maandag 17 december 2012

Season's Greetings: the turn of 2012 to 2013

Dear Friends, the first greetings have arrived and many more will follow: we are happy to see these contacts renewed through the easy electronic media we may use now.
 In the 1950s, when we were still very young (!) the older members of the Steenbrink family, working in the accountancy business were occupied with stocktaking: all shops had to register all their belongings. So, we are now also looking at the balance of this year. Two members of our family died: brother in law Nic Tesselaar and Karel's sister Anneke. At a blessed age: 86 and 75. Nevertheless dying is not an easy and not a happy stage in our life. As a student of theology I once read an article by learned scholar Karl Rahner: when the physical body declines in health and strength, the spirit rises to its summit! That is too easy and not based on reality. Life is often very beautiful, but death is seldom a nice and harmonious ending!

But there is also an other side. Two grandchildren were born.
Diemer (right) was born in Amsterdam to Floris and Inge on 1 juni  and Maud on 28 september in the house of Stijn and Irene in The Hague.Also this transition was not without pain and trouble, but that is forgotten now. Parents and grandparents are proud and happy.

Paule reached the age of 70 years last 15 december 70 jaar while Karel  had celebrated his 70th anniversary already in January. We were married for 40 years and in various respect 2012 was a crown year.
We have celebrated this every day, several times in smaller circles. Last Sunday, 16 December we had a nice walk with children and grandchildren near Utrecht. Floris and Stijn carry their children on their hearts!

Some short notes, more about this year of grace: we travlled during two weeks through Portugal. Much glory of their colonial period, sometimes even too much gold and other decoration. In spring we had a nice trip to southern France, Provence with its capital of Avignon, temporary abode of the Popes of the 14th century.
Karel was still busy with the writing of the 3d volume to Catholics in Indonesia. 12 out of the planned 15 chapters are written and even corrected through the gentle help of Simon Rae in New Zealand. We hope that this will be finished in early 2013.
Besides, we were still quite busy with past and present of Catholics in our own country, singing in St. Johns Church, in fact a free ecumenical church, living outside a broader framework of Catholics now: still continuing the ecumenical dream of the 1960s and early 1970s.
We wish you all blessed celebrations of Christmas and a good start of the new year!
Karel Steenbrink and Paule Maas

vrijdag 14 december 2012

Enrico": the Spiritual Playground of Ayu Utami

I am still busy with writing the third volume Catholics in Indonesia. Chapter seven is about theologians, columnists, artists. It ends with a section on Rendra and Ayu Utami. For this I read the book Cerita Cinta Enrico and below you may find my summary and special interest in this very fine book.

In chapter 3 we have already discussed two novels (Saman; Larung) by Ayu Utami. In chapter 6 we mentioned her biography of the first Archbishop of Semarang, Soegijapranata. Still, we want to talk here about another novel by this prominent author, Cerita Cinta Enrico (Enrico’s Love Story, published in 2012). Utami is not less controversial than Rendra was in the 1950s and 1960s  as a ‘Catholic author’. In chapter 3 we also made some remarks about her novel Bilangan Fu as an attack on all kind of Monotheism (besides the other two bad M: Military and Modernity). This is continued in some sense in Cerita Cinta Enrico. In this novel the narrator is Enrico, son of a low to middle level military man from a more or less Muslim family in Madura. He married in Java to a Protestant lady, Syrnie Masmirah, who was from the Muslim stronghold of Kudus. Syrnie’s mother had converted to Protestantism after her Muslim husband had taken a second wife. This conversion had been more or less out of revenge. The couple moved to West Sumatra, Bukittingi where two children were born, first a girl and two years later a boy. The boy is called Enrico after the famous Italian tenor Caruso who really cared for his wife and his mother. After the daughter had died suddenly at young age, Syrnie converted to the Jehovah Witnesses, in fact a forbidden sect in Indonesia and definitely in strong Muslim Minangkabau. Syrnie converted to the Jehovah Witnesses because they talked with so much certainty about the End of the World and a New World. Then she would meet her daughter again. Enrico wanted to study in Java, Bandung, at a technical university. His mother only would let him go, if he converted to the Jehovah Witnesses. So, in order ‘to earn a ticket for Java’ he was baptised by the Witnesses and followed for some the meetings. Enrico was born in 1958. His mother died in 1983 and was buried in a Muslim cemetery, because the father had to arrange this ceremony. But when the father himself died in January 2000 (the novel is quite precise in all these dates), the son Enrico arranged a burial for him at the Christian cemetery:

