BOGOR — The oldest Buddhist temple in Bogor, West Java, is a silent witness to religious tolerance in the area.
Five men gather inside the temple, whose doors are always open for people from different religions to come inside and pray. Sitting behind statues of a Buddhist goddess, the men engage in their weekly communal Koran study group. After the evening prayer, they move to the temple's kitchen to enjoy tonight's dinner.
"We've been doing this for three years now, every Thursday night. It's a routine," says Epul Saefullah, who leads this evening's Koran reading. "At first people asked, "But this is a Buddhist temple, why are you here?" But that doesn't really matter. It's the person who recites the Koran that matters, not the place."
The Pan Kho Buddhist Temple, built in 1704, is believed to be the oldest temple in Bogor.
Half of the community around the temple are Muslim, while the rest are Chinese Buddhist. Abraham Halim, an elder from the area and another member of the Koran group, explains that the temple has always been tolerant of other religions.
"It's been open from the very start, though at first people were reluctant to come inside," he says. "In 2007, my friends came to stay and we visited the temple. And that's how it started. "Why don't we do this every Thursday night?" we asked ourselves. Ss far as the temple staff are concerned, it's not a problem. Then other people started to join us as well."
What could be a problem for the temple and the locals who frequent it are infrastructure plans involving the nearby Ciliwung river. Bogor authorities have a number of ideas for the watershed, says Marse Hendra Putra of the Bogor Regional Development and Planning Agency. "We will create a better waste management system. We will make preparations for a better pedestrian area, domestic waste collection and sewer management."
People are worried that the temple will have to be evacuated to make way for projects. But Hendra Putra says there's no reason for concern. "The temple will stay here," he says. "It has never crossed our mind to change it. We're just rearranging things. We want to create an environmentally-friendly area."
The temple's secretary, Chandra, supports the government plans — under one condition. "Please don't destroy the religious harmony that exists in the community," she says. "Don't break it apart. They've lived here for a long time. It's okay if the government wants to reform the area, we will cooperate. But please don't destroy the harmony here."
Asep, a local resident, says the Buddhist temple's religious tolerances is something to be proud of. "I've never heard of anything like this in other areas," he says. "That's why we need to preserve our culture and pass it on to the younger generation."