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Religion in Indonesia

An archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, the country has an area of approximately 700,000 square miles and a population of 237 million. According to a 2000 census report, 88 percent of the population is Muslim, 6 percent Protestant, 3 percent Roman Catholic, and 2 percent Hindu. Other religions (Buddhist, followers of traditional indigenous religions, Jewish, and other Christian denominations) are less than 1 percent of the population. Some Christians, Hindus, and members of other minority religious groups say that the 2000 census undercounted non-Muslims. The government conducted a national census in 2010 that was expected to provide more accurate figure.

The country has a small Sikh population, estimated in 2010 at between 10,000 and 15,000, residing primarily in Medan and Jakarta. Eight Sikh gurudwaras (temples) are located in North Sumatra and two in Jakarta. The number of Confucians remains unknown because respondents were not allowed to identify themselves as Confucian in the 2000 national census. The Supreme Council for Confucian Religion in Indonesia estimated that 95 percent of Confucians are ethnic Chinese, and the balance are mostly indigenous Javanese. Many Confucians also practice Buddhism and Christianity. There are small Jewish communities in Jakarta and Surabaya. The Bahai community reported thousands of members, but no reliable figures are available. Falun Dafa, which considers itself a spiritual organization rather than a religion, claims between 2,000 and 3,000 followers, nearly half of whom live in Yogyakarta, Bali, and Medan.

An estimated 20 million persons, primarily in Java, Kalimantan, and Papua, practice animism and other types of traditional belief systems termed "Aliran Kepercayaan." Many combine their beliefs with one of the government-recognized religions and register under that recognized religion. The National Commission for Human Rights stated there are 244 organizations of traditional/indigenous belief at the national level with 954 chapters nationwide across 25 provinces.

The constitution provides for religious freedom, but some laws and regulations restrict it. The government generally respected religious freedom for the six officially recognized religions, but not for groups outside those six religions, or groups within those six religions that espoused interpretations that local or national leaders deemed deviant or blasphemous. The trend in the government’s respect for religious freedom did not change significantly during the year; however, as in previous years, the government sometimes failed to protect the rights of religious minority groups. There were reports that police collaborated with hard-line groups against members of sects they deemed to be “deviant” when enforcing laws and regulations that limit religious freedom.

In some instances, government security forces failed to act when radical non-state actors attacked minority sects. There were reports that government officials and police witnessed the coerced conversion of dozens of Shia followers to Sunni Islam in East Java. Local governments continued to block construction of houses of worship by minority groups within their communities and the national government failed to enforce two Supreme Court decisions in favor of construction permits for two Christian churches. During the year, a number of regional governments enforced decrees limiting or banning the free practice of Ahmadi Muslims.

There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. These abuses occasionally included incidents of majority-on-minority communal violence. While this violence sometimes occurred along sectarian lines, the underlying causes were often more complex and included political manipulation, economic disparity, intra-family conflict, and land disputes. Some hard-line Muslim groups opposed to religious pluralism continued to engage in violent activity against other religious groups and activities deemed contradictory to their view of Islamic values.

Aceh remained the only province authorized by national legislation to implement Sharia (Islamic law). Non-Muslims in the province remained exempt from Sharia. Some local governments outside of Aceh also have laws with elements of Sharia that abrogate certain rights of women and religious minorities. Aceh adopted a Sharia based penal code imposing physical punishment for violations of the law.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to six religious groups: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Unrecognized groups may register with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as social organizations. Although these groups have the right to establish a place of worship, obtain identity cards, and register marriages and births, they sometimes face administrative difficulties in doing so. In some cases these challenges make it more difficult for individuals to find jobs or enroll children in school. Legally identity card applications are now acceptable when the "religion" section is left blank; however, members of some groups reported that they sometimes faced obstacles.

In 2008 the government issued a joint ministerial decree freezing certain activities of the Ahmadiyya Qadiyani (Ahmadiyya). Specifically, it bans proselytizing by the Ahmadiyya but also prohibits vigilantism against the group. Violation of the proselytizing ban carries a maximum five-year prison sentence on charges of blasphemy. However, the decree does not prohibit the Ahmadiyya from worshipping or continuing to practice within its own community. Hardline groups and a government-appointed body, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem), supported an outright ban. The minister for religious affairs also publicly supported a ban on the Ahmadiyya.

