In an ecumenical conversation as one of the main programs of the WCC 10th Assembly held in Busan (2013) we gathered and discussed about the identity of Christianity in the multi-religious society. That conversation was also joined by our friends from many different religious backgrounds. When ideas were shared and thoughts were expressed, one of the participants had raised her hand and interrupted the debate while proposing a question, “we have been talking about respecting other religions, but do not we realize that the greetings that we tend to use here is only ‘dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ’? This shows that we do not take into account our colleagues from different religions who have been among us!’. This critique surprised me for a while and I was trying to say to myself that this is true.
What I would like to say is that “the greeting" plays an important role to build up a relation between two persons or among the people within the society and to maintain such a relationship.
The greeting is expressed not merely as a means to start the communication, but as a manifestation of social and cultural values. It shows our point of view as well as the way we act towards the others whom the greeting is addressed. It also shows our respect and the expectation about the relation itself.
Last month I started my new job in North Tapanuli, a regency in North Sumatera. Nearly 90 percent of the population who live here are dominated by Bataknese, one of the major ethnical groups in Indonesia. This ethnical group is divided into some different sub-ethnical groups, such as Batak Toba, Batak Simalungun, Batak Karo, Batak Mandailing, etc. I remember when I arrived here for the first time one of my friends shake my hand and saying “Horas”. I spontaneously responded to him by saying the same word without holistic understanding about the meaning and the cultural concept behind the use of the term.
“Horas” is a greeting which is yelled almost in all the times and places when people meet each other or are gathering for any purposes. It is used even in the church. My friend who is a pastor says that every time before he starts preaching he opens it by yelling "horas" instead of "Shalom". It seems like a common one, like any other greetings, “hello”, “hi”, etc., but the use of it in the context of Bataknese people is not without any meanings. Otherwise, the play of that term has a set of values. Wittgenstein has told us that the meaning of the language, of the words, totally depend on the context where they are played; they come with any meaning embedded in them.
"Horas" is a public term that can be said by every person who is a member of the ethnic, regardless of their sub-ethnical or religious or denominational backgrounds. Be you a Batak Toba or Batak Karo and be you a Moslem or Christian, when you are saying “Horas” you are totally considered as a part of us and we are a part of you. It means that this term reminds them about a “macro identity”, instead of micro or particular ones such as religion, denomination, and sub-ethnic. It is obvious that the play of the greeting has helped people to strengthen their social relations as well as to unite them based on the socio-cultural awareness.
I think that what we can learn from this to help us in creating a harmonious interreligious relation is that they can set aside their particular identity for the sake of social and cultural relation that has been preserved for many years. This does not mean that they have left or forgotten the particular one. Making an interreligious relation has also to be grounded on this kind of approach as well. In interreligious encounter, I would like to say that we have to appear not merely as Christian or Moslem who are willing to meet, but also as “a creation of God”. I see that this identity is beyond particular identities such as Christian or Moslem and Ambonese or Bataknese, but more than that as a global identity. Gerrit Singgih in his book also touches on this idea, by saying that the theology of creation that assumes that all humankind is God’s creation can be a theological basic for the interreligious dialogue.
This greeting "horas" has also reminded both sides on how to treat each other in the spirit of brotherhood or sisterhood. Caring is therefore a common act that must be raised from it. Every person that say and (or) is said this term is morally obliged to care and share one another. This does not mean that I am saying that every Bataknese is always consistent with this moral responsibility, but that is a kind of ideal type of saying the greeting. This is my critical position for those who are saying it without any practical implication.
It is parallel with Christian greeting of “Shalom” (salam) or in Moslem “Assalamaalaikum”. Literally those two greetings can be translated as ‘peace be upon you”. Theologically, the use of both require the speaker to bring peace to whom he/she is addressing the greetings, or even to everybody as a proof that he/she understands the practical (ethical) implication of those terms.
Unfortunately, many people who greet are unable to bring peace to their fellow. More ironically, in the context of socio-religious conflict and violence, the greeting of “Shalom” was sometimes used as a sign for Christian identity. So, in order to identify who is Christian or Moslem, this greeting had been used so the warrior would not mistakenly kill people. In this context, this Christian greeting was played as a verbal symbol of violence!
In a pluralistic World, we will also need social and cultural approaches to help us in making a harmonious relation with people of different faiths. The task will be how we see and speak of it theologically. The use of "Horas" has shown that "culture" (this greeting is a cultural expression) can help people to maintain the relation, regardless of one's religious, denomination, ethnical or sub-ethinical identities.
I do believe that every context has a specific greeting that is closer to their culture. We can use it, in one hand to remind them of macro identity, and on the other hand to make them treating the other justly and peacefully in order to create a harmonious social relation.