Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Indonesian Pluralism

Indonesian Pluralism and Politics Irfan Abubakar

6 August 2009 Muslims in Indonesia have long been accustomed to religious diversity. But such diversity is accepted merely as fact, not as a guiding principle. The future of pluralism in Indonesia is, unfortunately, still determined by political negotiations between religious and state elites, not by principles recognised by all religious followers. Consequently, religious tolerance in Indonesia stands on fragile ground.

As a country with more than 17,000 islands, its diversity is not only reflected in its natural resources, but also in the ethnicity, language and religion of its people. Before Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and other world religions arrived in the country, inhabitants 
had their own belief systems, which are still practiced in several tribal communities today.

To manage this diversity, Indonesia’s founding fathers in 1945 decided on a common platform: Pancasila, which comprises the five core principles of religiosity, humanity, unity, democracy and social justice. These principles govern public life. The significant role of religion in public life is recognised by the first principle, “belief in one supreme God”, but this principle does not uphold any particular religion, even Islam – the religion of the majority – as state ideology.

The Indonesian constitution (also written in 1945) ensures the freedom of every citizen to practice his or her faith. It declares that “the state guarantees all persons the freedom of worship, each according to his/her own religion or belief” (Article 29).

However, in practice, the state only guarantees the freedom of certain religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and, more recently, Confucianism. Other religions and local belief systems are not acknowledged as legitimate religions.

Even currently recognised faiths were not always so. A ban on Confucianism, which began in 1967, was only lifted in 2000. During President Suharto’s 1965-1998 New Order administration – which was dominated by the military and characterised by a weakened civil society – followers of Confucius, and those adhering to local religions, were asked to identify with one of the religions recognised by the government on their national identity card.

Since 2006, however, those who follow religions that are not officially recognised by the state are no longer obliged to list one of the state-recognised religions on their identity cards, though they are not yet allowed to list their own particular faith either.

Responding to this crisis, the government released a Joint Ministerial Decree from the Minister of Religious Affairs, the General Attorney and the Minister of Home Affairs, prohibiting Ahmadis from spreading their teachings in order to “maintain religious harmony and public order”.

Another example of the absence of clear policy is when the government refrained from taking a position on a fatwa, or legal opinion, issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council in 2005 prohibiting Muslims from “following ideas of pluralism, liberalism and secularism”. According to this edict, Muslims are not allowed to acknowledge the truth of other religions, use reasoning to understand the Qur’an or relegate religion to only private affairs, clearly contradicting the principles of diversity that shape the foundation of Indonesia as a state.

These examples show that the management of diversity in Indonesia, based on the interest of keeping social harmony, has sacrificed religious freedom and civil rights.

Currently, the parliament is discussing the possibility of revising the criminal code. This is an opportunity for civil society to advocate amending the article allowing for investigation and punishment of groups suspected of violating religious doctrines to protect every citizen from intimidation or 
violence when it comes to their religious freedom.

Genuine social harmony will not be realised by silencing diversity; it can only be attained when the rights of every citizen are upheld and every group is free from religious discrimination. For this to happen, the state must be impartial to religious doctrines.

Irfan Abubakar is a programme coordinator for conflict resolution and peace studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture (CSRC) at Hidayatullah Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta. This article is part of a series on pluralism in Muslim-majority countries written for the Common Ground News Service.

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.