In April 2010 the Constitutional Court upheld the 1965 Blasphemy Law, holding that the government had power to impose limitations on religious freedoms based upon security considerations. Human rights groups, including the Wahid Institute, led the effort to overturn the law. Many Muslims and members of other religions supported maintaining the law.

The government permits the practice of the traditional belief system of Aliran Kepercayaan as a cultural manifestation, not a religion. Aliran Kepercayaan groups must register with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and local authorities generally respected their right to practice their beliefs.

Hard-line groups, including the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), continued their attacks against Ahmadi Muslims and individuals or groups they deemed deviant. The FPI also pressured the government to act in accordance with the FPI’s desires. In May, just ahead of a planned June 3 concert by pop singer Lady Gaga, FPI members called for the cancellation of the concert. The FPI said that the concert was immoral and that it was seeking to protect Indonesian society from sinfulness. In the lead-up to the event, photos of masked FPI members with concert tickets surfaced on the Internet along with thinly veiled threats of violence if the concert were held. Citing security concerns, police refused to grant the concert a permit, and the show was cancelled. Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali noted that he believed the cancellation would benefit the country.

  • Ahmadiyah
  • Ahmadiyah

    The Ahmadiyah are a small, avowedly Muslim, sect, claiming 500,000 members in Indonesia -- a figure that could be inflated. Ahmadiyah is considered heretical by many Muslims, and has come under attack recently by local militants. The Ahmadiyah adherents evidently believe Muhammad was not the final prophet, a belief inimical to the orthodox Sunni doctrine espoused by most Indonesian Muslims. The Ahamadiyah sect was founded in the 19th century. Jamaah Ahmadiyah has existed peacefully in Indonesia since 1925 and only began experiencing difficulties in recent years.

    Mainstream Muslim groups have decided that Ahmadiyah is an illegitimate form of Islam; the question now is whether less tolerant Muslims will continue to feel this absolves them of responsibility to live in harmony with Ahmadiyah. The prevailing view that Ahmadiyah's beliefs and practices lie at the root of the problem provides a classic example of "blaming the victim" and will preclude a peaceful resolution for Ahmadiyah in the near term.

    Ahmadiyah leaders raise the possible application of Sharia law to their community as a major concern. Describing Sharia law as "complex" and subject to various interpretations, they asserted that the Ahmadiyahs have their own unique take on Sharia. Consequently, they did not want to see a Sunni version of Sharia imposed on the Ahmadiyah community. They added that the proponents of Sharia law in Indonesia - including Islamic parties and/or groups such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Hizb ul Tahrir - faced a theological quandary over its applicability to the Ahmadiyah. On the one hand, some adherents of these groups espoused applying Sharia law to the Ahmadiyah so that they would be subject to punishments for violating orthodox Islamic teaching. Other hardcore Islamists objected on the grounds that applying Sharia law to the Ahmadiyahs would constitute a tacit admission of their status as Muslims.

    The Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI) Fatwa Commission takes questions from the public and issues fatwas (religious edicts). The MUI's mission is to protect core Islamic beliefs from outside influence. MUI fatwas against Ahmadiyah were part of the MUI's defense of Islamic beliefs. They found Ahmadiyah teachings deeply offensive. Ahmadiyah was too exclusive, that its followers built mosques next to mosques already established by other Muslims, and they should not call themselves Muslims if they will not pray with other Muslims. MUI's problem with Ahmadiyah was its claim to be a Muslim group. MUI would not question Ahmadiyah's freedom to operate if it did so as a separate religion. The Ahmadiyah community had not accepted the MUI's recommendation that the sect return to mainstream Islamic beliefs, recast themselves as a religion distinct from Islam, or dissolve their organization altogether.

    In January 2007, Jamaah Ahmadiyah signed an agreement with the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) -- a board made up of senior government officials from various ministries -- which required the group to cease teachings that deviated from mainstream Islamic beliefs, including Ahmadiyah not recognizing Muhammad as the last prophet. In an action which could result in wider discrimination against minority sects, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) issued a recommendation on 16 April 2008 to dissolve the Islamic sect Jamaah Ahmadiyah. Citing the 1965 law on the "prevention of misuse and disgrace of religion", Bakor Pakem stated the sect had failed to comply with a 12-point declaration signed in January 2007 and should be dissolved.

