The far-eastern Indonesian region of Papua has had its share of inter-communal troubles.
Yet the Papuan highlands town of Wamena is a remote enclave of inter-faith tranquillity. Muslims and Christians drawn from surrounding tribes, as well as a smattering of Hindus and Buddhists, live together there in harmony, according to locals.
And from time to time, members of the various faiths share pork-free feasts.
They all partake in Bakar Batu, a gathering in which meat and vegetables are cooked over heated stones. Since Islam prohibits the consumption of pork, in a show of respect townsfolk come together to eat chicken, beef and goat.
"We are coming from the same land and culture. Therefore, there is no reason for us to not get along with other ethnic tribes," Andreas Wamena, a 37-year-old who grew up in Wamena alongside the children of Christian merchants, told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Most of the province's small Muslim population is concentrated in Wamena, which can only be reached via small plane or helicopter from Jayapura, Papua's capital.
Hadiman Asso, a Wamena Muslim leader who lives in Jayapura, says adherents of Islam there enjoy equal opportunities with their Christian neighbours. Not only can Muslims join in on cultural happenings – such as Bakar Batu – they can attend municipal government meetings and run for local office, he said.
"Before, we had not been involved in many local community programs. However, now, more people are aware of the existence of the small Muslim community in Wamena. The [provincial] government acknowledges opportunities for us to be civil servants and leaders. We have similar opportunities just like all Christian Papuans," Hadiman told Khabar.
Muslims, Christians help one another
In Hadiman's view, this inter-communal harmony is not isolated to Wamena.
A culture of tolerance, respect and co-operation is visible elsewhere in Papua he said, citing how Muslim and non-Muslim communities help one another build mosques and churches across the province-- such as by contributing project materials.
Inter-faith tolerance is also seen in Papua's governmental structure, where regent and vice-regent postings are paired between Christians and Muslims, said Victor Wanggai Papua Toni, chairman of the Wamena chapter of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation.
"The elected officials are often also involved with different religious beliefs to promote tolerance and equality in Papua," Toni said.
For his part, Pastor Sonny Manoach, with the Jayapura chapter of Indonesian Pentecostal Church (GPdI), said Papua remained safe from religious and racial tensions because all parties were committed to keeping the provincial peace.
"Issues involving ethnicity, religion, and race have occurred here and there. However, it never affected the harmony among religious followers in Papua. We are not easily provoked into violence," Sonny told Khabar.
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