Chinese Preachers in Indonesia Teach Universality of Religion

July 17, 2010

From NYT CIBUBUR, INDONESIA — In Indonesia’s crowded world of celebrity Muslim preachers, it often pays to have a trademark. For Koko Liem, his ever-present Chinese-style outfits — garish satin tunics paired with matching skullcaps — play the role. Whether in television appearances or Koran recitals, the approach of Mr. Liem, a 31-year-old convert to Islam from Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority, is undeniably kitschy. In multihued permutations of his signature garb, he mixes preaching with guest appearances on dating and talk shows and promotes a religiously themed text-messaging service through his Web site. Mr. Liem is one of a small but significant group of ethnic Chinese preachers to emerge over the past decade with a simple message: that being a member of Indonesia’s dominant majority — Muslims — and its historically most maligned minority — Chinese — need not be mutually exclusive. “Clerics don’t only have to wear turbans. I’m a Chinese cleric. This is how I am,” Mr. Liem said at his home outside Jakarta, bouncing around boyishly on the couch in a crimson version of what he calls the “Koko Liem Costume.” To outsiders, that assertion may seem unremarkable, even banal. But in Indonesia, it represents a powerful break with the past. Click here to read the entire article.


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