Religion and belief in Indonesia: what’s the difference?

On 7 November 2017, the Indonesian Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi/MK) ruled favourably on a judicial review of the articles of the Civil Administration Law’s related to how religion is recorded on the identity documentation of followers of indigenous faiths (aliran kepercayaan). These citizens will now be able to list their religion as pengyahat kepercayaan (followers of indigenous faithrs) on their national ID cards (KTP/Kartu Tanda Penduduk). Previously, they were either forced to nominally identify with one of the six official religions, or leave the religion column on their cards blank.

Several prominent Muslim leaders have reacted negatively to the MK’s ruling. Among them were Kyai Ma’ruf Amin, who is both general chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and supreme leader (rais ‘amm syuriah) of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU); Yunahar Ilyas, a member of the central leadership board of Indonesia’s second largest Islamic organisation, Muhammadiyah; and Din Syamsudin, former both MUI and Muhammadiyah chairman.

All these Muslim leaders have basically said that aliran kepercayaan is not religion, but rather a cultural practice, and therefore should not have equal status as religion in Indonesian law. In particular, Din Syamsudin said that the category of “religion” implies specific criteria, namely a concept of God, a scripture, and a prophet-like figure. According to this view, since indigenous faiths lack at least one of these criteria they are not religions.

These Muslim leaders seem to hold a monotheist-biased paradigm of what constitutes religion. Within the Indonesian context, there are three ways to refute it.

Read the rest of this piece at New Mandala

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