Interview with Wawan Gunawan

Wawan Gunawan is an activist from Jakatarub (Inter-Religious Network), he has been active in promoting peace and tolerance since the 2000s. Since he has worked directly with minority groups and victims of violent extremism for many years, he has lots of experience engaging with issues at the grassroots level.  From his interview, we learned that collaborating with people of different faiths can enrich our spirituality and strengthen our humanity. 

Q: Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about what Jakatarub is and what Jakatarub do?

A: My name is Wawan Gunawan and I am originally from Bandung. I have been active in Jakatarub for a long time since the 2000s. Jakatarub is an acronym for Jaringan Kerja antar Umat Beragama (Inter-Religious Network). Since the acronym fits in, we just pass the idea of giving it a name: Jakatarub. Jakatarub was born around the 2000s after the Reformation era in Indonesia, which at that time, there were a lot of attacks and a lot of social conflicts in the name of religion. 

At that time, young people gathered to make a commitment to create a forum called the Jakatarub. Why did we choose this name? Because first, the acronym fits in. Second, Jakatarub is a character in Javanese legend who peeked at princesses from heaven who were bathing. Jakatarub stole one of the women’s scarves named Nawangwulan. At that time, young people made an analogy that conflict occurred because one another did not know each other.

So Muslims see Christians from their own point of view, as well as other people who see other people with their own point of view, so that conflicts occur starting from mutual ignorance, and maybe we should learn to peek to know each other. What Jakatarub will do in the future is peace education, promotion of tolerance, and we also advocate for victims of violence in the name of religion, etc.

Q: What does Jakatarub do in promoting tolerance and peace?

A: So what we do is 4 approaches, which are theological, socio-cultural approaches, nationalism, and media literacy. Using these 4 approaches, we do peace education and promotion of tolerance.

First, the theological approach, we hope that friends who are active in this peace efforts are people motivated by their respective religious zeal. Because as I mentioned earlier, our problem is about religion, so people look at each other with suspicion, with their own perspectives. When in fact every religion teaches peace, let’s say Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on. Local religions also teach peace.

Second, the socio-cultural approach, this is an approach where humans all return to their identity as humans, where if one person is pinched, everyone feels the same pain. So we’re going back to the culture, where we return to our own humanity spirit. Of course, different cultures have different methods, but the essence is still about us, humans, going back to our humanity side.

Third, the nationalism approach. Our bond with Indonesians is not only religious, but also nationalism. This was once taught by Kyai Ahamad Syiddiq, that besides we have Islamic brotherhood, we also have ukhuwah wathoniyah, namely brotherhood among the nation’s children and ukhuwah insaniyah, namely brotherhood between human children. There is research from the equivalent of an institute, what do you think about whether Ahmadiyya is a fellow Muslim? About 90% answered no, Ahmadiyya is not a brother and sister of Muslims. However, there is a second question, namely whether Ahmadiyah is a brother to fellow children of the nation, more than 90% answered yes as brothers and sisters of the nation. So with the nationalism approach, it turns out that it could be a way to get in with people like these. So we see that the rejection of Ahmadiyya is enormous because its perspective is only from the religious side, but from a national perspective, it turns out that these people can actually accept it. We see that there are many intersection points of meeting between one person and another. We often impose that point of contact on religion, when actually it can be from hobbies, nationality, so in my opinion, for us peacemakers or peace workers, we must be creative in finding common ground between humans through anything.

Lastly, the media literacy approach, we acknowledge that the way people and I think, are mostly controlled and influenced by the media. It is important for us to take into account how we can critically digest the media and how in the future we can make a creative campaign for peace.

Q: What motivates Kang Wawan to do your work in Jakatarub?

A: I’m actually quite close with religious traditions, even though I’m not a very religious person myself. But the religious nuances in my house are quite present. What made me do activities at Jakatarub was because of my religious motivation. I see our religion (Islam) teaches peace. 

Second, I went to UIN for college, UIN itself is an Islamic preaching school. Many people say that preaching activities invites people to convert to Islam, into our homes. How can we invite other people into our house if our house is messy, looks dirty, unpleasant. This analogy I use when many westerners from books I read and also from friends who are not Muslim, perceive Islam as a scary religion. Islam is all about terrorists, hardliners, demonstrations, banning other people’s houses of worship. Now these are all assumptions that worsen the image of Islam, so that I think as a preaching college student, I am not proud to invite others to convert to Islam. After all, choosing a religion is a human right. What I did in the context of preaching was that I finally wanted to clean up the image of my messy house. I want to fix the assumptions of other people who see our house in a bad way. So what I do is, how to explain friendly Islam to people outside Islam.

