In Indonesia, a Rising Tide of Religious Intolerence

Indonesia promotes itself as an example of tolerance in the Muslim world, yet religious minorities there face discrimination. Religious freedom is protected by Indonesia’s constitution, but members of religious minorities have had their houses set afire, their marriages unacknowledged by the state, and their teachings prohibited.

In Indonesia, 87 percent of the population is Muslim, mainly Sunni. Minority Islamic sects, such as the Shiite and Ahmadiyya, also face discrimination from political Islamists.

There are followers of political Islamism who want to establish an Islamic state or implement Sharia in Indonesia. Sharia is a religious law that forms part of the Islamic tradition.

Protecting “The Six”

Indonesia’s Blasphemy Law only mentions and protects six religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Anyone convicted of violating the law faces up to five years imprisonment.

The state allows the existence of religions outside the six as long as they do not violate any regulations or laws. Indonesia has 245 native religions with more than 400,000 followers.

Every Indonesian must declare a religion on a mandatory national identity card issued at age 17. Most Indonesians choose a religion from the six. Followers of other religions are the most socially vulnerable minority groups.

“Blasphemy [could be] whatever,” says Andreas Harsono, a senior human rights researcher for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW). “You protest about a loud mosque, it is blasphemy; you talk about the Quran for political purposes, that’s blasphemy.”

The Baha’i religion is one religion whose followers face discrimination. Baha’i was banned outright by Indonesia’s first president. In 2001, President Abdurrahman Wahid revoked the ban.

In 2011 two Baha’i families were unable to obtain ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage certificates because a regional system did not include their religion. Other Baha’i followers were forced to convert to Islam or be expelled from their villages.

Teaching Religion

Religion plays a vital role in the social life of Indonesians. State schools require students to study the religion they have declared. Therefore, state schools should have six religion classes, but most schools do not have the budget to hire teachers for all six religions.

Growing Violence and Attacks

Christianity is the largest minority religion in Indonesia. Therefore, Christians experience firsthand the effects of oppressive regulations. For example, under the Religious Harmony Regulation, houses of worship must be licensed, signed, supported, and approved by at least 150 local residents and officials. More than 2,000 churches have closed since the regulation was enacted.

Even Islamic minority sects, such as the Shiite Muslims, face threats. In 2012, a Shiite-majority village was attacked and burned by a mob of Sunni Muslims in Madura, East Java.

No End In Sight

The United States and other countries have warned Indonesia about its growing religious intolerance. Harsono says: “There is a way to end all the terror. Abolish all of these discriminatory laws.”

Source: In Indonesia, a Rising Tide of Religious Intolerence

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