I have got an answer to my question to myself a year ago, “Why are the five 
students selected to go abroad by AFS committee all studying at Islamic 
boarding school?

I have been looking for the answer for a year when out of the blue I got the 
answer. The story is like this.

On Saturday July 19, 2008 I was invited by Yayasan Bina Antar Budaya (The 
Indonesian Foundation for Intercultural Learning) Chapter Semarang to attend 
the farewell as well as welcoming party. Farewell party is to let go the 
selected students abroad; while welcoming party is to welcome some students 
having come back from abroad. The program was held for two days at Bandungan, 
not far from Semarang. On my way to Bandungan, I was together with Erik, one 
student who just came back from Norway. Leo, one volunteer, drove his car, 
while listening to my chat with Erik, and once in a while asking questions to 
Erik or giving comments.

Among several questions I asked Erik, I asked one crucial question: about 
“So, how is the religiosity life in Norway, Erik?”
To my surprise, Erik seemed very enthusiastic with that question.
“I assume that 85% of Norwegian people are atheist.” He directly answered.
Then, he went on telling us …
At first, his father—who works for Religion Department—minded his going to 
Norway. Erik himself was very disappointed to be selected by AFS committee but 
was sent to a country he chose the last one to visit. (In fact, it was Erik’s 
own mistake because he misunderstood the instruction when ranking which country 
he wanted to visit very much). Before letting Erik go, his parents took him to 
one relative in Kudus who happened to be one ‘ulema’ they believed could 
foresee what would happen. Guess why? His parents were worried if Erik would be 
a non-believer too after getting in touch with atheist people for a year. 
Fortunately, the relative gave green light to Erik’s parents to let him go.
“Honestly I got mentally ‘slapped’ by my foster parents there when they said, 
“Erik, you are a Muslim because you were born in Indonesia. We are 
non-believers because we were born here in Norway. I believe if you were born 
in Norway, you would be a non-believer too. Likewise, if we were born in 
Indonesia, we would be Muslim too because it is a religion adhered by the 
majority Indonesian people.”

My experience living there among non-believer people taught me something 
contradictory from I used to believe: “Atheist people are not criminals. What 
people say that atheist people have chaotic life because their life is not 
divided by the rigid five pray times a day is absolutely not correct. Their 
life is fine, and they are obviously good people. My foster parents did not 
know me at all before I arrived there, but they took care of me very well, as 
if I were their own son. Not recognizing God in their life does not necessarily 
mean they become heartless people. I have learned something very different from 
what my religious teachers used to teach me.”

The number of imbeciles in Indonesia has decreased one number: ERIK.
I expect that the other students sent abroad together with Erik (all from one 
famous Islamic boarding school in Sukoharjo) underwent similar experience in 
understanding different perspective about religiosity/spirituality.
Absolutely I have been expecting that this number will decrease now and again 
so that we Indonesian people all will live side by side peacefully regardless 
different religions, ethnic, etc.
During ‘talent show’ that night, I was sitting next to a woman whose daughter 
went back from Belgium a year ago. One of our ‘chats’ was also about this 
religiosity thing. I assume that the daughter got similar ‘enlightenment’ as 
Erik so she had courage to debate her mother when the mother said, “Atheist 
people must have chaotic life because they don’t have ‘something’ to hold on 
–GOD. In Indonesia here there are many religious people but still people do 
crimes, such as corruption. Moreover in a country where people don’t believe 
that there will be life after death where everyone must be responsible with 
everything they do in this world.”
A very narrow-minded way of thinking, do you believe? This becomes the 
daughter’s responsibility to ‘teach’ the mother a new perspective in viewing 
life. As stated in the motto of AFS program: CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE IN VIEWING 
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Minds are like parachutes, they only function when they are open.   (Sir James 
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