My father finally was baptised as a Jehovah Witness, long time after my mother had died. This had happened only a few years before he did not wake up again, after he was happy to have seen the beginning of the year 2000. My father had been very cynical about religion. I think that my father was the prototype of a Javanese (although he himself was born in Madura): someone who believes in some supreme power beyond this visible world, something that they often call Lord, who needs no clear definition, already long before the arrival of these import religions. When the import religions practiced their obsessive preaching, my father considered them as just one out of many ways towards goodness. There is no single or exclusive road in this world. There are always many roads. They have a more liberal attitude than many Muslims or Christians, among them my mother. I never saw my father performing the ritual prayers. If I understand my father well, I do not believe that he truly believed in the doctrines of the Jehovah Witnesses. But when he had done this conversion, in order to please my mother, why did he not do so during her lifetime? Strange, I never ask my father about this.[1]

The two first sections of the Enrico-book are about the serial conversion of father and mother. In the third part the further social and spiritual journey of Enrico himself is told. Enrico wants to be free. He does not like to be like the broiler chicken, raised by his mother who earned much money from her farm. He wants to be free. Initially Enrico studied engineering in Bandung, but after some time he decided to become a professional photographer. He had numerous love affairs but did not pursue a permanent and stable relation. However, immediately after the death of his father, at the age of 41, he felt the need of a permanent partner in love and he also soon found a nice and gentle lady, the artist and painter A (the reader easily identifies this woman as Ayo Utami in person, because the final note of the novel is also signed by A). Enrico and A both do not want to have children and do not want to marry. The relation develops for both in a very positive way. They feel free in the presence of the other, even when one of them is talking during the sleep, or wants to masturbate. They talk much about sex. For A sex is not sacred (sacral). ‘I never met a woman who was so down-to-earth about sex. She said that sex is not the same as love, although there is a link between the two … Sex gives us joy, but we can be in a better condition of satisfaction and happiness when we do not need to have sex.’[2] Their talk about sexuality also involves criticism on the (Catholic) Church by A:

I no longer attend church services for various reasons. I am angry about the sermons of the priests who are patriarchal and condescending. And I cannot receive communion, which is the eating of bread that is blessed and considered as the Body of Christ, because I live adulterously and do not feel it as a sin.[3]

This is even developed in a quite intellectual discourse about Saint Augustine as the inventor of original sin and his condemnation of sexuality as wrong in itself. But Augustine is not the only male who has unsound ideas about sex. He found his modern equivalent in Sigmund Freud who defined libido as a dark and negative power in mankind. Nevertheless A wants a marriage in a Catholic church after a relation of eight years, in 2008. She has criticism towards the Indonesian marriage law, because it does not give equal rights to women, but according to Catholic doctrine male and female are equal. Therefore A wants to formally marry Enrico in a Catholic ceremony and this finally happens on 17 August 2011. This event had a relation with the story of the Good Shepherd of the Gospel who was seeking one lost sheep, while leaving the 99 orderly sheep.[4] This is definitely not the pious Catholic novel as is found in the series of stories in the weekly Hidup. Utami is in many ways a sharp critic of the Catholic reality in modern Indonesia. However, she was in that same year also asked to write a biography of the venerated Archbishop Soegijapranata. This shows the flexibility and dynamic, one would say modern characteristic, of the modern Catholics of Indonesia.

