Imlek New Year Celebration in Mosque

Title : Imlek New Year Celebration in Mosque: Assimilation through Converting Religion and Politics of Identity
Author : Ubed Abdilah S (CRCS, 2005)
This research focused on a minority of a minority group in Indonesia—the Moslem group of Indonesian Chinese—which have risen from silence. After the New Era of Indonesian Reformation of 1998, protests escalated and democracy widened through the country, suddenly Chinese group as part of Indonesian society found themselves at the center of discussion. Riots of May 1998 are considered as worst violence towards Chinese in Indonesia but it has also made Indonesian society, in some ways, more tolerant of Chinese existence. The post Soeharto’s government made new policies towards ethnic Chinese criticizing New Order Policies. The Post New Order governments tried to accept this minority group as well as other groups of ethnicity. The first policy made the ethnic Chinese to have a free Chinese New Years celebration (Imlek), followed by reducing other rules which discriminated the ethnic Chinese like media representations, cultural performances and language expression. One exception is religious expression which still has not been acknowledged as national religions. Moslem Chinese in Indonesia have strongly struggled for their identity. It has been conducted and supported by the New Order regime as a way of assimilation program. It is assumed by converting to Islam, assimilation would be successful because Islam is the religion held by the majority of Indonesians (Junus Jahja, Hamka). Becoming a Moslem in Indonesia, Chinese are more acceptable as an aspect of Indonesian (pribumi) than Buddhist Chinese or Christian Chinese. There are images and perceptions, in some ways, that Christianity is a colonial religion, coming from the West and held by people who colonized Indonesia for more than 300 years. So, being Christian is supposed to be not being Indonesia, and issues which are related to Christianity always become crucial and political.

In the sense of freedom after Soeharto’s regime was defeated, Moslem groups of Indonesian Chinese wanted to express their identity as Chinese as like others. This group wanted to be considered as Chinese as well as Moslems. A Moslem group of Chinese in Yogyakarta expressed their Chinese identity by celebrating the Chinese New Year (Imlek) 2555 (early 2004) in a Mosque named Masjid Syuhada, Kotabaru, Yogyakarta. They assumed that Imlek is merely a cultural tradition not a religious festival of certain religion or belief. So, it could be celebrated by all Chinese, whatever religion. For the beginning this celebration launched, there was a Moslem group (Majelis Mujahidin) disagree with this celebration assuming that Imlek was a bid’ah or Syirik (not allowed by the Sunnah) and coming from Kong Hu Cu. But finally, the celebration was successful.

Through Cultural Studies approach, Postmodern Theory and Deconstruction Theory, this research tries to examine how politics of identity operates when a Moslem Chinese group in Yogyakarta expressed their Chinese identity and their Islamic identity as well within Imlek New Years celebration. Politics of identity appeared also when a Moslem group rejected this celebration because of their different understanding about Imlek New Years. Moreover, politics of identity apparently rises up Chinese identity on public sphere of Indonesian, but on political areas such as political parties, institutions and pressure groups. These contesting identities later forced democracy being urged to be practiced, as well as political transparency, and good government and freedom of expression.

This post is also available in: Indonesian


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