The Chinese Muslim community in Surabaya even has its own mosque
The Chinese New Year Gala Dinner
The 2008 Chinese New Year Gala Dinner in Surabaya was an impressive event. Thousands of people, mainly Indonesians of Chinese descent, packed into a beautifully decorated convention hall to enjoy a banquet and entertainment. Each item was introduced in Mandarin and Indonesian, and the mayor and the American and Chinese consuls-general were present to wish the revellers well.
Just a few years ago, public displays of Chinese culture were forbidden, and a celebration like this would have been unimaginable
Just a few years ago, public displays of Chinese culture were forbidden, and a celebration like this would have been unimaginable. But even in reformasi Indonesia, this was a Chinese New Year celebration with a difference. The Gala Dinner was hosted by the Chinese Muslim Association of Indonesia (PITI). An Islamic song or two featured alongside Chinese items. In a brief address, a leader of PITI wished everyone a happy Chinese New Year and thanked those who had donated to flood victims through the organisation. Later in the proceedings, another Chinese Muslim leader led a prayer for the few Muslims present before the singing and dancing extravaganza resumed.
New-found freedom for PITI
PITI was formed in Jakarta in 1961. Along with the rest of the Chinese Indonesian community, it experienced discrimination under the Suharto regime’s assimilationist policies from the late 1960s. In 1972 the organisation had to change its name so that it was seen to be ethnically neutral. Like other Chinese organisations, its activities were restricted. Lion and dragon dancing, for example, were definitely out of the question. In 1994, authorities detained and interrogated two of PITI’s leaders in Surabaya after the organisation published sections of the Qur’an in the original Arabic with translations in Indonesian and Mandarin, in defiance of the prohibition of the public use of Chinese characters.
Friday prayers at the Muhammad Cheng Ho mosque
In post-Suharto Indonesia, PITI is free to proclaim its message loud and clear – that ‘Chineseness’ is compatible with Islam and has its place in Indonesian society. PITI believes it is important for all to hear this message in order to break down barriers between Chinese Muslims and other Muslims in Indonesia, and to make the Muslim faith more accessible to non-Muslim Chinese. In fact, PITI is now thriving in Surabaya, where the national organisation’s most active branch can be found. These days, a new edition of the controversial 1994 Qur’an translation is available for enquirers and converts alike, and includes a guide for the performance of Muslim prayers. PITI people are proud to be Muslim, proud to be Chinese and proud to be Indonesian. They want to tell everyone about it. And now they can.
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