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Indonesia still struggling to embrace pluralism: Scholars
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Indonesia is still facing considerable challenges in its efforts to embrace pluralism, with the government only recognizing major religions and people continuing to commit violence in the name of their religious beliefs, Muslim scholars said Saturday.
Addressing a discussion on pluralism and multiculturalism attended by religious scholars from Indonesia and the United States, Sukron Kamil from Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University said the government only recognized six major religions in Indonesia: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
“The government, through the Religious Affairs Ministry, has stated that it doesn’t agree with minor religions such as Baha’i and local religions such as Patungtung and Kajang,” said Sukron.
He said the recent attack on followers of the Ahmadiyah sect was proof of the problems faced in Indonesia’s struggle to embrace pluralism.
“For the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the theology of Sunni (the largest denomination of Islam) is absolute. And they think that religious freedom only belongs to non-Muslims, saying it would be acceptable if Ahmadiyah followers declared themselves to be non-Muslims,” Sukron said.
The MUI issued an edict declaring Ahmadiyah a heretic sect due to the fact its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, referred to himself as a prophet.
Executive director of the Wahid Institute, Ahmad Suady, said the ongoing debate over the foundations of the country and whether it should remain secularist or be converted into an Islamic state were also hampering efforts to promote democracy and pluralism.
He also said the inclusion of religious morality into local regulations, such as Muslim women being required to wear jilbab (head scarves) in some areas, was equally problematic.
Racelle R. Weiman, the executive director of the Dialogue Institute at Temple University in Philadelphia, said during the discussion that Indonesia, with its Muslim majority, should show the world how Muslims can be open-hearted, compassionate and interested in other cultures.
“I saw a picture in the newspaper of Javanese Muslims celebrating the (Islamic) New Year. It didn’t look like the Muslims most Americans think about. It was beautiful, a gorgeous part of Indonesia. It showed that there are many faces of Islam here.
“The hope that Americans have with you (Indonesians) is the fact that you have the possibility of living in a pluralistic world and celebrating it,” she said.
Weiman said although Muslims were a majority in Indonesia, in many parts of the world they would be in the minority.
Abubaker Al Shingieti, another U.S. scholar, said Muslims should not interfere with the beliefs of other people as the matter was “between those people and God”.
“And God, with His ultimate wisdom, will hold them accountable to believe in Him or not. This is the right of God. We don’t want to represent God or punish people for their beliefs,” Shingieti, the regional director for Europe and North America at the Sterling-based International Institute of Islamic Thought, said.
The interfaith dialog Saturday was part of a two-year exchange program involving lecturers, Muslim scholars, clerics and prominent figures from the U.S. and Indonesia.
The program is being funded by the U.S. Department of State and is being coordinated by Legacy International and the Center for Civic Education Indonesia. (wda)