Is Multi-Religious Cooperation a Myth or Possibility for Indonesia?

Is Multi-Religious Cooperation a Myth or Possibility for Indonesia?


By Anand Krishna

There is a beautiful Sufi saying that earlier “Sufi” did not exist as a term, but there were practicing Sufis everywhere. Now the term “Sufi” exists, but there is hardly any true practitioner.

The same can be said about “multi-religious cooperation” and “interfaith dialogue.” Such terms were not popular earlier, but we had genuine cooperation among people of different faiths, and there was harmony in society.

Now the terms are popular, multi-religious and interfaith organisations abound, but true cooperation and harmony are missing.

What is wrong?

I Googled “love” and found 1.4 billion entries, against 178 million for “hate.”

Similarly, “peace” had 215 million entries, against 89 million for “conflict” and merely 3.5 million for “discord.”

What do these figures tell us? Can we safely conclude that love and peace are more popular than conflict and discord?

As “words,” yes; as “terms,” yes; as “ideas,” yes; as “concepts,” yes – love and peace are certainly more popular than hate, conflict and discord. The hardcore realities of life, however, tell us another story.


Love as an idea is great, but greater still is love in practice, through sharing and caring. The Indonesian idea of love in practice is Gotong-Royong. Many translate this as “cooperation.” The literal meaning, however, is “sharing the burden.”

This is the Indonesian, indigenous concept of cooperation. Until a couple of decades ago, it would have been inconceivable to add “multi-religious” before cooperation.

In the languages of the archipelago, the term “Multi-Religious Gotong-Royong” indeed would sound absurd. Cooperation is cooperation. Gotong-Royong is Gotong-Royong. Why add “multi-religious” to it? What is the need?

Jesus and Muhammad did not tell us to first check our neighbours’ religion before reaching out to them.

This is the spirit of Gotong-Royong. Gotong-Royong is the coming together of all people, working hand in hand for a common cause.

No rules, no regulations, and definitely no organizations were necessary to implement Gotong-Royong in society. The notion of sharing our burden had been part of our culture, and our civilization.

No religious injunctions were necessary to implement it. We did it, for we knew it was good to help, to share the burden of those weaker than us.

Until not too long ago – for a lay Indonesian, a commoner – being good was being godly. To practice goodness was to practice godliness.

This, goodness, godliness, was the foundation for Gotong-Royong

Upon this, very platform of goodness, and godliness, we stood together.

With more than 17,000 islands, and a population of over 70 million, hundreds of ethnicities and spoken languages, it was a gigantic task for the founding fathers of the modern Indonesian state to unite us all before proclaiming Indonesia’s independence. But they did it. And they did it without resorting to any religious belief, sanction, a promise of heaven or a threat of eternal hellfire.

They knew that it was not possible to unite such diverse peoples with a set of certain religious doctrines or dogmas. A national platform built upon such would have been very fragile, frail and not strong enough to hold the weight of a large nation.

Therefore, they built the national cooperation upon the foundation of nation’s own cultural heritage, values, history and indigenous wisdom.

Bhinneka Tunggal Ika

First and foremost was the recognition of nation’s diversity in all fields and on all levels:
* Largest Archipelago: 17,508 Islands (6,000 inhabited)
* Largest Economy in Southeast Asia
* Largest Muslim Population, and a House for the Followers of Almost All Major World Religions, and Several Indigenous Beliefs
* World’s Most Populous Island: Java
* 2nd Highest Level of Biodiversity
* 4th Most Populous Country: 237 million people
* 16th Largest Country (Land Area): 1,919,440 sq km
* 300 Distinct Native Ethnicities 742 Languages/Dialects

Next was the finding of an indigenous formula to unite the diverse populace. And this was Bhinneka Tunggal Ika – usually translated, or rather mistranslated, as “Unity in Diversity,” the phrase actually means “Appearing as Many, Essentially One.”

“Unity in Diversity” does celebrate diversity, but remains an ideology, or a mere concept, when it comes to uniting people. Why should they unite?

“Appearing as Many, Essentially One,” on the other hand, focuses on the underlying and the essential unity. We all are one. The differences among us are superficial. They are apparent, not latent.

We all come from one and same source, both spiritually and physically. The mapping of human DNA has proven this fact beyond any doubt. Our founding fathers, however, did not stop at that. They further formulated the way to implement this.


Enshrined in these Five Principles is the essence of all human values:

* Religiosity or Godliness
* Humanity
* Nationality
* Democracy, Guided by Inner Wisdom
* Social Justice for All

The first principle did not speak of God, but of Godliness. It was not about any particular religion, but about the essence of all religions, the religiosity. This way they could embrace one and all, including those who followed a totally different belief system from the mainstream religious groups.

Visiting India, about 60 years ago, one of our founding fathers, also the first president, Sukarno, scoffed at Indian shopkeepers who took pride in displaying their religion on their signboards: “Hindu Tea Stall,” “Muslim Restaurant” and so on.

Around the same time, then-president Radhakrishnan of India was amazed at how we in the archipelago had preserved our culture and traditions, deeply rooted in the ancient Indus Valley civilization, irrespective of our religious affiliations.

Unfortunately the situation today has changed. What happened in India then is happening in Indonesia now.

Culture had united us, then. Religion is dividing us, now. We had no multi-religious and interfaith organizations then, but had interfaith harmony. We have many multi-religious and interfaith organizations now, but no interfaith harmony.

Religious fanaticism is clearly on the rise. And in fact it has been so for the last two decades. Unfortunately, our authorities were either unable to read the writing on the wall or had their own vested interests, and therefore deliberately allowed it to happen.

Several years ago when I discussed the issue with a minister and asked him to learn from the Pakistani experience – as acknowledged by former President Musharraf in his autobiography In the Line of Fire – he took it very lightly: “But I see nothing wrong if someone is fanatic about his religion. Terrorism and violence have nothing to do with religion.”

A cliché and a worn-out line indeed, but one still being used and misused by many, including the so-called moderate clerics.

I reminded the minister of what Mahatma Gandhi had to say on this: “A fanaticism that refuses to discriminate is the negation of all ideals.”

He stuck to his line, and I realised that it was no use talking to the wall.

Anand Krishna is a spiritual activist and author of more than 130 books, several in English (, His organisation runs Holistic Health/Meditation Centers, a National Plus/Interfaith School, a Charitable Clinic and a Public Reading Room in Bali. For more information, call Aryana or Debbie at 0361 7801595, 8477490.


  1. damar says:

    Good day Sir, I miss your articles….!!!!

  2. Fauluq Ulum says:

    difference in religion is something sensitive in Indonesia. But I am really sure, people feel boring to be splited based on religion difference.

  3. dominggus says:

    Blessed is Indonesia to have a person like Mr. Anand Krishna. Anyone with ears should listen to him saying. When Indonesians tend to forget Pancasila, he’s kind of reviving this great wisdom–it’s not a state ideology per se..

  4. dominggus says:

    Mr. Krishna is reminding Indonesians that Pancasila in itself is the gist of religiousness, it’s a summary of all religious teaching but not a religion. Thank you very much, Sir. Have a long life in the service for enlightening all your fellow country man..

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