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Religion and the constitution
G. Adi Kusuma, Virginia, U.S.
Many Muslims have wrongly argued that the issue of the controversial religious organization Ahmadiyah is merely an internal matter for Muslims. Such an argument is both misleading and dangerous. Such a rhetoric is an insidious way to perpetuate the justification of violence against Ahmadiyah believers, or people of other beliefs in general.
Such a view tries to imply that the state, in this case the government, has no right to step in on this issue and, therefore, to protect Ahmadiyah believers from attacks due to their beliefs. This creates the impression that “when it comes to religion, you cannot touch it”.
The remedy for this problem is relatively simple: We need to go back to our 1945 Constitution and its amendments.
The Constitution is a social contract among members of a nation on how to conduct their life as a nation state. It is a collective agreement of all people on the fundamental principles by which they shall be governed. The 1945 Constitution is a result of such agreement and compromise. It respects the diversity and plurality that Indonesia enjoys as a nation, in terms of religion and other aspects. The Constitution, therefore, is the supreme law of the land. Allowing a part of the Constitution to go unenforced is a political sin.
Indeed, the Constitution should be infused with religious values and norms, be they of Islam, Christianity, or other religions. This is not in dispute, as morality, values and ethics are arguably derived from religion. Nevertheless, the Constitution should be the primary and supreme source of law of the nation. Replacing the Constitution with a religious-based law is simply a breach of contract.
The inability of the state to protect an individual’s right to worship in accordance with his or her beliefs clearly violates the Constitution.
Article 28E (1) of the Second Amendment of the 1945 Constitution states: “Every person shall be free to adhere to his/her respective religion and to worship according to his/her religion”. This provision is followed by subsection (2) that states: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of belief, to express his/her thoughts and attitudes, in accordance with his/her conscience”. At the same time, Article 28D of the amended Constitution also guarantees equal treatment before the law for every person.
Ahmadiyah, is an example of how a person chooses his or her own belief. To deny Ahmadiyah followers the freedom to practice their religion is a negation of the provision of the Constitution. By the same token, the inability of the state to provide protection to Ahmadiyah followers from attack is a negation of the provisions of the Constitution.
This is only one of several worrying cases that questions the role of the Constitution and the emergence of Islamic law in some regions. Several regencies and mayoralties like Padang, in West Sumatra, Bulukumba in South Sulawesi, and Cianjur in West Java, have imposed sharia in their districts. This trend goes unchallenged, as politicians prefer the status quo, afraid to offend their constituents.
Sadly, the dissenting voices are being silenced. The issue of constitutionality is swallowed by everyday political life and commotion. Politicians prefer not to touch this issue and continue to allow the erosion of the precepts of the Constitution. Some politicians condemn any attack on Ahmadiyah, and yet keep stating that Ahmadiyah should be banned. This creates the environment of immunity among people with a fundamentalist outlook. The fundamentalists believe that their actions towards Ahmadiyah believers are somehow justified.
Unfortunately law enforcers appear impotent in this regard. Regrettably, Indonesian law enforcement agencies are not free from political co-optation. They adhere to the political environment of the day, sometimes due to external political pressure, instead of pledging their allegiance to the Constitution.
Hence, there is a reluctance to protect Ahmadiyah believers while there is actually no justification for the attack, whether emotionally or physically, on Ahmadiyah followers; not even for religious reasons, as the Constitution has unequivocally stated that Indonesian citizens enjoy the right to practice any belief.
It is our duty to remind each other of the importance of adhering to the Constitution. Politicians need to stop this Constitutional abuse and stop committing political sins.
Condoning actions based on religion is a setback. Imposing religious law is an abomination of the Constitution as the Constitution should be seen as a uniting principle for a nation. Allowing a certain group to impose their interpretation of religion in the life of the nation-state will only destroy the nation, something that should not be allowed to happen.
The writer is Ph.D. student and a teaching assistant at the Center for Public Administration and Policy, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.