Batak mythology: human beings and the sky inseparable

Abrar Haris ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 03/29/2008 11:12 AM  |  Opinion

I am always delighted to see starlit skies. Indonesians are blessed because our country is positioned in such a way we can enjoy a clear night sky.

Every night we can enjoy the complexity of the cosmos’s ecosystem and the brilliant array of the starry equatorial sky. I often sit on the roof and submit to the ocean of crystal, fire and diamonds. It all seems to shimmer and peace fills my soul.

Considering rigid genesis theory is followed by numerous modern scholars, there is nothing wrong with believing we indeed belong to the deep night sky. Our beginning is clear — we fell from the stars. Life and this planet resulted from 10-20 billion years of the stars heating up or the unstable fusion in the turbulence of supernovae.

In my opinion, that is why we feel so close and attached to starry skies; our ancient heritage has been interwoven with the substance of the cosmos since her youth, when light had not yet shown itself.

Raising our heads to the sky, we human beings, since primordial times, have had a sense of family. I call this the discovery of our universal ecclesiastical astronomical origins, which allows us to recognize the relationship between mankind and the upper cosmos.

It is interesting to hear what John McKim Malville, an astronomist, says in his book, Man in Nature. He accurately states we come from below as well as above, from the earth as well as the stars. Malville examines many cultures across the earth and says they were built and sustained by astronomical mythology.

Among the world’s diverse cultures with different mythologies, many tell the story of a diver who appears as animals sent from the sky flying down into primeval earth. Their missions are varied. In many myths, the role of this divine animal is indeed interesting and fascinating.

Kanaga Saba, in his fine essay entitled Kosmologi Masyarakat Batak (The Cosmology of Batak Ethnic), transports us into the setting of North Sumatra to Batak culture, where local cosmogonies intertwine sky and earth.

Batak cosmology recognizes the entity of the deity, the local concept of spirit, the belief in ghosts (hantu), evil (iblis) and ancestors’ spirits (nenek moyang).

The belief is polytheistic where Mulajadi Na Bolon is the supreme deity. This deity is anthropomorphic and dwells in the most blissful state. In the holy presence of Mulajadi Na Bolon stand three lesser deities constituting a trinity or debata na tolu. They are Batara Guru, Soripata and Mangalabulan.

Batara Guru stands as the primary deity. He is responsible for the formation of the universe and is the patron for teaching art and culture; Batak people hold him most dearest. Mangalabulan describes the descent into the dark world and the return to light. His right hand bestows good deeds and virtue.

From his left hand, he commits crimes and wrongdoings. Mangalabulan is the reverence of the local bandit. In some ways, Soripata resembles Vishnu in Hindu belief. He maintains the universe and represents the eternal principle of preservation.

In Batak mythology, the swallow is an idyllic bird that serves as a messenger between the sky and earth. In a Batak myth, the bird is told by Mulajadi Na Balon to deliver lodong, a bamboo-made water sack containing seeds, to Boru Deak-Parujar, daughter of the deity who dwells on earth. On arrival, the bird asks Boru Deak to weave ulos ragidup, a beautiful Batak ceremonial textile. After she does so, the bird asks her to open the sack. Boru Deak follows all the instructions. When she opens the lodong, a fine-looking man is there. As an unmarried woman, she feels fortunate.

The man is Tuan Mulana. It is loud and clear that Mulajadi Na Bolon wants Boru Deak to accept Tuan Mulana as her consort. If she accepts the marriage, Boru Deak will become mortal, a fact Mulajadi thinks she is unaware of. In fact, the maiden is well aware she will become a mortal creature just like her husband.

But the maiden Boru Deak is prepared to relinquish her noble blood. Because of this woman’s great love, the couple were married and created a new people, today known as the Batak people. It explains why the Batak are celebrated for their strength of character.

This myth is the embryo of creation. The Batak cosmos is identified by creative forces that shape space and generate the population as it is now. The Batak myth provides material evidence of how the universe has an ordered and harmonious system relating to humans and upper heavens.

The Batak myth teaches us everything will be settled and ordered after chaos. The sky sends down its delegation in complete and beautiful shapes of birds to generate human beings living on earth. In this land, the cycle of life and death come to pass under the young and dying and the birth of innumerable stars.

It is hard to examine such discourse without quoting Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the late 6th century BC, with his thoughts on unity in experience. Heraclitus said, “The upward path and the downward path is one and the same.”

