Muslims working in churches? No problem

(Jakarta Post) “Faith is something that you hold strongly in your heart, not where you work”

Edy Supandi finishes cleaning the service hall of the Ekklesia Church in Kalibata, South Jakarta, on a Saturday afternoon.

After making sure that everything was clean and in order and that the pulpit cloth had been changed into green one for Sunday service, he finally had some time to rest.

Edy, a Muslim, is quite aware that the cloth should be green, the liturgical color, for Sunday services, purple for weeks of Advent (the season including the four Sundays preceding Christmas), red for Christmas, and white for Holy Communion celebrations.

He has been working in the church since 2002, despite hailing from a Muslim family.

In the beginning, he ran a small stall selling cigarettes in front of the church before someone from the church organization offered him a job.

“I was asked to clean the church and prepare things for services,” he recalled.

“At the time, I had no second thoughts about accepting the offer considering the income from my stall was not enough to feed my family,” the 36-year-old father of three said.

Edy said he never thought having a different belief from those who worshipped at the church would be an obstacle.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with religion. What I do is work, so as long as it is halal [sanctioned by Islamic law], why not?” he said.

At first many people including some in his family, objected to his working in a church, but he told them that his faith would not be easily shaken just because he worked in a non-Muslim house of worship.

“I was raised in a quite devout Muslim family in Kuningan, West Java,” Edy said.

After a while, he said, he noticed that people began respecting differences automatically when both sides eliminated all suspicion toward each other, and “just mind your own religion”.

Edy says this was clear in daily interactions when colleagues in the church often reminded him about his religious obligations, for example on Fridays when Edy was asked whether he had gone to Friday prayers at the mosque yet.

During the Idul Fitri holiday following the Muslim fasting month, people from the church collected money for Edy, and in return he visits them at home on Christmas.

Daroji, a Muslim who works at the Muara Karang Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) in North Jakarta, said he also learned that working in a non-Muslim house of worship did not sway his faith, but instead helped grow a better understanding of something previously unfamiliar.

“When I first started working here nine years ago, I was criticized by my family, who believed that working in a church is haram [forbidden by Islamic law],” he told The Jakarta Post recently.

“I told my family that it was better to work in a church than to abandon my children and wife because I didn’t have a job.

“I think that would be a greater sin,” Daroji said.

“Besides, faith is something that you hold strongly in your heart, not where you work,” he added.

So far, he, church leaders and the congregation are able to live in harmony based on respecting each others’ faith.

“If the church hosts an event, they let me know beforehand what food I can eat and can’t eat,” Daroji said, referring to non-halal ingredients.

In return, he sometimes reminds church ministers about the liturgical color for the religious services should the preachers forget.

Even though he does not understand the meaning of each color, he has memorized the order.

“Purple is for [the weeks before] Christmas, red is for holy matrimony,” he recited.

Commenting on a recent spate of interreligious violence in the city, Daroji said he could not understand what drove people to attack those of different faiths,

“My religion does not teach me to create conflict and I don’t believe other religions do so,” he said.