Indonesia, located in South-East Asia, is an archipelago of 13,600 islands spanning approximately 5,000km. In the 14th century, Gujerati merchants from India introduced Islam to Indonesia. In 1478, a coalition of Muslim princes attacked the remaining Hinduism Empire and forced Hindus out of Indonesia.
The dominant religion in Indonesia today is Islam, with around 87% of the population practicing it. Christians make up about 7% of the population while Buddhism, Catholicism, and Taoism are followed by the rest.
In recent times, conflicts have arisen among Muslims, Christians, and the ethnic Chinese population due to religious and political differences. These clashes have been extremely violent and have resulted in numerous deaths and beatings within both religious groups. Additionally, several hundred Chinese women have been subjected to rape.
In Indonesia, Islam was not imposed through military conquest, distinguishing it from many other countries. Indonesian society notably appreciated the absence of a caste system, present in Hinduism but absent in Islam. Prior to the introduction of Islam, the king possessed the authority to seize a man’s wife and property. The inhabitants of Indonesia were informed that in the eyes of Allah, all individuals are created equal.
In Indonesia, the Islamic tradition encompasses aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism that existed before Islam. Out of the 190 million Muslims in the country, a small portion (5 to 10%) follow a strict orthodox form of Islam similar to Pakistan. Around 30% adopt an interpretation influenced by Javanese culture, while the rest identify as nominal Muslims.
Despite Indonesia’s predominantly Muslim population, the country’s political and governing institutions maintain a secular nature and have minimal connections with Islam. The control of wealth is not concentrated within the Muslim community. Throughout history, governments have aimed to restrict Islamic influence by imposing limitations on Muslim political parties and encouraging their unity. Nevertheless, there is currently a growing belief that the Muslim populace is enjoying a revitalized sense of identity and actively seeking justice.
Muslims in Indonesia, like Muslims in general, believe in the oneness of Allah as the supreme deity and Muhammad as his prophet. They recognize multiple holy books but consider the Quran to be the most significant one, revealed to Muhammad over 23 years. As part of their faith, they anticipate a day of judgment where all individuals will be resurrected and held accountable for their actions. Muslims also believe that Allah has predetermined the fate of individuals, determining who will enter Paradise or Hell.
They stress equal rights for all citizens and reject any form of hierarchy. According to their teachings, it is impossible to force someone into believing against their will; therefore, people should have the freedom to embrace any faith they choose.
Muslims envision an ideal society characterized by justice, peace, love, and compassion. They view Allah as the ultimate owner of souls and authorize him to determine an individual’s time of death. Therefore,suicide and euthanasia are not accepted within Muslim communities; however abortion is allowed only when the mother’s life is endangered.Consent from both parties is required for birth control.Islam strictly prohibits premarital sex and adultery considering them immoral acts.Similarly,homosexuality is deemed impure and unnatural according to Islamic principles.
Islam includes a range of core values, including faith, justice, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, sincerity, truth, generosity, humility, tolerance, modesty, chastity, patience responsibility and courage. Nevertheless , it condemns actions such as hypocrisy cheating backbiting suspicion lying pride envy anger divisiveness excess and extremism . Regrettably , a considerable portion of Indonesia’s population has neglected these crucial ideals and values.
The Five Pillars of Faith play a crucial role in the lives of Indonesian Muslims as they showcase their devotion to Islam. These pillars encompass reciting the creed, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet,” engaging in Salat (prayer) five times daily while facing Mecca, bestowing Zakat (alms) upon the needy, observing fasting during Ramadan by refraining from food, drink, and sexual activity from dawn until dusk, and undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once if physically able and financially capable.
In Indonesia, Sharia law significantly impacts the lives of Muslims. It encompasses rules and principles that shape legislation, covering various aspects such as codes of conduct, worship practices, moral standards, and determining what is considered right or wrong. Unlike some other Muslim-majority nations, Indonesia’s legal system is not entirely governed by Sharia. Secular courts settle conflicts in certain cases like property disputes instead of religious ones at all levels including the district level.
However, in smaller and more isolated villages, Sharia plays a larger role. The extent of Sharia’s influence in Indonesia was tested previously when a Christian man and a Muslim woman sought permission to marry through the Jakarta district court in 1952. Despite being prohibited under Sharia law, their marriage was allowed by the court. This ruling established that state law takes precedence over Sharia.
The way Islam approaches important life events has an impact on the lives of Indonesians. These Islamic ‘rites of passage’ have a significant influence on the naming of Muslim children, commemoration, marriages, and funerals. Muslims believe that cremation is prohibited because the body will be needed for resurrection by Allah on the day of judgement. In 1973, the Indonesian government introduced a marriage bill that imposed strict restrictions on polygamy and allowed inter-religious mixed marriages. This contradicted what is stated in the Koran and caused discontent among many Muslims, leading to the removal of the law regarding mixed marriages. Nowadays, polygamy is viewed as morally unacceptable in Indonesian society.