As a Muslim, I find one surah in the Koran particularly fascinating in terms of science. It has a universal ecclesiastical astronomical flavor; it is surah Al Buruj, which means “mansion of stars and constellations”.

The surah describes the locations and movements of stars in space. When you look at the stars shining brightly, remember, “the upward path and the downward path is one and the same”.

The writer is a member of staff at the Foreign Affairs Cooperation Bureau in the Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare and is an avid reader of culture and Nusantara Mythology.





Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion

Benedict XVI Baptized the Journalist at Easter Vigil

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2008 ( Here is a translation of Magdi Allam’s account of his conversion to Catholicism. The Muslim journalist was baptized by Benedict XVI at Saturday’s Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

An abbreviated form of this account appeared as a letter to Paolo Mieli, the director of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Allam is the paper’s deputy director. The Italian version of the complete text is available at

* * *

Dear Friends,

I am particularly happy to share with you my immense joy for this Easter of Resurrection that has brought me the gift of the Christian faith. I gladly propose the letter that I sent to the director of the Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, in which I tell the story of the interior journey that brought me to the choice of conversion to Catholicism. This is the complete version of the letter, which was published by the Corriere della Sera only in part.

* * *

Dear Director,

That which I am about to relate to you concerns my choice of religious faith and personal life in which I do not wish to involve in any way the Corriere della Sera, which it has been an honor to be a part of as deputy director “ad personam” since 2003. I write you thus as protagonist of the event, as private citizen.

Yesterday evening I converted to the Christian Catholic religion, renouncing my previous Islamic faith. Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace — the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression. I am especially grateful to his holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who imparted the sacraments of Christian initiation to me, baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, in the Basilica of St. Peter’s during the course of the solemn celebration of the Easter Vigil. And I took the simplest and most explicit Christian name: “Cristiano.” Since yesterday evening therefore my name is Magdi Crisitano Allam.

For me it is the most beautiful day of [my] life. To acquire the gift of the Christian faith during the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection by the hand of the Holy Father is, for a believer, an incomparable and inestimable privilege. At almost 56 […], it is a historical, exceptional and unforgettable event, which marks a radical and definitive turn with respect to the past. The miracle of Christ’s resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness in which the preaching of hatred and intolerance in the face of the “different,” uncritically condemned as “enemy,” were privileged over love and respect of “neighbor,” who is always, an in every case, “person”; thus, as my mind was freed from the obscurantism of an ideology that legitimates lies and deception, violent death that leads to murder and suicide, the blind submission to tyranny, I was able to adhere to the authentic religion of truth, of life and of freedom.

On my first Easter as a Christian I not only discovered Jesus, I discovered for the first time the face of the true and only God, who is the God of faith and reason. My conversion to Catholicism is the touching down of a gradual and profound interior meditation from which I could not pull myself away, given that for five years I have been confined to a life under guard, with permanent surveillance at home and a police escort for my every movement, because of death threats and death sentences from Islamic extremists and terrorists, both those in and outside of Italy.

I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against me — I who was a Muslim — as an “enemy of Islam,” “hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,” “liar and vilifier of Islam,” legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a “moderate Islam,” assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.

At the same time providence brought me to meet practicing Catholics of good will who, in virtue of their witness and friendship, gradually became a point of reference in regard to the certainty of truth and the solidity of values. To begin with, among so many friends from Communion and Liberation, I will mention Father Juliàn Carròn; and then there were simple religious such as Father Gabriele Mangiarotti, Sister Maria Gloria Riva, Father Carlo Maurizi and Father Yohannis Lahzi Gaid; there was rediscovery of the Salesians thanks to Father Angelo Tengattini and Father Maurizio Verlezza, which culminated in a renewed friendship with major rector Father Pascual Chavez Villanueva; there was the embrace of top prelates of great humanity like Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Monsignor Luigi Negri, Giancarlo Vecerrica, Gino Romanazzi and, above all, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied me in the journey of spiritual acceptance of the Christian faith.

But undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert was that with Pope Benedict XVI, whom I admired and defended as a Muslim for his mastery in setting down the indissoluble link between faith and reason as a basis for authentic religion and human civilization, and to whom I fully adhere as a Christian to inspire me with new light in the fulfillment of the mission God has reserved for me.

