Muslims are praying inside the Pan Kho Buddhist Temple in Bogor. (Photo: Nur Azizah KBR)

Muslims are praying inside the Pan Kho Buddhist Temple in Bogor. (Photo: Nur Azizah KBR)

The oldest Buddhist temple in Bogor, West Java, is a silent witness to religious tolerance in the area.

Its doors are always open for people from different religions to come inside and pray.

Five men gather inside the Buddhist temple... reading the Koran in their weekly communal Koran study group....

They’re sitting behind statues of a Buddhist Goddess.

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, even if only one or two people are free.”

Epul Saefullah leads the Koran reading this evening. “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 was built in 1704 – and is believed to be the oldest temple in Bogor.

Half of the community around the temple are Muslim, while the rest are Chinese Buddhist.

An elder from the area, Abraham Halim, explains that the temple has always been tolerant of other religions.

“It’s been open from the very start, but at first people were reluctant to come inside. 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? And as far as the temple staff are concerned, it’s not a problem. Then other people started to join us as well,” Abraham said.

But local people who live around the temple are now worried...

The Bogor authorities are planning to normalize the Ciliwung river watershed next to the temple.

The government has in mind a number of ideas says Marse Hendra Putra, from 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,” Marse explained.

But the Pan Kho temple is located near the river.

And people are worried that the temple will have to be evacuated to make way for the city’s new plans.

“No... it will stay here. It has never crossed our mind to change it, we’re just rearranging things. We want to create an environmentally-friendly area,” he added.

Secretary of the temple Chandra supports the government plans, under one condition...
“Please don’t destroy the religious harmony that exists in the community. Don’t break it apart. They’ve lived here for a long time. It’s OK if the government wants to reform the area, we will cooperate. But please don’t destroy the harmony here,” Candra said.

Local resident, Asep, says he’s proud of the tolerance of the vihara, or Buddhist temple. “I’ve never heard of anything like this in other areas. It’s something to be proud of. That’s why we need to preserve our culture and pass it on to the younger generation.”

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