Spirit of diversity in Indonesia

by Agatha Tambunan last modified 14 April 2016 03:41 PM
Spirit of diversity in Indonesia

Indonesia Interfaith Youth Gathering.

14 April 2016

“Indonesia is neither a religious country (for example: Islamic country) nor a secular state. Even though Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, the law is not based on the religion. On the other side, Indonesia is not a secular state because we are upholding the value of religions and we need religious figures to be the spirit of diversity in Indonesia”, said the Indonesia Minister of Religious Affairs, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, who became one of the studium generale’s speakers in the Indonesia Interfaith Youth Gathering (Temu Kebangsaan Orang Muda) that was held on 8th-10th April 2016 in Bogor, West Java.

The gathering was organized by the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (CCI) Youth and Teen Bureau, the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia, the Indonesian Hindu Youth Association, and also two interfaith organizations which are the Wahid Institute (GUSDURian Network) and the National Alliance Bhineka Tunggal Ika.

There were 100 participants (age 18-30 years old) from various religions and communities, who are passionate on social issues and have a great spirit of diversity. The purpose of this gathering is to map social problems and challenges, and then create an action plan to solve those problems.

The participants were not only having seminars but also focus groups discussions with themes such as diversity (study case: interfaith), environmental protection, education and culture, anti-corruption, and media. In this gathering, I joined the diversity group.

Until now, Indonesia is still struggling to create harmony in the diversity. Like Mr. Saifuddin had mentioned, Indonesia is not a religion state. Unfortunately, we are still struggling to have freedom to choose our religions and faith.

In Indonesian citizens’ identity card  you will find a "religion" column. But only six religions are officialy approved to be written in the identity card such as Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Kong Hu Cu (Confucianism). If you are not from those religions, your religion column will be filled with hypen (-). There are also Islamic denominations that are not acknowledged by the government such as Ahmaddiya and Shia.

Indonesia also has beliefs that are based on tribal traditions (there are more than one thousand tribes in Indonesia) and those who identify with these beliefs still experience discrimination from the society because of the prejudice that traditional beliefs mostly consist of dark magic.

There were two participants at our gathering who embrace Sunda Wiwitan, a local belief of the Sundanese people (one of the tribes in West Java).  They told us about difficulties they face when they need to go through administrative procedures. These local beliefs have existed in Indonesia for centuries because they come from their ancestors.

According to Alamsyah Djafar (Wahid Institute), who led the focus group discussion for the diversity theme, there are two types of factors that cause conflict between religions or beliefs. They are structural factors (related with government policies) and cultural factors. After gathering the causes of the conflicts from 23 participants of the group, we found out that most of the causes come from the cultural side for example intolerance between members of different religious groups, fanatism, biased news reports from the internet, and hate speech in religious events.

As structural factors, we identified that  the government is not strict enough to combat the radical religious groups, the absence of safety mechanisms for human rights defenders, and a lack of advocating legal policies that are related with the religious sector. In Indonesia, you need approval from the neighborhood to build houses of worship and you need to get through a rather complicated administrative system.

After we compiled the problems, we made action plans to promote the spirit of diversity and how we can learn about one another's religions and beliefs. We also propose meetings with Indonesia government representatives to raise more concern on the freedom to choose religions and beliefs.

The program does not have to be big, we can start from small things. But first, we must reducing on labeling “majority” and “minority” because we are one. Let’s see diversity as the reason how the nation is created, not a reason to make conflicts!


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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