Kali Bawang, February 2003: It's a Javanese custom to display a shadow puppet in one's home to give visitors a sense of the owner's character. Anastasius Priharsoyo chose Resi Seto, a warrior priest whose scarlet face testifies to his courage, "because I want people to know that though I am an ulama, I am still strong." It's a strength born of a missionary's sense of purpose and a realist's flexibility. And it is a strength derived from multiple religionsrare proof that seemingly conflicting beliefs can coexist harmoniously even within one man.
Priharsoyo's open-minded, profoundly pragmatic approach to religion is on display at Pondok Pesantran Al Islamy, his school and drug-rehab center in Kali Bawang, an hour's drive by car from Yogyakarta. Like his parents, Priharsoyo was once a Catholic missionary who saw ministering to Central Java's poor and addicted as a calling. But he felt limited by the suspicion with which he was viewed by his would-be congregation. If he himself were Muslim, he began to think, he could reach more people. He had been studying the Koran, anyway, and coming to believe it offered a better guide for daily life than the Bible.
So Priharsoyo, now 57, converted to Islam in 1976 and opened the school eight years later. Yet he still adheres to certain Catholic tenets and resists some unpalatable interpretations of Islam (such as the ostracism of nonbelievers). Driven by Priharsoyo's conviction that there is a place for all beliefs, Al Islamy has become a multifaith learning and healing center that even incorporates aspects of Javanese mysticism. In short, it reflects how Islam is practiced by the vast majority of Indonesian Muslimsmoderate, tolerant and syncretic. Students and addicts at the center include Muslims and Christians. Religious lessons are tailored to the recipient: Christians receive theirs from a priest; Muslims receive theirs from "Pak Pri," as Priharsoyo is fondly known. On Sundays, when hundreds of people come for free drug counseling, Pak Pri delivers a sermon that is accompanied by Gregorian chants if more Christians show up and Koranic recitations if the crowd is predominately Muslim.
Pak Pri spends most of his time with the addicts. Before getting hooked on crystal meth or low-grade heroin, many were lawyers, policemen, university lecturers or students (the youngest is 12). Now they are gaunt and ghostly, often shaking or clawing themselves. He does not pretend to coddle themthey sleep on the floor of unfurnished rooms that often reek of their waste until they clean thembut they share an easy rapport with him. Pak Pri chides one for not mentioning that he had been arrested and teases anothera man who stabbed his fatherabout his tattoos. Most are delivered to him by their families, who pay what they can (students attend for free; funding comes primarily from a general store the school runs). They receive medical treatment and, after the harsh early stages of withdrawal, follow a daily program of study, work and prayer. Nearly 1,000 people have been treated here. "We try," he says, "to give them a spiritual foundation they can rely on when they get back home, where the temptation is."
If he had money to fix up the grounds, Pak Pri says he could house 300 addicts. Now there are 80 (the four women have their own, equally unadorned quarters). There are fights and occasional attempts to escape, but the program is well regarded in the area. While Pak Pri has received threats from drug dealers, he is often invited by local religious leaders to lead services on the theme of drug counseling. Islam, he says, teaches that no one should enforce a particular religion on someone else; yet he also has no problem with people who claim their religion is "the one true faith. That means they're fully devoted." As devoted as Priharsoyo is to his calling.