In Ambon, the population is composed of 59% Protestant, 39% Muslim and 2% Catholic displaying a clear division among the people (Ansori et. al., n.d.). In each village, their religious building is the most beautiful structure and displays a great amount of wealth which is highly juxtaposed with their homes. I had the opportunity to sit down with a local doctor, Anastassia (Tasya) and discuss the role religion plays within Ambon society. Tasya explained, “the people will give all their money to the church even if they don’t have much,” she continued by saying, “Ambonese culture is strong in religion, their daily life is wired on religion” (2019, pers. comm., 26 January).
The riots in 1999, showcased a division among the Ambonese people, the main factor separating and identifying them is their religion. Although all religions in Ambon live in harmony today, people still identify by their ethno religion and showcase this by living in distinct Christian or Islamic villages (Al Qurtuby, 2013).
Islam is based on five key principles, one in which is the ‘protection of the individual’, therefore any products or forms of consumption that jeopardise the health or life of an individual is considered against the teachings of Islam (WHO, 1999). This explains why alcohol is prohibited and although tobacco did not exist in the time of revelations, by analogy tobacco is one of those products that causes harm. Similarly, Christianity preaches “your bodies are temples… therefore honour God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) (Holy Bible, n.d.).
In Indonesia 2017, a joint press conference was held of religious leaders representing Islam, Christianity and Hinduism and economic experts to denounce smoking and branded it forbidden in their respective religions (Jakarta, 2017).
In Ambon, religion is a high priority, the tobacco culture has an inescapable presence that even religious teachings have not had an effect. With a disregard of their beliefs, 67.4% of males and 4.5% of females in Indonesia smoke (WHO, 2018); underscoring that in theory, there is a relationship between smoking and religion but the smoking culture is strong in Ambon. In a qualitative study carried out in Indonesia, 2015, some non-smokers said their religion reinforced their non-smoking behaviour (Byron et al., 2015) Tasya explains that religion may persuade individuals not to smoke on a personal level, but not on a community level (2019, pers. comm., 26 January).
Al Qurtuby, S. 2013, Peacebuilding in Indonesia: Christian–Muslim Alliances in Ambon Island, Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations, vol 24, no 3, pp.349-367,.
Ansori, M., Sukandar, R., Peranto, S., Karib, F., Cholid, S. and Rasyid, I. n.d., Post-conflict segregation, violence, and reconstruction policy in Ambon,.
Byron, M., Cohen, J., Gittelsohn, J., Frattaroli, S., Nuryunawati, R. and Jernigan, D. 2015, Influence of religious organisations’ statements on compliance with a smoke-free law in Bogor, Indonesia: a qualitative study, BMJ Open, vol 5, no 12, p.e008111,.
Holy Bible n.d., .
Jakarta, C. 2017, Religious leaders in Indonesia come together to say that smoking is forbidden, urging for higher tobacco taxes | Coconuts Jakarta, Coconuts. viewed 29 January 2019, <https://coconuts.co/jakarta/news/religious-leaders-indonesia-come-together-say-smoking-forbidden-urging-higher-tobacco-taxes/>.
World Health Organisation 1999, Meeting on Tobacco and Religion, viewed 30 January 2019, <http://www.who.int/tobacco/media/en/religioneng.doc>.
World Health Organisation 2018, Tobacco Control in Indonesia, viewed 30 January 2019, <http://www.who.int/tobacco/about/partners/bloomberg/idn/en/>.