[1] Utami 2012b:162.
[2] Utami 2012b:197.
[3] Utami 2012b:200.
[4] Utami 2012b:235.

dinsdag 13 november 2012

The Pilgrimages of Albertus Laksana

Albertus Bagus Laksana SJ, Journeying to God in Communion with the Other. A comparative theological study of the Muslim and Catholic pilgrimage traditions in South Central Java and their contributions to the Catholic theology of communion sanctorum, Doctoral Dissertation, Boston College, 2011, 663 pages. UMI Dissertation Publishing no 3499300.

Indonesian Muslims, especially in the Central Javanese plains, cherish a large number of shrines. Some are small, but there are also elaborate monuments that attract thousands of pilgrims once in 35 days, at the concurrence of a Muslim day in the schedule of the 7-days week and a traditional Javanese day within a week of five days. This calendar already shows the characteristic of these Muslim shrines: they are also related to pre-Islamic traditions and important figures. Laksana gives detailed historical and modern descriptions of three Muslim shrines in his first part. They were created over a long period of time: the shrine of Tembayat is centred on the grave of the first preacher of Islam in the region, around 1550, while the shrine of Turgo Hill is a quite recent ‘invention’ of the 1980s. The second part (187-426) is a substantial description of three Catholic shrines, all created between the 1930s and the 1990s. 
Architecture in Sendang Sono by Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya: no big cathedral, but many small places to talk, chat, pray in the pleasant cool mountains close to the big Sono-tree where water is pouring down.

The first is a Catholic place of pilgrimage, called Sendang Sono (Pond of the Sono Tree). This is an adaptation of an existing well, high in the central mountains not far from the ancient Buddhist Borobudur temple. In this well the first larger group of Javanese Catholics were baptized by Father Frans van Lith in 1904 and already in the 1930s a stream of pilgrims started. 

Like a small Prambanan temple, built in the late 1920s as a Sacred Heart shrine: Ganjuran.

In Ganjuran, not far from the southern beach of Java (traditionally a sacred place where the Goddess of the Southern Ocean is venerated), a shrine was built in 1930 for the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a style that was more or less a copy of the Hindu shrines near Prambanan. The initiator was a pious and rich Dutch owner of a sugar plantation. After 1950 this place was more or less neglected, but in 1988 the Indonesian priest Gregorius Utomo started a revival of the shrine that was very successful and since then the celebration of the procession in June (Sunday of the Feast of Holy Heart of Jesus) has become one of the big events among Catholics of Indonesia. Water was found at the place of the shrine and some miracles took place. 

