[Updated: earlier version stated the victims were killed. 22 are injured; their condition is not known.]A misguided fanatic in central Java wrapped himself in an explosive device, nails and other forms of murderous shrapnel, entered a Christian church and detonated the bomb during worship services, injuring a reported 22 people. The New York Times report is here.Java is the most densely populated island in Indonesia, and the overwhelming majority of its population is Muslim. Communities of Christians exist, and in some cases these congregations include converts from Islam. (Indonesia, Nigeria and, strangely enough, Iran seem to be three countries where numbers of people born into Islamic communities have embraced Christianity in recent years with the surge of Christian conversions in Indonesia attracting particular attention.)Traditionally, Indonesian Islam has been extremely tolerant with a heavy Sufi influence — and pre-Islamic ideas have blended with Islam to create some uniquely Indonesian approaches to religion that shock some Muslims in Saudi Arabia and other places. Those forms of Islam are often linked to traditional families of religious leaders and integrated into rural hierarchies and relationships that are under pressure as Java modernizes and many of its people move to the cities.This traditional Islam is now being challenged (with considerable financial help from outside) by those who hold to more severe and doctrinally rigid forms of the religion. The Java-traditionalist Islamic parties and brotherhoods face a new and difficult competition from rivals who claim to speak for global as opposed to Indonesian Islamic norms and ideas. One bone of contention between the two sides: the treatment of religious minorities and Islamic sects who occupy a position in Islam roughly analogous to that of Mormons in Christianity. The old style Javanese want to live and let live; the more puritanical reformers favor a more confrontational stance against those they regard as apostates.It is not clear from the Times story whether the targeted church included converts from Islam or was suspected by local Muslims of either promoting conversions from Islam or preventing conversions to it (sometimes by young people who want to marry someone outside their native religious community). Such allegations whether true or not are often found where interfaith tension is high.An additional factor that stokes religious tension in Indonesia is that the often well connected and wealthy members of the overseas Chinese community in the country are increasingly Christian. Ethnic tension and religious animosity can and often do feed on one another.The surge of conversions to Pentecostal Christianity (and other forms of Christian faith as well) alongside the rise of a less tolerant and more assertive form of Islam makes for an explosive mix. This week’s violence in Indonesia is unlikely to be the end of a difficult story. Most Muslims in Indonesia deplore vicious acts of violence like this one, but as we have seen elsewhere a minority of fanatics can take violent steps that over time polarize large communities.
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