Third reason is a sociological reason. I met and got involved a lot with friends who do not embrace Islam. But, in their lives, they also think about anti-corruption, etc. So I thought, all of them are colleagues in treading life in this world. I think that sums up my motivation in the aspects of religion and preaching beliefs.

I have managed several institutions, one of which is taking care of education for children who were marginalized in 1998. Many of our donors come from Catholic groups. It made me think, we can actually cooperate with people from different religions with us. So religion is not an excuse to hurt each other. It is precisely that religion with the good basic values of each religion is the reason for all of us to work together.

Q: What are the benefits that you experienced by joining Jakatarub and involving in peace efforts?

A: I feel like, my life is more peaceful now. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t born from a very religious family, but I can still sense the Islamic nuance in my house. When I was a teenager, I also had put some suspicion towards people outside of Islam religion. To be honest, that made me feel sick. 

But, since I joined Jakatarub, interacting directly with friends from various religions, I feel my life is becoming more peaceful and we can learn from each other. I think my spirituality level as a Muslim becomes richer, after I interact with people from different religions. For example, I meet my Christian friends often. Every time they spoke, they always said “This is my service to God”. One day, I met a good friend of mine who always streams good movies to be watched by the local people. When I asked him “Didn’t you get bored by always streaming and displaying movies for free?”, he answered “This is my service to God, in a way I share good movies to the local community”. 

So, whatever the activity is, it is always related to God. That reminds me of every time a Muslim want to start something or doing an activity, we always say ‘Bismillahirrahmanirrahim’, which means ‘In the name of God’, but since we’re getting used to saying it oftentimes since we were a child, it loses its actual meaning. When I met that Christian friend, I felt like I was being reminded all over again. At first, I was amazed by how he always put God first in his activity, but after I think about it again, I realized that Muslim also does the same, in the different language but the meaning is still the same.

I learned from my Buddhist friends how to detach with everything we have. My Buddhist friend assumed that the peak of Buddhist teaching is when we can have deep sleep. Why? Because we cannot think or worry of anything else, money, position, popularity, is all detach with us when we sleep. Islam also has similar understanding regarding this matter, when we do the daily prayer, one of our pray says ‘My pray, my death, my life, is for God’, so when we rethink about it, it’s actually true. We don’t have anything in life, as a human, we exist but then we will vanish. When I met my Buddhist friend, I was like being reminded of it all over again. 

Those are benefits that I experience personally, I feel that my spirituality grows, when I work or cooperate with other people outside Islam. One day, Jakatarub once organized activity, the name of the activity was Discussion on Palestine Land. Where the land of Palestine was seized by Islam, Jews and Christians. It is sacred land for them. For Jews, there is a wall of wailing, for Muslim, there is Baitul Maqdis, for Christians, there is the grave of Christ. So these 3 religions are fighting over the sanctified land. There is a friend of mine from Sundanese Wiwitan (local religion in Indonesia), a religious believer. For him, the holy land is a land that we walk on every day, whose sky shades us, whose trees we eat, whose water we drink, which we live there every day. I immediately felt that it is true, we have the holy land of Mecca, we have land in Jerusalem. But the land itself is the one that we step on, we must also protect because we are living here, we must optimize our existing life, now the one here. We guard the land that is far away, but the land that is near it is not guarded, so is life chaotic. I find things like that when interacting with people outside the Islamic religion.

Maybe another impact that was felt after joining Jakatarub, if they were persecuted or attacked, they did not feel alone, there were friends who supported them. They also have open minds, have a second opinion, who initially thought Islam was terrible, after meeting Jakatarub, oh not all Muslims are like that. There is actually a lot more good Islam. So I learned, other friends also learned. We can learn from each other about this life.

Q: There is interfaith friendship, there is also inter-religious friendship. With Ahmadiyya, Shia, how do you bridge these differences within the Muslim group? What challenges have you faced so far, how have you responded?

A: This has happened before, there was a church post, a small church under a large church, it was attacked in the Cinunuk area. There is also a church in Cimahi attacked. The attackers turned out to be not only men from Muslims, but also being attacked by women. I saw a woman carrying a wooden / iron stick. So the Sunday school children were traumatized and scared. After that incident, many Christian children were afraid to see women wearing hijab. Because in their imagination, the woman in hijab was the woman who had attacked them one day at the church. 

