisters for hundreds of years in Indonesia. The government does not tolerate terrorism and most Muslims view Christians as children of Abraham, who worship the same God. The vitality of both Islam and the Church in Indonesia, and their ability to live in peace, will have a decisive influence on the future of this country, and perhaps the world.


Support the work of Bernie and his wife, Farsijana, in Indonesia.


This article is from the Summer 2016 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is available online and also printed and mailed to subscribers’ homes free three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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