When the following picture was posted to Bali United’s Football Club on June 4, 2017, it made a statement to fans of the team. But after a few days, the picture circulated beyond the team’s fans and is making a statement all around this world that is rife with religious tension.
The picture shows three Bali United players giving thanks for a goal. It’s a snapshot of religious harmony—a Hindu, Christian and Muslim side-by-side, giving thanks for a goal they accomplished together.
The caption on the photo reads, “Because different beliefs will not prevent us from achieving the same goals.” The symbolism of the players’ simple act of thanks and unity isn’t going unnoticed.
The players in the photo, Hindu defender Ngurah Nanak (left), Christian forward Yabes Roni (middle) and Muslim striker Miftahul Hamdi (right) each assumed the posture their respective religious typically use to pray. The players had a sense what their simple act of prayer would convey. Speaking to Indonesia’s Kompas newspaper, Christian Yabes Roni said, “Even though we all come from different religions and ethnicities, we’re all one.”
The practicality of religious harmony in a diverse society has proved troublesome for this Asian nation. An archipelago composed of more than 17,000 islands and a very diverse population to go along with it, Indonesia has a reputation for religious tension. The vast majority of the population (over 260 million people) are Muslim, however Christians, Hindus and Buddhists also call Indonesia home—especially on the island of Java, where the capital city, Jakarta, is located and over half the population resides. Indonesia’s motto is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” which means “Unity in Diversity,” or more literally, “Many, Yet One.”
This motto is what the soccer players were hinting at with their photo. The country has struggled to maintain what religious harmony it has been able to achieve recently, after a drawn out case involving Basuki (“Ahok”) Tjahaja Purnama, Jakarta’s first Christian governor, ended in the well-respected governor deemed guilty of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Christians and Muslims alike are reeling after the verdict, convinced it is the work of hard-line Muslims who do not share the majority of the population’s practice of Islam or views on politics.
This picture of the soccer players may seem like a small, insignificant step toward gaining back some of the country’s peace, but it is a step nonetheless. In the broader story of the world, it can remind all of us—Indonesian or otherwise—that we can work together to achieve the same goals and that, when achieved, we can all give thanks according to our respective traditions.