Mine was a journey that began when at four years old, my mother Safeya — a believing and practicing Muslim — in the first in the series of “fortuitous events” that would prove to be not at all the product of chance but rather an integral part of a divine destiny to which all of us have been assigned — entrusted me to the loving care of Sister Lavinia of the Comboni Missionary Sisters, convinced of the goodness of the education that would be imparted by the Catholic and Italian religious, who had come to Cairo, the city of my birth, to witness to their Christian faith through a work aimed at the common good. I thus began an experience of life in boarding school, followed by the Salesians of the Institute of Don Bosco in junior high and high school, which transmitted to me not only the science of knowledge but above all the awareness of values.

It is thanks to members of Catholic religious orders that I acquired a profoundly and essentially an ethical conception of life, in which the person created in the image and likeness of God is called to undertake a mission that inserts itself in the framework of a universal and eternal design directed toward the interior resurrection of individuals on this earth and the whole of humanity on the day of judgment, which is founded on faith in God and the primacy of values, which is based on the sense of individual responsibility and on the sense of duty toward the collective. It is in virtue of a Christian education and of the sharing of the experience of life with Catholic religious that I cultivated a profound faith in the transcendent dimension and also sought the certainty of truth in absolute and universal values.

There was a time when my mother’s loving presence and religious zeal brought me closer to Islam, which I occasionally practiced at a cultural level and in which I believed at a spiritual level according to an interpretation that at the time — it was the 1970s — summarily corresponded to a faith respectful of persons and tolerant toward the neighbor, in a context — that of the Nasser regime — in which the secular principle of the separation of the religious sphere and the secular sphere prevailed.

My father Muhammad was completely secular and agreed with the opinion of the majority of Egyptians who took the West as a model in regard to individual freedom, social customs and cultural and artistic fashions, even if the political totalitarianism of Nasser and the bellicose ideology of Pan-Arabism that aimed at the physical elimination of Israel unfortunately led to disaster for Egypt and opened the way to the resumption of Pan-Islamism, to the ascent of Islamic extremists to power and the explosion of globalized Islamic terrorism.

The long years at school allowed me to know Catholicism well and up close and the women and men who dedicated their life to serve God in the womb of the Church. Already then I read the Bible and the Gospels and I was especially fascinated by the human and divine figure of Jesus. I had a way to attend Holy Mass and it also happened, only once, that I went to the altar to receive communion. It was a gesture that evidently signaled my attraction to Christianity and my desire to feel a part of the Catholic religious community.

Then, on my arrival in Italy at the beginning of the 1970s between the rivers of student revolts and the difficulties of integration, I went through a period of atheism understood as a faith, which nevertheless was also founded on absolute and universal values. I was never indifferent to the presence of God even if only now I feel that the God of love, of faith and reason reconciles himself completely with the patrimony of values that are rooted in me.

Dear Director, you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytizing in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those “fortuitous events” that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled “The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts.” It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope’s historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear. Happy Easter to everyone.

Dear friends, let us go forward on the way of truth, of life and of freedom with my best wishes for every success and good thing.

Magdi Allam

© Innovative Media, Inc.

Reprinting ZENIT’s articles requires written permission from the editor.

Petition to stop the violence in TIbet

After decades of repression, Tibetans are crying out to the world for change. China’s leaders are right now making a crucial choice between escalating brutality or dialogue that could determine the future of Tibet, and China.

We can affect this historic choice — China does care about its international reputation. But it will take an avalanche of global people power to get the government’s attention. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has called for restraint and dialogue: he needs the world’s people to support him. Fill out the form below to sign the petition–and spread the word.

Petition to Chinese President Hu Jintao:

As citizens around the world, we call on you to show restraint and respect for human rights in your response to the protests in Tibet, and to address the concerns of all Tibetans by opening meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Only dialogue and reform will bring lasting stability. China’s brightest future, and its most positive relationship with the world, lies in harmonious development, dialogue and respect.


Islam and democracy: Discussion

The media should not highlight Muslim hardliners who take the law into their hands in the name of religion, academics said Tuesday during a discussion organized by the German Embassy called Islam, Democracy and Media Freedom.

The two-day discussion started Tuesday and is set to include scholars, philosophers and members of the media.

Tuesday’s speakers included scholars who said controversial or saturated media coverage of hardline groups would tarnish the mostly democratic Muslim population in Indonesia.

