Saturday, February 6, 2010

Religious Tolerance in Indonesia

According to the laws in Indonesia, every citizen has a guaranteed right to choose one of the six official religions i.e. Islam, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Buddha and Confucius (click here).

Based on this legal ground and the tolerance among people of different religions, Indonesia has been able to maintain existence as a unitary state for more than 64 years since independence on 17 August 1945.

Actually, the inter-religion relationship cannot be described as perfect harmony all the time, because several conflicts have occurred in the past like in the island province of Maluku and Poso in the early and mid 2000s. As a matter fact smaller conflicts still exists until now.

In this regards, I would like to quote an article in the The Jakarta Post.

Is religious tolerance a success in Indonesia? No, it’s not!

Maya Safira Muchtar, Jakarta | Wed, 02/03/2010 10:36 AM | Opinion

After reading several issues of The Jakarta Post these last few days, I have been feeling very disturbed. There have been reports on churches and a pastor’s home being burned allegedly by Muslim mobs.

Yet the police were unable to arrest anybody on the pretext that it was done by a mob of people. The mobs had an excuse for burning the churches, on the pretext that the Christians did not have any permits to build the churches (the Jan. 25, 2010 issue).

Amazingly, we have heard nothing of this news in the local papers. It is no surprise then that Indonesia wins praise from the United States for religious tolerance.

Not only that, some local institutions believe that ethnic and religious issues are no longer the main conflict (Jan. 27, 2010 issue).

They say that the main issues are now politics, natural resources and corruption. That is why the government still thinks that there is no urgency to deal with issues of religious tolerance.

However, what is being overlooked and undermined is that religious conflicts and radicalism are potential weapons to be used to obtain political and economic gain. We have seen this happening in Pakistan and Somalia.

It is reported in the Jan. 27 issue that religious radicalism affects education. I myself know that there is a state high school in Yogyakarta where the students would like to have separate canteens based on their religion.

Their student activities are based on fanatic Islamic values which prohibit cultural and musical performances, notably forbidding the teaching of Javanese dance. So I find myself very disturbed when they say that Indonesia is praised for its religious tolerance. Forgive me for saying this, but maybe they have not invited nor even talked to the right people about it.

Sometimes, I begin to wonder if these people who insist on giving statements that there is no problem with religious tolerance in Indonesia are practicing the Law of Attraction. Beware; most people confuse the Law of Attraction and positive thinking.

The so-called positive thinkers tend to brush off negative topics. However, I am curious why they love to dwell on poverty or corruption issues. I believe because it has to do directly with money. Therefore, it draws a lot of attention from the public.

I, myself, am a Muslim who is not so much in favor of radicalism or fanatics. I believe that only those who do not have a firm faith in their beliefs would be either a radical or a fanatic. I am not saying Muslim radicals are solely to blame, but radical Christians, radical Buddhists, radical Hindus, and radical believers in Confucius are too. Fanatics and radicals are those who belittle others’ faiths. Not being able to see the majesty of Allah (in Arabic terms, not Muslim nor Christian terms) in each and every one of them.

Therefore, they can never appreciate one another. Sadanand Dhume gives a very clear picture in his book My Friend the Fanatic of the growth of radicalism in Indonesia and it being a threat to the state ideology Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution and the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

So the question now is… what is the government doing? What is the law enforcement doing? All are busy with the Bank Century case? What about the other pressing problems that affect religious freedom in this country?

Even if it is true that the churches did not have any permit to build, does it mean that the people of Indonesia can form mobs to destroy them? So what use is the law? Do they still think that religious conflicts are not of great concern? Why can’t we learn from Somalia and Pakistan?

Like Prof. Jeffrey Winters once said in an interview on national television, “Indonesians lack a sense of urgency”. Let us all take this matter seriously and treat it as urgent.

Map : Courtesy of Wikipedia.


umihoney said...

This happens every where in a plural society. Tolerance is key. Sometimes outside elements are at play,provoking the citizens to create unrest and instability. It's political most of the time and at other times it's economic or both. Nothing is so simple as it may seems. The victims will be the citizens. Create unrest then conquer.Think about it.

H. Nizam said...


Indonesia and Malaysia are facing the same problems. In this case tolerance is very important key.
The political reasons can be a very determining factor like you said.

watsonrodrig said...

Indonesia has been a nation of relative religious calm, peace, and tolerance. Religious intolerance is getting worse here, with state agencies, radical groups and community organisations involved in violations of freedom of faith and religion
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H. Nizam said...


The majority Muslims in Indonesia are moderates, this can be seen from the 2 largest Islamic organizations i.e. Nadhatul Ulama (N.U) once led by the late former president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) and Muhamadiyah previously led by Amin Rais.

While the fanatics are only very small groups but they shout a lot much louder than the moderates who tend to be silent.

Few years ago the government has adopted a more firm policy. Hopefully things would improve very soon.