Despite a number of threats to Buddhist monuments in Indonesia in recent years, including a plan in 2014 by the Islamic State terrorist group (formerly known as ISIS) to destroy the 1,200-year-old Borobudur Temple in Central Java, the degree of religious tolerance at Klenteng Pan Kho, believed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Bogor, West Java, and where people of different religions coexist peacefully, remains eminently praiseworthy. For example, five Muslim people gather every week to study the Quran behind the temple’s Buddhist statues and, after their evening prayer, also enjoy dinner in the temple’s kitchen.
“We’ve been doing this for three years now, every Thursday night. It’s a routine,” said Epul Saefullah, who was leading the evening’s Quran reading. “At first people asked, ‘But this is a Buddhist temple, why are you here?’ But that doesn’t really matter. It’s the person who recites the Quran that matters, not the place.” (Worldcrunch)
Klenteng Pan Kho, a Chinese Buddhist temple built in 1704, is located in Pulo Geulis, an area of land that although not quite an island, is surrounded by Ciliwung River. When the activities of Chinese Indonesians were restricted during the Suharto era (1967–98), the name of the temple was changed to the Pali “Vihara Mahabrahma.” About half of the community that lives in the vicinity of the temple are Muslims and half are Chinese Buddhists.
A festival at Klenteng Pan Kho in Bogor. From worldcrunch.com
Another member of the Quran study group, Abraham Halim, said the temple had always been tolerant towards other religions, setting a good example of religious harmony. He recalled how their gathering came to be: “In 2007, my friends came to stay and we visited the temple. And that’s how it started. ‘Why don’t we do this every Thursday night?’ we asked ourselves. As far as the temple staff are concerned, it’s not a problem. Then other people started to join us as well.” (Worldcrunch)
Indonesia has a highly diverse population comprising many religions and ethnicities, so Indonesians are well acquainted with the challenges related to the issue of religious pluralism. In 2010, for example, a series of attacks and protests against Christian churches had Muslim and Christian religious leaders as well as local media appealing for religious tolerance.
Mindful of the long-standing harmony that defines their community, local residents are anxious for the temple to endure amid government plans to construct a watershed for the nearby Ciliwung River. Although supporting the government’s infrastructure plan, Chandra, the secretary of the temple, urged the government: “Please don’t destroy the religious harmony that exists in the community. Don’t break it apart. They’ve lived here for a long time.” (Worldcrunch)
A prayer room at Klenteng Pan Kho. From worldcrunch.com
However, Marse Hendra Putra, an official of the Bogor Regional Development and Planning Agency, said there was no reason for concern: “[The temple] will stay here. It has never crossed our mind to change it.” (Worldcrunch)
Asep, another local resident, was equally protective of the temple. “I’ve never heard of anything like this in other areas. That’s why we need to preserve our culture and pass it on to the younger generation,” he said.