Field Notes article

Changing Dynamics of Peaceful Coexistence in Lombok: Contending Authorities and Muslim-Hindu-Christian Relations


The proposed research marks an attempt to understand and explain conditions for peaceful co-existence among Muslims, Hindus, and Christians in Lombok, an island in the eastern part of Indonesia known as the “island of a thousand of mosques.” The presence of majestic mosques both in urban and rural areas signifies a strong influence of Islam in shaping the identity and socio-religious life of the Sasak, the indigenous people of Lombok. However, Lombok possesses a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Muslims comprise a majority of the population at 95%, with Hindus adding 4%, and Christians making up less than 1% of the total population. The remainder includes other minorities, such as Buddhists. The Sasak, Mbojo-Samawa, and other migrants from Java (including Arabs and Bugis) are mostly Muslim. The Hindus are descendants of the Balinese, who conquered and ruled Lombok from the second half of the seventeenth until the end of the nineteenth century. Christian migrants, many of whom are Chinese, come from other parts of the country.

Located in northwestern Lombok, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara province, Mataram, is perhaps the island’s most dynamic location for the unfolding of inter-religious engagement, competition, and potential conflict. Mataram offers some examples of inter-religious convergence and harmony, including the annual gathering by both Muslims and Hindus for a religious and cultural festival in a shared sacred place within the Lingsar Temple. The festival continues despite new tensions emerging in Lingsar due to increasing strict local interpretations of Islam. Positive Muslim-Hindu relations are also indicated by the existence of a mosque in the Mura Temple area in Cakranegera, Mataram. The Hindu annual parade of ogoh-ogoh (a theatrical war against evils symbolized by giant statues of demons) is another example of shared public religious interactions, as Muslims, Christians, and others may take part in the parade in albeit minor ways.

Nevertheless, conflicts and violence have occurred. Some Muslim kampongs have been involved in conflicts with neighboring Hindu kampongs in central Mataram and its northern suburbs. The conflicts themselves are commonly instigated by personal, social, or economical issues, but become “religious” when religious symbols and identities are used to distinguish and strengthen the identity of the respective conflicting communities. The fact that Hindus and Muslims commonly live in segregated kampongs in Mataram strengthens community division on the basis of ethnicity and religion, allowing inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict to potentially escalate more easily when minor conflicts emerge. Balinese rule in Lombok, as well as the wars between the Balinese and their Muslim Sasak subjects during those periods, also remains an important historical driver for conflict. In addition, fading traditional values of neighborhood and the lack of public spaces where community members can interact with one another constitute other crucial roots of the conflicts.

However, in other areas of Mataram Hindus and Muslims live side-by-side harmoniously, such as in Pagutan and Pagesangan, two major Hindu enclaves in the city. Interestingly, a number of Islamic schools (madrasa/pesantren) also exist here, run by Muslim religious scholars (tuan guru). However, studies on Muslim-Hindu relations hardly focus on these peace zones, and the roles that of tuan guru  authorities in other religious traditions play in inter-religious relations have also rarely been analyzed.

Muslim-Christian relations in Lombok show a different pattern. In general, Muslim-Christian religious coexistence has long been harmonious. However, Christians became the victims of communal riot in 2000. The violence broke out after an Islamic gathering in Mataram Square to protest Muslim-Christian inter-religious and ethnic conflicts in Maluku. From the gathering, the participants staged rallies on main streets in the city that turned violent as they passed churches. Several churches were burned, dozens of Christian homes were destroyed, and stores were looted. Although the violence has not reoccurred, and the Christians have rebuilt their churches and resumed their religious services peacefully, there has been no systematic study of the peace process and post-violence social reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.

Competition over religious symbols and formation of religious-cultural identity marks the other feature of interreligious interactions in Lombok. According to the data from Mataram Statistical Bureau, up to 30 new mosques and 61 temples have been built since the last ten year. In contrast, Christians lost one church in the same period; they now have 16 churches in the city. While Muslims and Hindus often stage religious festivals or processions on streets, such as pawai takbiran and ogoh-ogoh, Christians rarely hold religious street parades. Moreover, the educational system in Mataram plays a role in either fostering or marginalizing a particular religious identity. Students at state schools in Mataram are instructed to wear school uniforms that reveal their ethnic and/or religious affiliations every Friday. On the one hand, this policy helps preserve a particular cultural and religious identity, but, on the other, may foster either integration or seclusion.

Based on these backgrounds, this research will focus on the three major issues. First, it will examine majority-minority relations and the dynamics and changing interactions between Muslims and Hindus and Muslims and Christians. By comparing localized examples of conflict and peace between Muslim and Hindu communities, this study will analyze the complex roles of contending authorities, communities, and identities in both the maintenance of peaceful coexistence and the transformation of conflict resolution. A study on peace areas helps understand why a particular place is susceptible to conflicts while another is not. Special attention will be also be given to the current state of Muslim-Christian relations and instances of post-violence reconciliation since the 2000 riot.

Second, this research will analyze the roles of religious as well as secular (state) authorities and their impacts on localized peace and conflict settlements. Lederach argues that the state, religious authorities, and social institutions are key factors for peacebuilding. This study will thus examine the role of the state in the management of religious diversity and the social standing of religious leaders such as tuan guru (Muslim), pedande (Hindu) and pendeta (Christian) and their role in conflict settlements. It will also look critically at engagement by NGOs, religious organizations and the state (including both local and regional government) in peacebuilding and the dilemmas in managing a pluralistic society. It is of utmost important to critically engage these three forces–the state, religious leaders, and civil society organizations (both secular and religious)–and to understand the ways in which these three forces negotiate, collaborate, contend, and contest with one another.

Third, this research will analyze the formation and institutionalization of religious symbols and identities in public schools, and their impacts on minority student integration or seclusion. This finally element is particularly important, as schools often become a medium through which ethnic and religious identities are established, renegotiated, and reshaped through the uses of various symbols and system of representation ascribed to students.



Mohamad Abdun Nasir
Mohamad Abdun Nasir is a lecturer at the Department of Islamic Law and Economics at the Graduate School of the State Islamic Institute (IAIN) Mataram. He received a Fulbright Presidential Scholarship and Emory Laney Graduate School Scholarship for his doctoral degree at Emory University, where he earned his PhD in Islamic studies in 2013. His recent publications have appeared in the Asian Journal of Social Science and Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.

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