Muslims, minorities and the state in Indonesia
Indonesian Islam will remain moderate and tolerant by and large, but problems and challenges will continue to exist. The future of Indonesia depends on the ways in which the government and various Muslim groups actually act in public life. While violence, discrimination, and grievances are still felt among the minorities, especially non-Muslims, the Muslim majority continue maintaining the tolerant, moderate character of the country. A small number of hard-liners and terrorists will be disproportionately influential, but the tolerant, moderate majority and the government will not be silent.
Most Muslim groups no longer challenge the state ideology of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution which guarantee freedom of religion, despite a small group who advocate an Islamic Caliphate or the implementation of Islamic law. Generally speaking, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, Sikhs, Bahais, Jews, indigenous believers, foreigners, and other groups, will continue to live freely and peacefully in the country if their leaders and communities continue to work together with others and if the government facilitates dialog and solves common issues, concerns and disputes.
The promotion of the implementation of a more "comprehensive Islamic law" will continue to be outside the mainstream political discourse. But with regional autonomy, some provinces such as Aceh have begun to implement sharia. Others such as South Sulawesi and Banten have attempted to follow suit. Some regencies, such as Bulukumba in South Sulawesi, launched in 2003 a bylaw implementing civil Islamic law there for all Muslims. The regent of Cianjur required all government workers to wear Islamic clothing every day, and some men and women were afraid not to comply. However conservative these measures may be, non-Muslims are not subject to such regulations, their advocates claim.
However, the Muslim moderates and minorities are worried about such measures and other programs of implementation of any exclusivist sectarian system of law and ethics at the national and local levels. For these groups, the advocates of Islamic law at the local level shows insensitivity toward others, including the minorities.
Grievances, discrimination, hatred and violence have the potential to occur. Legally speaking, few problems exist. It is true that an effort is being made to revise the ministerial decree on the building of houses of worship of 1969, involving different religious groups. But other regulations such as the guidelines for the propagation of religion of 1978, overseas aid to religious institutions in Indonesia, 1978, and proselytizing guidelines, 1978, will also need to be reexamined. There still exists the problem of "Islamization versus Christianization". Muslims and Christians accuse each other of proselytizing in an unfair manner.
The law does not discriminate against any religious group in employment, education, housing, or health care. However, if the government does not take proper action, actual discrimination will still persist, such as civil registration, national identification cards, access to public education and to government jobs, and registration of interfaith marriages. Many members of minority groups will continue to complain that the government or local officials make it harder for them than for Muslims to build a house of worship, to get access to public universities, to gain government jobs, or to register their marriages.
Hard-line groups will continue to use pressure, intimidation or violence against those whose message they view offensive to their interpretation of Islam if the government and the police fail to uphold law and order and if the moderate groups simply leave them as they are, without initiating dialog to avoid violent measures.
Some extremists claiming to uphold Islamic morality may sometimes attack cafes, nightclubs, and foreigners when the occasion allows. They can also threaten freedom of expression such as music, paintings and films which they consider insulting to their version of Islam.
Sporadic incidents of ethno-religious violence will continue in conflict areas, particularly Sulawesi and the Maluku, if the government does not prevent this from happening. Apart from these local conflicts, regional and global terrorism, albeit relatively reduced with the death of Dr. Azahari and the capture of some two hundred terrorists by the police, will still be a potential threat to the country. Terrorism remains the major problem, albeit difficult to detect, but more collaborative measures are extremely crucial.
Recently, the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, and the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), declared that terrorism was against Islam, but despite this condemnation, religious opinions in their speeches and publications still contain a lack of insight, exclusivity, and condemnation of other Muslims who do not share their interpretation. The forced closure of churches by members of FPI simply shows their intolerance.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI)'s fatwa condemning secularism, pluralism, and liberalism as they understand them, and declaring Ahmadiyah as un-Islamic, is counterproductive to freedom of religion. The attacks against Ahmadiyah and the intimidation of the Liberal Islam Network (JIL) will continue to occur if the government tolerates such abuse of religious freedom or fails to punish the perpetrators and actors.
So far there have been no reports of forced religious conversions by Muslims or by minorities, but this could occur if the religious preachers and missionaries do not respect the faiths of others. No restrictions exist on the publication of religious materials, the use of religious symbols, and on televised religious programming, but some religious publications and television programs are insulting to members of other faiths.
Conspiracy theories and blaming others to explain one's own problems and weaknesses are still popular in some Islamic publications. Religious absolutism and extreme exclusivism are still part of the interreligious problem that should be addressed properly through communication, education, and dialog.
Non-governmental organizations such as the Society for Interfaith Dialog (Madia), the Indonesian Antidiscrimination Movement (Gandi), the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), the Institute for Interfaith Dialog (Interfidei), the National People's Solidarity, the Islam Liberal Network (JIL), the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) and some others, will have to play a more crucial role in promoting interreligious dialog and cooperation.
Islamic parties have become less ideological, as they endorse democracy. The emerging of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) seems more pragmatic now and its future development remains to be seen; it attempts to attract non-Muslim members and supporters as well. The more religiously inclusive National Mandate Party (PAN) and National Awakening Party (PKB), and other parties will have to do more on interreligious cooperation.
Religion for most Indonesians remains a principal factor of social ties, group identity and morality. More individuals and groups are searching for spiritual peace and transcendental answers to the real and perceived social and political turmoil. Indonesia has now witnessed a growing Islamic awareness and public piety, with regard to dress, business, and publications.
The faces and voices are largely conservative, in the sense that rituals and symbols are more important, whereas religious reinterpretation, interreligious education and dialog have not received their attention and efforts.
Not only at times of conflict, but also at times of peace should Muslims, the minorities, and the state work together through peaceful methods in bringing about peace, justice and prosperity. The future of Indonesia is on their shoulders.
Muhamad Ali is a lecturer at the State Islamic University, Jakarta, a PhD candidate in History at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.