Religious Intolerance Continues to Mar Indonesia’s Standing as Sanctuary for Diversity

Timothy Lakaseru
Feb 6 · 4 min read

On Thursday the 29th of January, amateur footage of the supposed vandalization of a mosque due to a purported permit issue in the Agape housing complex in the North Sulawesi province of Indonesia have surfaced in social media.

Such defacement is unfortunately a common occurrence in the country. In 2017, an NPR report on the 2010 mobbing of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church raised international traction on the endangerment brought to religious tolerance, one of the forces ensuring cohesion throughout the years of the nation’s existence.

Religious freedom is guaranteed by the country’s constitution, and in 2017, the national Constitutional Court formally recognized the rights of those who practice native religions outside of Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Despite legal recognition, adherents to these faiths, in addition to those not practicing Islam, the majority religion, are still living in fear as a result of hard-liner intimidation. The lack of de facto recognition mars Indonesia’s reputation as a haven for religious diversity.

Indonesia itself was devised as a secular country; its founders feared that imposing Islam as a state religion would place non-Muslims in disadvantage. As the island nation approaches its 80th anniversary, the pioneers’ greatest fear has reached a partial fulfillment.

Today, hate speech in all forms is commonly used to scare Muslim electors into voting for those deemed to be devout believers, whilst threatening damnation to those who prefer either non-Muslim candidates or those who seek to present a moderate image of Islam to the outside world.

Extremist clerics, such as the famed Abdul Somad render the gullible unnecessarily paranoidal towards other faiths, especially Christianity, which is seen as a main threat towards the wellbeing of Islam in Indonesia.

Somad demonizes the cross as containing jinns that cause apostasy and went even as far as forbidding the use of ambulances with red crosses painted on them, as these would cause a Muslim to die as an infidel.

Attempting to elevate Islam as a guiding principle on a national level is an affront to the Hindu-Buddhist heritage forming the philosophical bases of the country. In fact, the national motto, “unity in diversity” , was first coined by a 14th century Majapahit era official Mpu Tantular.

It is ironic that thousands of visitors, including those from hardliner families would pack Jakarta’s National Monument with awe when its design itself was derived from the Hinduist concepts of lingga (masculinity) and yoni (femininity), symbolizing a vision of prosperity.

Indonesia will never, ever display shame towards its Hindu-Buddhist heritage, one that has gained the Borobudur complex a UNESCO heritage status.

Nor will it allow intolerance to suppress tourism, the ancient temples and palaces of Bali will continue to receive national promotion; in consideration of the tropical paradise’s significant contribution towards the national tourism industry.

Indonesia’s status as a developing country is one that was achieved and maintained through the entry of foreign investment and open tourism. Its long journey with religious tolerance will be one that may eventually lead it towards a developed status, an increase most Indonesians are positively anticipating.

If it chooses to adopt hardline Islam as a state religion, this growth may be impeded by the nation-wide replacement of existing laws with those heavily biased on the Sharia. Consequentially, isolation is eventually inevitable. The making of such decision in a time where liberalization and moderation is causing transformations in the Middle East would be proven to be destructive towards its journey towards becoming a developed economy by 2045.

A few times every year government officials and clerics from both the biggest six faiths and those newly recognized would convene in large arenas to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, The Lunar New Year Easter, Eid al Fitr, Vesak, and Deewali to present a tolerant image from a country currently boasting of the world’s largest Muslim population.

Nevertheless, such gatherings are insufficient to prove that religious diversity remains a priority. Inter-faith dialogues involving popular clerics are frequented by many , whilst prayer services are common as well, typically conducted as either communal events or personal commemorations of birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths.

The examples mentioned above may present the impression of a tolerant society, yet peaceful coexistence remains a tale from the past often told by older Indonesians. They seek for the reemergence of an era where diversity brought the country to a state of unity.

The idea that it possible to convert Indonesia to a religious state was one shunned by its founding fathers under the guise of maintaining national stability and should remained shunned for the sake of development and maintaining national harmony, alongside the preservation of a national sense of cohesiveness.

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