Islamic banks in Indonesia have experienced significant growth since the 1960s as people seek to uphold traditional Islamic values amidst the growing impact of Western culture. Unlike conventional banking, interest is not involved in loans and savings accounts. Instead, individuals can deposit money into a bank account, which the bank utilizes for investments. The resulting profits from these investments are then shared between the bank and the client at a predetermined rate. This prohibition on interest stems from teachings in the Koran that link it to the exploitation of economically vulnerable individuals by those with economic influence.
Women in Indonesia have made significant strides in social and political arenas, particularly when compared to their counterparts in other less-developed Islamic countries. Unlike certain nations, women in Indonesia are not required to wear the hijab, but many still choose to do so. While they may not experience overt discrimination from men, there is gender segregation within religious establishments. It is important to highlight that individuals like Megawati Sukarnoputri can achieve esteemed positions within Indonesian society. However, Indonesian women are still prohibited from participating in any voting-related endeavors.
Indonesia is currently in a state of turmoil, facing ongoing protests that have escalated into full-scale riots and looting. The main social issue afflicting the country is the increasing level of violence, which political analyst Frans Magnis-Suseno believes has its roots in Indonesia’s long history of violence. This unrest started when the economy collapsed, prompting people to search for someone to hold responsible. The Chinese minority, who are perceived as controlling much of the wealth, became the target of this blame. At the same time, indigenous people (referred to as pribumi) felt discriminated against and began expressing their grievances more openly after Suharto’s rule ended. As a result, violence took on religious undertones and further deepened divisions between Muslims and Christians, revealing underlying mistrust towards different ethnic groups and belief systems despite Indonesia’s diverse population.
Both cultures’ citizens have initiated protests against the prevalent corruption in the Indonesian parliament and governing bodies. The re-election of Suharto without opposition caused widespread discontent among the populace, leading them to take to the streets. These street demonstrations eventually escalated into large-scale riots, with Indonesia’s people expressing their anger towards racial and religious differences. Additionally, there is a strong desire to eliminate military influence from the government. As a result, army officers like General Wiranto were given less prominent roles in the newly established government. Moreover, Indonesia’s frustrations spilled over onto the streets in June when the World Bank estimated that the price of rice had doubled within two months, resulting in up to 50 million people not consuming enough calories for good health.
There is a widespread belief that the violence is being provoked and supported by individuals who are seeking power, including Indonesian army members. It has been observed that even grown men are wearing school uniforms. Many army uniforms have disappeared, leading to suspicions that those wearing them have fired shots at students in order to instigate a violent response and undermine their credibility. These individuals are exploiting Islam, as it is expected to show respect for other religions rather than targeting and burning their churches.
Religious conflicts have emerged in Indonesia due to various factors, including the efforts of certain Muslim extremists who aim to make Indonesia an Islamic state. However, many Muslims and members of minority religions strongly oppose this idea. The recently elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, firmly rejects the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia. He believes that nationalism should be prioritized over Islam and has consistently worked towards improving relations between Christians and Muslims, as well as promoting unity among the Pribumi and ethnic Chinese communities. After his election, extremist factions organized intense protests throughout the archipelago.
In Ambon, the population is roughly divided among different religions. For a long time, these two groups have peacefully coexisted and worked together on various business and civic projects. However, this situation has recently changed due to a violent outbreak triggered by a clash between a Christian bus driver and a Muslim migrant. This small incident acted as a catalyst for the quick spread and escalation of violence, resulting in the burning of numerous businesses while sparing shops owned by Christians and Chinese individuals. Physical barriers were put up with signs indicating “You are now entering Muslim territory,” which required people to recite a prayer to show their religious affiliation before gaining access to specific areas. Leaders from both sides claim that they are safeguarding their respective communities.
The ethnic Chinese population living in Indonesia is part of the country’s wealthy class. However, they face discrimination as they are prohibited from joining the military and civic service. This has resulted in resentment among ethnic Indonesians, leading to acts of violence such as beatings, murders, and arson, with the aim of eliminating the Chinese population so that the native Indonesians (known as pribumi) can seize their businesses and wealth. One incident that highlights this animosity occurred when a mayor in Java blocked plans to construct a school on an ancient Chinese burial ground. As a result, enraged mobs looted the cemetery, exhumed the bodies, and stole any valuable items that were buried with the deceased. Additionally, they pilfered the coffins and marble gravestones for sale.
Currently, there is a misuse of Islam as a means for individuals to create disturbance and further their own ambitions for power. They exploit the uneducated and prejudiced members of Indonesian society. The populace, representing various religions, has lost sight of the principles their faiths are meant to uphold. Religion is the source of chaos, and many religious leaders fail to prevent or address the violence. Antagonistic factions dispatch gangs of vigilantes to wander the streets, assaulting people and then seeking refuge in their respective places of worship. Regardless of the cause behind the violence and protests, it invariably carries a religious overtone.