The third Catholic shrine is in the town of Muntilan where the first missionary Frans van Lith, the first martyr, diocesan priest Sanjaya, and some other ‘ancestors’ for Catholicism in Java have been buried in graves that resemble the Javanese Muslim graves. In 1935 it was forbidden by the Church authorities to pay visits to these graves, but after the 1960s they were gradually opened for pilgrims and in the 1990s a museum for the early beginnings of Catholicism in Java was built, a monument for the pioneering missionary and for the martyr of 1948 (who died amidst the war of independence against Dutch colonialism). Laksana pays much attention to the hybridity between Javanese-Muslim traditions and Catholicism. This is not only found in the architecture and some rituals (burning of incense and offerings of flowers on the graves, holy water to be taken home, pilgrimage as a method to seek material gain, marriage partners, pregnancy, healing from diseases), but also in the uttermost purpose of pilgrimage that he defines as a quest for tentrem (peacefulness) and slamet (integral wellbeing). I found it striking that these are all this-worldly goals. The Virgin Mary plays an important role in the shrine of Sendang Sono, also called ‘the Lourdes of Indonesia’, but the person of Jesus remains quite vague and not elaborated even in the Sacred Heart shrine of Ganjuran. Is this a reflection of the Muslim environment where an emphasis on Jesus as son of God is not really appreciated?  The third part of the dissertation wants to apply the proposal of Francis Clooney for a comparative theology to the two series of places of pilgrimage. This is done in two concluding chapters: chapter 8 elaborates the conflicts (Catholics as a remnants of colonialism and as traditionally anti-Islamic) but also the possibilities of sharing a spiritual milieu, a common culture of devotion. Laksana considers a true Indonesian Christianity as the result of ‘religio-cultural negotiations and interactions between different entities such as Islam and Christianity’ (440). From the first foreign missionaries this acceptance of Javanese elements has been a consistent strategy, but during the last decades it developed bottom up, slowly and in a natural way. The places of pilgrimage are also the places to remember the pioneers and saints in Javanese Catholic history. Laksana notes with some regret and envy that ‘in a rather stark contrast to Roman Catholicism, Sunni Islam has no official list of saints’ (490). Therefore the role of saints can develop more easily. In a very long last chapter 9 (504-596) this comparative theology is further developed in the idea of communio sanctorum. Already on p. 468 Laksana compared the Muslim idea of isnād (some kind of ‘apostolic tradition’ in preserving the memory of the Prophet and the first generation of faithful) to the concept of the more general communion of the faithful. In the last chapter we are no longer in Indonesia, but in a broad group of Christian theologians (especially Elizabeth Johnson, but also Louis Massignon, Yves Congar, Jürgen Moltmann, Henri Corbin) and Muslim mystics like the great master ‘Ibn ‘Arabī, besides Al-Hallāj, Al-Ghazzālī and others. There is still an echo of Pope Benedict XVI about his visit to the Great Mosque of Amman, Jordan, where he stated that all places of worship ‘from the ancient to the modern, the magnificent to the humble, all point to the divine, to the Transcendent One, to the Almighty’ (438). 

In the concluding chapter Laksana again and again stresses that ‘double visiting’ (pilgrimage to a sacred place of another religion) will enrich and deepen the understanding of one’s identity, will produce peace of heart, but a Catholic will always pray as a Catholic. Here I had two basic questions that I like to illustrate with two personal anecdotes about these shrines. The first question is about the anti-pilgrimage tradition in both religions. Protestant Christians, but also quite many Catholics as well as many Muslims have fundamental problems with this practice of popular religion. In the mid-1980s I was teaching at an Islamic University in Yogyakarta. With a Muslim colleague I visited the grave of Tembayat. Below the hill where the saint is buried, a row of women sold incense and flowers. I bought a sachet. My Muslim colleague, a modernist, reproached me: ‘We come here for observation, not for participation.’ I replied that I was brought up in a Catholic tradition and loved pilgrimages with all the folklore. He smiled, but could not understand this mixture with a Western Catholic. This opposition to pilgrimages and to popular religion in general in many circles of Christians and Muslims is fully absent here. Is comparative theology some kind of ‘seek and you will find?’ but only after seeking your favourites also with others? The second and even more basic question is about the sometimes quite artificial division between the major religions. There is perhaps no other country in the world where this division has become so strict. The Indonesian constitution has the formula that the nation is built ‘upon the belief in the One and Almighty Divinity’. This means in practice that atheists and heretics are illegal in the country. For acts like marriage, but also to get an identity card or a drivers’ licence one most declare one’s religion with a choice out of six recognised religions (Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, Confucian). There is some protest in the country about this simplistic reduction of religion to six big players only, but I have the feeling that some churches and the Council of Muslim Scholars love this state protection of their monopoly. I once received in Yogyakarta the request of a parish priest to support a good Catholic and jobless carpenter. The man did some reparations in our house and built a fine miniature Javanese house for our Christmas nativity scene. Later I met this ‘pious Catholic’ again among many thousands in the Muslim shrine of Tembayat. He felt ashamed and only said to me: ‘Oh sir, I still have no job!’ Shrines, sacred wells, healers, often are not restricted to one major and official religion, but escape these too simple categories. The fine book and thorough and sophisticated description by Laksana is also the starting point for further questions about religious identity and loyalty. – Karel Steenbrink, IIMO, Utrecht University.  (This review was originally written for the journal Exchange and you are invited to read the whole issue of this academic journal of our institute).

