The quotation mentioned above comes from an old Javanese poem and has become a national motto of Indonesia, as a symbol of promoting tolerance and a peaceful coexistence between people of different religions, sharing the same country. Unity in Diversity has been included in the Constitution of Indonesia and inscribed in the national coat of arms.
There is a good reason for tolerance to be widely encouraged within the vast Indonesian archipelago (spread over 17 000 islands) as the country is inhabited by approximately 300 ethnic groups. Regarding the religious landscape, Indonesia as a secular state guarantees a freedom of religion, and officially recognizes six main religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism). Beyond the mainstream religions, in the country there is another 200 non-official religions and local beliefs present and according to Pancasila (the philosophical foundation of Indonesia), there is one and only God, thus under many religions.
Each of the religions contributes greatly to a diversity of Indonesian culture, creating a colourful mosaic of people, traditions and rituals. That can be seen in every city's and village's landscape, on many levels: architectural, social, gastronomical, the way people dress or even how they spend their free time. The interesting part, in case of Indonesia, is the way the society incorporated elements from various religions to live along with own beliefs, but also a respect for others. A good example is the calendar of national festivities throughout the year, where one can find all the main holidays celebrated by different religions included and with its importance given.
Islam, being a religion of the majority of Indonesian society, marks its presence with beautiful mosques, imams (religious teachers) calling for prayers through speakers displayed in strategical points of every city or a specific clothing (especially for women, who as per the religious doctrine are obliged to cover the hair, knees and elbows). Also, during the month of Ramadan (fasting month for all Islam worshippers, where Muslims are allowed to eat only after sunset), most of the restaurants is closed during the day and those which keep its doors open, use special curtains so the food is not visible for people passing by.
On the other hand, there is Hinduism, concentrated mostly in the island of Bali, with its characteristic temples and offerings being left on the streets and around every household. Balinese Hindu believe that spirits inhabit everything on this Earth, therefore each thing and living creature deserve a respect shown by prayers and offerings (little baskets, made with banana leaves, filled with flowers, food and lighted incenses). Hindu celebrations are recognized also for its colourful parades and processions that accompany most of the religious festivities.
Regarding Catholicism, Protestantism, the way of following religious rituals reflects Western traditions: Sunday masses, Christmas and Easter celebrations, choir concerts.
Confucianism and Buddhism as more concentrated on a personal practice, self – discipline and a journey towards a better version of oneself, do not have such visibility in the cities' landscape. The worshipers gather to pray in the local temples, but at the same time the majority of the ceremonies is being held on a family level. The other reason is a much smaller percentage of Confucians and Buddhists in Indonesia, while comparing with other main religions.
As mentioned, during the introduction, even if in Indonesia there is only six main religions being recognized officially, there is another 200 local beliefs being practised across the archipelago, adding another little elements to the overall multi-cultural mosaic of the Indonesian heritage.
The important part is to stay open and tolerant towards people of different backgrounds, as that will grant you an amazing opportunity to enrich yourself with an authentic cross-cultural understanding experience. If you feel you are ready to open for the New, apply for one of our professional opportunities we offer in Indonesia!