The discussion Tuesday also found Islam and democracy had proven their compatibility in the republic, where they said multiculturalism was well preserved.

Speakers at the discussion said democracy in Indonesia was supported by the fact it constitutionally upheld freedom of religion.

Eighty per cent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim.

Franz Magnis-Suseno, a reputed scholar from the Driyarkara School of Philosophy said, “Unlike Malaysia, Muslims (here) are legally allowed to embrace a new faith”.

“We are seeing unprecedented relations between Muslim organizations and those of other faiths, and it shows democracy survives in a land of Muslims.”

This notion was shared by Azyumardi Azra, a professor at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, who said multi-culturalism in Indonesia was viewed as a strong virtue.

He said the difference between Islam in Indonesia and in other countries was that Muslim organizations here were civil society groups.

“Unlike those in the Middle East, they contribute to the development of a civic society here that is very crucial for democracy,” he said.

Azyumardi also cited the victory of nationalist parties in elections as an example of democratic Muslims here, despite the birth of various Islam-oriented parties.

“Above that, Muslims here also practice the same Islamic obligations like those in the Middle East.

“That’s why I reject claims that say Islam in Indonesia is more peripheral compared to that in the Middle East,” he said.

Hans-Ludwig Frese, a German Islam observer at Kleio Humanities in Bremen, said Muslims in Germany, who were mostly from Turkey, also played an important role in sustaining democracy in Germany.

“The difference is they don’t claim allegiance to a specific Muslim organization like many here do,” he said.

They said because Indonesia was displaying good relations between Islam and democracy, the media here should contribute by not portraying extremism or fueling controversy.

The latest incident around the media and Islam was the publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers, inciting worldwide protests by Muslims.

“What the media need to remember is that Muslims here are committed to democracy, so don’t mind the hardliners,” Azyumardi said.

“Thus the media should take responsibility for having promoted such radical figures.”



  On (March 4, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI explained that “prayer is not something accessory, it is not ‘optional’, but rather a question of life or death. 

Shortly for Christianity, the Holy Father said “to pray is not to evade reality and responsibilities it entails, but to assume them to end, trusting in the faithful and inexhaustible love of the Lord” 

Prayer is something important in someone’s life, including me. Praying make me my deepheart in peace. I feel strong to face the reality of my life. Prayer also make my life more profoundly. I think prayer also give me a awareness of myself and and take me to view everything in my life more wisely. If I forget praying, I feel empty.

Indonesian support Obama

I see that many people of Indonesia support Obama in USA  election. Obama has ever lived in Indoneisa. He knows much about Indonesia. He has ever educated in Jakarta. He experienced the condition of pluralism in Indonesia.

I think that Obama is a symbol of democratic, symbol of pluralism and also the symbol of freedom for some of Indonesian. People of Indonesia hope that Obama will build a better relationship between Indonesia and USA in future.

But now, a hope from Indonesia is difficult to realise. The reality in USA is different. I do not what’s american people think about this dream.

Sometimes I Hate Religion

Religion. It sounds good. But religion had made many conflict in many countries. Like in my country, religion made conflicts between them. For some, religion is everything for them, so they could kill other in the nnme of religion.

Some people misused religion for their interest. Some politician use religion to get votes in pbulic election. But after they have been elected, they forget people.

Sometimes I hate religion.

RI a factor in Malaysia results: Analysts

Tony Hotland ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Wed, 03/12/2008 1:34 AM  |  Headlines


The unprecedented results of Malaysia’s polls over the weekend may have been inspired by reform and democracy in Indonesia, analysts said.

Malaysia’s ruling coalition party lost its two-third majority in parliament, the first time in five decades, but on Monday party leader Abdullah Ahmad Badawi retained his premiership for a second term.

Long-term observer of Malaysian politics Des Alwi said reform in Indonesia might have stoked the rebellion against the party leader.

Abdullah has been criticized for his administration’s poor handling of the economy, corruption and racial issues.

“We went down that road first and I think the wind of reform has blown in their direction,” Des said Tuesday.

“That’s our greatest swing to Malaysia.”

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), which has been for a long time opposed to former authoritarian Soeharto’s Golkar Party, gained votes in the 1999 general elections after Soeharto was toppled a year earlier.

A reform movement then swept the nation.

Golkar had held the majority in the House of Representatives for more than three decades.

