Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Changing Interpretation of Religious Freedom in Indonesia

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Changing Interpretation of Religious Freedom in Indonesia

Article excerpt

The Preamble to the 1945 Constitution of independent Indonesia contains an ideological tenet called Pancasila.(1) As the name implies - panca (five) and sila (principles or pillars) - it is composed of five principles: Belief in One God, Humanity that is just and civilized, Unity of Indonesia, Democracy guided by the wisdom of representative deliberation, Social justice for all Indonesians. Since its installation as a state ideology, Pancasila has been the most commonly used rhetoric in political discourse and the governing principle of social life.

In spite of its significance, Pancasila has remained an incomplete doctrine, primarily because of the abstract nature of each principle. It does not specify, for example, what deity is the "One God", what is "just and civilized Humanity", on what system the "wisdom of representative deliberation" should be based and how "social justice" should be achieved for all Indonesians. In this respect, Pancasila has been an ideology that should be supplemented by concrete ideas, depending on the socio-economic and political conditions of the time.(2)

In this paper, the process of making specific the first principle in Pancasila will be examined. The discussion focuses on various interpretations of religious freedom and the efforts of Muslims to impose an Islamic view of religious freedom on the national legal system. It is argued that Islamic ideas of religious freedom, the core of which is that religious freedom cannot be attained without due attention and regulations, has been partially adopted by the New Order government and that this has resulted in a gradual shift in the perception of religious duties from something that is the responsibility of an individual or a given religious community to something that should be handled by the family, the schools, the community and the government. In the last section of this paper, a case from Yogyakarta will be presented to show how developments at the national level have shaped the ways Muslims and Christians interact in a rural village.

The Origin of the Principle of Belief in One God

Sukarno's speech to the committee preparing for Indonesian independence on I June 1945 is considered to be the first time that the concept of Pancasila was put forward in public.(3) In this historic speech, Sukarno stated the five principles and interpreted them one by one. Belief in God (Ketuhanan) was fifth in the original scheme.(4) According to Sukarno, this principle meant that the state was based on religious belief (bertuhan) and that all citizens should (hendaknya) believe in their own god. This pillar did not accord a special position to any specific religion, but rather gave equal status to every religion. After clarifying the meaning of "Belief in God", Sukarno explained what the relationship should be between followers of different religions based on this fifth principle:

The Indonesian nation is expected to be a nation where each citizen can worship his or her own God in freedom (cara yang leluasa). All citizen are desired to believe in God in a cultured manner (secara kebudayaan), that is without religious egoism.... the fifth principle of our nation is Belief in God in a cultured manner, Belief in God based on high morality and Belief in God where followers of different religions respect each other.(5)

The idea that Sukarno put forward in this speech was not easily accepted by members of the Islamic group in the committee, who wanted a nation based on Islam. Their position was, as Wachid Hasyim proposed, to include a clause in the Constitution affirming that "the religion of Indonesia is Islam".(6) They might agree to Sukarno's idea of including Belief in God as a principle of Pancasila and establishing freedom to believe in religions other than Islam, but they could not assent to the equal treatment of all religions. The majority of Indonesians were Muslims, and therefore the state should be based on Islam. …

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