    However, Attorney General Agung Handarman Supandji told the media on April 19 that the government wanted to resolve the issue through persuasion, "not directly through legal action." While the decree's implications were unclear, if implemented, sect members could potentially face arrest if they continued to worship. The government was in a delicate position. Under the Suharto regime, minority sects could operate more freely because the regime could easily quash any threats by religious groups. However, under the current democratic regime, the government was more hesitant to reign in hardline groups. This threatened ban is an attempt to appease these groups.

    On 09 June 2008, the Attorney General, Minister of Religion and Minister of Home Affairs issued a Joint Ministerial Decree on Jemaah Ahmadiyah Indonesia that stopped short of banning the minority Islamic sect. A six-point decree "warns" members of Ahmadiyah against making their own interpretations of Islam and against spreading their beliefs. In an attempt to prevent vigilantism as a result of the decree, it also prohibits the public from taking the law into their own hands by taking illegal actions or committing violence against Ahmadiyah.

    The government had been mulling issuing this decree for several weeks. The decree was issued hours after thousands from hard-line groups rallied in front of the Presidential Palace to demand the president dissolve Ahmadiyah. The demonstrators included the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Jakarta-based Forum Betawi Rempung (FBR), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), and a few members of the mainstream Islamic United Development Party (PPP).

    According to political observers, the decree was the first step toward banning Ahmadiyah and followed word-for-word a 1965 presidential decree against "misusing and/or denigrating religion." This decree, issued by President Sukarno, called first for ministers to prohibit activities of deviant groups, followed by a recommendation for the President to issue a ban if the group does not comply, and finally to arrest for non-compliance with the ban.

    The joint decree would have several impacts: Ahmadi will retreat from society; people may interpret the decree to mean that the Ahmadi are not allowed to freely associate; Ahmadi may have trouble accessing public services such as marriage and birth certificates or going on the Haj; and the decree may motivate hard-liners to press for bans against those whose practices and beliefs differ from Sunni orthodoxy. Depending on how the decree is interpreted, Ahmadiyah followers may be allowed to continue practicing quietly as along as they do not prosletyze. That said, some pointed to the 1965 presidential decree upon which this action was based, which prohibits religious activities including prayer for deviant faiths.

    In March 2011 three Indonesian provinces issued decrees that prohibit the Ahmadiyah from publicly manifesting their faith. Provincial governments in West and East Java and South Sulawesi issued their decrees following a mob attack that killed three Ahmadiyah followers in Banten almost one month ago. The Minister for Law and Human Rights and the Minister of Religious Affairs supported the provincial decrees claiming that they are necessary to maintain public order. The provincial decrees appear to violate Indonesia’s constitution, which guarantees religious freedom. President Yudhoyono had not called for the decrees to be repealed, though he did call for the protection of Ahmadiyah followers, the arrest of perpetrators of violence, and an investigation into whether police provided sufficient protection for the Ahmadiyah community of Banten.

    During the year 2012 a number of regional governments enforced decrees limiting or banning the free practice of Ahmadiyya Islam. These decrees were often vague in their language, which led to inconsistent enforcement by local authorities. For example, on October 25, members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in Bandung, West Java reported to local police that they had observed an Ahmadi Muslim congregation preparing for the ritual slaughter of animals that is part of the observance of the Eid-ul-Adha holiday. The FPI members and police returned to the Ahmadi mosque and arrested three members of the congregation. Police and the FPI reportedly worked together in an attempt to coerce the Ahmadi Muslims to sign admissions of guilt for violating a 2011 gubernatorial decree that limited their right to practice and defined “spreading the sect” as any public display of their faith. Upon the Ahmadi Muslims’ refusal to do so, the FPI members returned to the mosque and vandalized it. Provincial-level police then encouraged the previously detained Ahmadiyya congregation members to file criminal complaints against the FPI for damaging their property, resulting in the arrest of a local FPI leader.

    Interreligious couples also continued to face obstacles to marrying and officially registering their marriages and often had difficulty finding clergy to perform the required ceremonies before registering a marriage. On November 12, the director of the local office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Salawu, West Java refused to register the marriage of an Ahmadi Muslim groom and Sunni bride, as it was “haram (prohibited under Islamic Law) to record their marriage as they (Ahmadis) are not the real Muslims.”

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    Page last modified: 16-08-2013 18:52:26 ZULU