zaterdag 6 oktober 2012

Meeting of the European Muslim Union in Rotterdam

Friday 14 and Saturday 15 September 2012 some 60 members of the European Muslim Union came together at IUR, Islamic University of Rotterdam. Main theme of this meeting was The Importance of Education for the Muslims in Europe. On Saturday there was programme with keynote speaker  Prof. Dr. Ahmed Akgüdüz, rector and Dr. Özcan Hidir,  Senior Lecturer IUR. There was information about some funding organization like Qatar Charity, Salamworld, and educational projects in Albania Cyprus, Andalusia, Novi Pazar (in Bosnia?)
I was invoted to give a table talk on Islam and education in the Netherlands and below I include some parts of my talk.
At the table I was seated next to Prof. Dr. Nevzat Yalcintas, Honorary President of the EMU,  and also Honorary President of the Islamic University Rotterdam. There were also representatives of the Turkish Embassyand an Indonesian.

So, aspects of my speech:

1. The prelude: Islam as a provider of medical and natural science
In 1612 Thomas Erpenius was nominated professor of Arabic in Leiden at the university that was established in 1572. He was not teaching to do research related to the religion of Islam, but he taught Arabic mainly as a support for medical and natural sciences, because the Arab textbooks in these fields were still highly praised. In 1644 the gifted but also adventurous Levinus Warner (1619-1665) travelled to Istanbul, where he would stay until his death. He was in the 1650s nominated as the official ambassador of the Netherlands in Istanbul. He collected more than 1000 precious manuscripts, mostly on science and these still are the kernel of the collection of Arab manuscripts in Leiden university. Only later, mostly in the 19th century the study of Arabic concentrated on Islam as a religion. – This is a nice start and it reserved to be remembered, but this is absolute over and a finished past. We now live in a reality where sciences have their autonomy and if we talk about universities and Islam, we talk either about the political reality of the Muslim world or about Islam as a principal player in the spiritual market.

2. The practical needs for knowledge of Islam in the colonial period
From 1596-1942 Indonesia was the largest colony for the Netherlands and the dominant religion in this vast archipelago was Islam. There were three reason for colonial officials to study Islam and this also dictated the academic courses to start a colonial career.
1° There were shari’a courts under colonial rule and therefore sections of Islamic law were studied, mostly in the field of marriage, divorce and inheritance. This field of study is still developed in Leiden university at the Vollenhoven institute where shari’a law, adat and modern national law is compared.
2° For linguistic studies of the Indonesian languages, especially Malay and Javanese, old manuscripts with religious texts were studied. Most western scholars liked the mystical texts much more than fiqh or Qur´an commentaries and therefore they spent much time on mystical scholars. This is a general trend until now in Islamic studies in Europe. When I was teaching at an Islamic university in Indonesia, my students often asked, why the orientalists did like the heretics and the marginal figures much more than the orthodox.

5. The wisdom of two dreams

When I was a student of Arabic and Islam at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, the Jesuit priest Prof. Jean Houben told us about his dream: If all Christians should follow the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas, ánd if all Muslims should follow the philosophy of Ibn Rushd, the two communities would easily live in harmony and mutual understanding.
            Another dream was told to me by someone present here, before coming from Turkey to Europe to teach. He saw Said Nursi in his dream, telling him that he should go to Europe to help the Christian to fight secularism, because without the help of Muslims they cannot defeat the decline of religion.
            The wisdom of these two dreams is for me that Muslims and Christians also in the universities have to evaluate their common roots and history. But they cannot return to the giants of the past: they must reformulate their message in dialogue with modern science and culture. Also the universities have their duty in this important project: not only to observe development in actual Islam, but also to propose new solutions.