To live peaceably with all, try some silaturahmi

Photo: Duy Pham, Unsplash.

When was the last time you gathered with others simply to enjoy their company? It’s a rare and special experience, a bit like a Thanksgiving meal in the United States, but we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Indonesia. 

Instead, we have a word for these gatherings: silaturahmi, which means strengthening the bonds of friendship. The beauty of silaturahmi is that it’s not scheduled on the calendar. It can happen at any time, centered on connecting with one another. 

For Christians in Indonesia, silaturahmi holds unique significance. As a religious minority in a predominantly Muslim society, we value the importance of maintaining peace and harmony with neighbors who have different beliefs. 

The term silaturahmi is not exclusive to Christians. It’s Arabic and commonly used by our Muslim neighbors. It underscores that the desire for connection, understanding and peaceful coexistence transcends religious boundaries. 

What makes silaturahmi so special is the respect it fosters. During these gatherings, we share stories about our families, experiences and life in general. We steer clear of politics and other controversial subjects. 

There are appropriate times to talk about disagreements. But to experience silaturahmi, we keep our disputes private. This aligns with the wisdom found in 2 Timothy 2:23, which advises us to “have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” 

Silaturahmi focuses on what unites us, to strengthen relationships through understanding and empathy. 

Silaturahmi prevents polarization and division. It equips us to seek justice, find common ground and foster harmony. 

The key to achieving this lies in prioritizing love, which transcends boundaries. With love at the forefront, we can build trust, bridging gaps that might have kept us apart. 

Jesus’ words in John 13:35 — “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” — highlight the transformative power of love in fostering unity and understanding among people. 

Back in 2015, the internet buzzed with a heated debate regarding the colors of a dress. Was it white and gold or black and blue? Due to slight adjustments in contrast and brightness, an optical illusion emerged, dividing people into two camps with differing color perceptions. 

The debate about the colors of the dress reminded us that even something as seemingly straightforward as color can be interpreted in contrasting ways. 

The more silaturahmi we cultivate with each other, the more we realize our perceptions may not align. Strengthening our friendships allows us to develop the relationships needed to coexist peacefully.

It helps us do as Romans 12:18 says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” 

What is more important: to be right or to have peace? In my Indonesian culture, we don’t often express our disagreements openly. We avoid conflicts, hoping they will resolve themselves over time. 

This may differ from the Western perspective, where identifying and addressing the problem is seen as essential to solving it. Which approach is more effective?

I believe that to answer this question, we must truly know the people with whom we disagree. We need to understand them — their hopes, fears and pains — and what brings them joy. What better way to achieve this than through silaturahmi?

Our ability to come together, embrace differences and foster connections is a powerful force for good. When we practice silaturahmi, we transcend divisions and find common ground, even in a world where perceptions may differ, just as the colors of a dress in a photograph may vary in the eyes of different beholders. The more we engage in these meaningful gatherings, the brighter our shared future becomes.  

Hendy Matahelemual

Hendy Stevan Matahelemual is an ordained minister in Mosaic Mennonite Conference and lives in Philadelphia. 

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