Islam in Bali
by Bodrek Arsana

In the days that followed the bombings in Bali, the island was a buzz of activity. Rumors were flying about who was behind the violence and whether it could be linked to militant Muslim networks like Al-Qaeda and Jamaah Islamiyah. Police and military kept watch over Bali's borders and started the hunt for the perpetrators. Civilian patrols scoured villages, checking immigrants' identity cards and registering 'outsiders' in the name of security. Even before an international team of volunteers had finished tending to the wounded, Indonesia's politicians and public relations people were already hard at work staking their positions and attempting to salvage the country's image. And from all around the world, journalists started arriving in Bali, which had suddenly migrated from the travel pages to the headlines.

The international media that covered the bombings invariably mentioned that Bali is 'Indonesia's only Hindu island.' Most of these reports described Bali as a legendary oasis of peace and harmony, home to an ancient civilization that now seemed to be under threat from its Muslim neighbors, who make up the majority of Indonesia's population. Few noted the violence that had marked Bali's history-from the pre-colonial conflicts between rival kingdoms to the armed resistance against the Dutch to the state-sponsored terror of 1965, in which some 100,000 Balinese were massacred in the space of a few months, to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, which used Bali as its military logistics base. Nor did many reporters note that what had come under attack in Kuta was not the mythical traditional Bali portrayed in tourist guidebooks, but a modern, multicultural hub inhabited by people from all around the world. And even fewer acknowledged that while the majority of Bali's population is indeed Hindu, the island has long been home to Buddhists, Christians and Muslims as well.

This last omission was perhaps not surprising. Little ink has been spilled, either in academic journals or tourism industry promotions, about Bali's ethnic and religious diversity. While tourism in Bali depended on a steady influx of labor from neighboring islands, postcards of Bali's fabled charms featured the pageantry of Hindu religious rituals and images from Hindu myth and legend. Tour buses brought visitors to don sarongs and ceremonial sashes and traipse through temples-not to listen to the Christian liturgy or to watch Muslims praying in mosques. Hinduism-colorful, complex, mystical-became an image that could be marketed to tourists in search of exotic difference, attracting a very different kind of attention than Christianity-perceived in the West as familiar and fundamentally universal-or Islam-seen as alien and vaguely threatening.
But behind the glossy packaged pictures of a harmonious, homogenous Bali, what are inter-ethnic relations really like? And as tourists avoid Bali out of fear of violence, the island's economy suffers, and blame is assigned to a few extremist Indonesian Muslims, will conflict between Bali's Hindus and Muslims erupt, as some have feared?

'I am Balinese, I am Muslim'
Nyoman Muhammad Alim (22) and Wayan Sudirta (21) have been friends since childhood. Every day, they would play, bathe in the river and look after their cattle together. 'He was like my brother, we went everywhere together. He often slept over at my house,' remembers Wayan Sudirta. The two boys remained close even after they were sent to different schools. Alim studied at local Islamic primary and junior high schools, while Sudirta went to government-sponsored schools. It was only when it came time for high school that the two friends were separated. Sudirta went to Denpasar to live with a relative and attend a public high school, while Alim went to live with his uncle in Banyuwangi, East Java, and attend an Islamic boarding school (pesantren).

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Online Edition by : Access Bali Online
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