Des was one of Indonesia’s negotiators during the confrontation with Malaysia in the early 1960s and was a friend then of Malaysian leaders.

He said many Malaysians had been tired of restrictions and the flourishing corruption in their country.

The resurgence of the opposition figure and former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim was greeted immediately.

Anwar was convicted in 1998 on sex and graft charges, but he maintained the charges were politically motivated. The sex charge was later quashed.

Anwar led his Keadilan party to win 31 parliament seats from just one in the previous election.

“Their eyes were opened because of information coming from outside Malaysia on news wires and websites.

“They have matured,” Alwi said.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, also Golkar chairman, said Tuesday the victory of the opposition parties was “a common part of a growing democracy, which in Malaysia was thanks to access to information”.

“Although the press is restricted in Malaysia, there are short massaging service (on cell phones) and the Internet allows wide public access to information,” he told Antara news agency.

Lawmaker Abdillah Toha of the House’s Commission I that deals with foreign affairs said the election results were “a start of a new era toward democracy”.

Also a National Mandate Party (PAN) leader, Abdillah said, “I’ve dealt with Malaysian lawmakers and they basically did not function”.

“They just did what the government said.

“Anwar Ibrahim is a strong figure and I personally think we’d have better relations if he was the prime minister.

“The results are a good lesson the Malaysian government must take seriously because their people showed they did not want to be ruled by a poorly-run administration anymore.”

Church congregation continues amid protest

Tifa Asrianti ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Bekasi   |  Mon, 03/10/2008 1:20 AM  |  Headlines


Five churches in North Bekasi held Sunday services from Permata Jijau Permai housing estate despite a rumor members of the Cooperating Bureau of Mosques and Praying Rooms (Musholla) would stage large protests against their efforts.

Police officers were seen patrolling the housing estate, where the protesters were expected, but no such gathering occurred.

The five churches included the Indonesian Bethel Church of Shalom, the Indonesian Bethel Church of Maranatha, the Indonesian Christian Protestant Church, the Indonesian Pentecostal Church and the Javanese Christian Church.

Various obstacles put up by protesters have seen church organizations in the area unable to build permanent buildings and so they operate out of makeshift shophouses.

Edward Butar-butar from the Bekasi Christian Family Forum said there were nine other churches in the Permata Hijau Permai real estate but threats seemed to be focused on five churches at the shophouses block.

The cooperating bureau organizing the protests made complaints to local authorities about the churches and their operations last year.

Tensions escalated after Dec. 16, 2007, when hundreds of people entered a church during Mass and forced the congregation to stop the service.

Following the December protests, the Javanese Christian Church moved to Taman Kebalen estate.

Four churches stayed despite further protests.

Elizabeth Suria, church secretary at the Shalom church, said her congregation had been faced with a number of incidents including garbage being dumped at their church entrance and protesters blocking congregation members from entering their building.

“So far, there has been no physical abuse, but we couldn’t perform mass,” she said.

One protester interviewed said “his people” did not want to interrupt religious activity, but wanted “legal certainty about the building’s usage”.

“They are using shophouses as houses of worship,” Yos said.

“I think it is against the regulation.”

In response to the opposition, Elizabeth said the shophouses they used as churches belonged to them, and they had a legal right to use them for whatever purpose.

Edward Butar-butar said the Christian congregations had to use shophouses for services because it was difficult to build churches there.

He said the Indonesian Christian Protestant Church and St. Clara church, a Catholic church in a neighboring real estate, had experienced problems with their land, construction funds and construction permits.

“Some people objected to the construction plan and as a result the church has never been built,” Edward told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Bekasi municipality council member and member of the Peace and Welfare Party (PDS) Jonni S. Batubara said construction of a Batak church in Tanggul, North Bekasi, was stopped last year after people protested against it.

Another council member and faction head of the Justice Welfare Party (PKS), Wahyu Prihantono said the problem was related to miss-communication between churchgoers and the people.

“Performing a religious activity is a human right,” Wahyu said.

“To prevent the opposition, we should strengthen the role of FKUB (Bekasi’s Interfaith Communication Forum).”

In 2006, the government issued a two-minister regulation stipulating a church permit should include at least 90 churchgoers, have support from 60 local residents, be legalized by the local authorities, and receive a recommendation from the head of the municipality’s religious office and one from the FKUB.