Finally, Jakatarub organized an event, we approached them and we invited the church children. We made a knitting event, where we knit together from yarn. We arranged this knitting event because there is a Jakatarub friend named Rudi, he is good at knitting. To make yarn knitting, we continued to invite UIN students who wore veils to join in knitting together. What was knitted at that time was a Christmas hat, so we knit Christmas hats together. UIN students who were wearing a hijab gave their Christmas hats to the church children who were traumatized. In the end, the church children had a different view, that not all hijabi women were as scary as they imagined. Those who attacked them were only 7-10 people, but the women in hijab who loved them were much more. We symbolize it by making the Christmas hat.

This may be one of the benefits received by the community who joined Jakatarub. From the side of Islam, Islam shows the friendliness of Islam. From the point of view of the Christian friends who have become victims, they have another thoughts, have a second opinion, have an alternative discourse, that not all Islam is evil as they imagined. From there, peace, harmony, it begins. Because dialogue between religions must begin with mutual trust. That’s one of the benefits that we feel too.

Q: We heard that recently Jakatarub received an award from Pancasila Ideology Development Agency (BPIP) from the Government of Indonesia, can you share a little bit about it? What does this mean for you?

A: Yes, that’s right, Jakatarub received an award as one of the 75 icons of Pancasila 2020 achievement from BPIP. For us the meaning is actually this award is for all of us, especially for Indonesian who want to live in peace, and have a common sense called Pancasila. That’s interesting, in the muqaddimah book, it says that in the 1300s an area inhabited by many people from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, religions, it needed common sense in order to unite. The region cannot be led primordially by one force, because that will create conflict. I think that’s cool. In the 1300’s people already talked about that. I think the Indonesian people refer to that saying, because Indonesia is the majority like that. The inhabitants are various in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion. Now the common sense that we agree on is Pancasila.

Jakatarub, as a community that needs peace, needs tools. The most effective way to unite these things is through Pancasila. Pancasila is not a religion, but it represents the teachings of all religions. All those religious values ​​in Pancasila also exist, and vice versa. Everyday, Indonesians are already practicing Pancasila, we do deliberation, worship, etc. We give it a name, Pancasila. So this award is an award for all Indonesian people. We only represent many Indonesians who want to live in peace and serenity whose point of intersection is Pancasila. 

This reminds us of Dr. Soepomo, who at the pre-independence meeting session said, Indonesia does not need to be an Islamic country, it is enough to be a country that practices morals as taught in Islam. So religion is the moral way, not just a symbol of the institution. Jakatarub also does not stand alone, but is the result of learning from many people, which means this is also an appreciation for all of us.

Q: Do you have any jokes regarding religious tolerance?

A: I like humor, because humor can be a tool to resolve tensions. For example, when Indonesia argued with Timor Leste, Gusdur said to Xanana, we can just chat casually, because we were both Gus. I’m Gusdur, you are Gusmao. Then, they laugh together. Once people laugh, the atmosphere usually becomes more comfortable and they can chat about anything.

Once we have a good laugh and become friends, there’s no way we can humor people we don’t even know. There is no dialogue between religions before dialogue between friends. So what we are doing is opening up as many friendship spaces as possible, from different groups of people, so after making friends we can ask each other. After asking each other then getting to know each other, there could be no conflict. From that friendship empathy and mutual understanding can be built. From that humor, inclusion is built, and acceptance of others is awakened. Humor must be encouraged as a tool to resolve conflicts.

Q: What are Jakatarub’s programs in 2020? And what are your hopes for Jakatarub in the future?

A: There are 2 flagship programs of Jakatarub, we have around 175 programs a year in total. There are 2 that occupy our attention and are rather important, first is the Balad Coalition, Bandung Sea of Peace. It is a series of events commemorating the International Tolerance Day, annually on 16th November. Usually we hold it from 10th Nov until 16th Nov, and ends officially at 10th Dec. In November there were 14 days of campaigning against violence against women. During this pandemic, we need to rethink the concept of this event.

Next, we have Interfaith youth camp, usually held in Oct. We still haven’t figured out how to organize it during pandemic. It is an event held in one place, followed by 100 young people from various cities / regencies in West Java. After returning to their hometowns, these young people should form a similar institution like Jakatarub, with different names. For example, in Sukabumi there is a Fopulis, an interfaith youth forum. In Sumedang there are Coins, interfaith communities in the district. In Bandung, we have Salim, a friend from across faiths. This IYC has strengthened the relation between existing institutions and newer institutions.

I hope, in the future, there will be more organizations/activities like Jakatarub, I hope there will be more narratives of peace that resonate in the community. We want more people to join hand-in-hand with us, who speak for peace more and advocate it to society from all economic and social layers.