J. Soedjati Djiwandono, Political Analyst, Jakarta
It is high time, now that we have a constitutional council, to review the progress of constitutional reform and to honestly examine the crucial problems that confront this nation.
To avoid an endless wrangle between Islam and ""nationalism"", the preamble to the 1945 Constitution -- which thus far has been held sacrosanct despite constitutional reform -- must be changed. To allow amendments to the body of articles of the constitution, but not its preamble, does not make sense.
A constitution is man-made. We should amend, change or replace it with a new one in accordance with the changing times.
The preamble to the Constitution contains the ideology of the state, the five principles known as Pancasila.
The current formulation of the preamble itself may be acceptable in general, since the famous seven words of the Jakarta Charter -- the original draft of the constitution referring to the obligations of Muslims to practice their teachings -- were deleted before the draft was promulgated as the provisional constitution of the republic.
Yet Pancasila has never been commonly understood, particularly in regards to the first principle -- belief in one Almighty God -- among religious groups. The ambiguity of the meaning of the first principle -- though never admitted, revealed, or discussed openly except in the Constitutional Assembly in the 1950s, prior to the vote on whether the republic should be a secular or theocratic state -- has always posed a threat to national unity and the integrity of the state.
It has resulted also in the perpetually ambiguous identity of the Indonesian state, which has always been understood as ""neither a theocratic nor a secular state"". Many Muslims tend to interpret the first principle as the obligation of every citizen to believe in God. And to believe in God is taken to mean the obligation to profess to a religion. This can only be one of those religions officially recognized by the state, although no religion needs to be state sanctioned.
Most non-Muslims take the principle of belief in God as an expression of religious freedom. But in some cases they feel discriminated against. They have to obtain not only permission from the government to build their house of worship, but also from the community in the vicinity of the proposed site.
In contrast, Muslims do not seem to require the government's permission to build mosques, nor the consent of the surrounding community. The mosques are free to use loudspeakers, without any apparent concern for possible non-Muslims nearby, elderly or sick people, or children who may need rest and sleep. Yet non-Muslims rarely, if ever, complain, not so much because of their ""religious tolerance"" but for fear of offending Muslim neighbors.
What is more serious is that because of the state's ambiguous identity, it is never clear whether religious law should be the source of state law, or at least form part of it.
If state law was to be clearly derived from religious law, would Islamic law, as the religion of the majority, be its foundation? Would the country then be defined as a theocratic state? In which fields would Islamic law be applied, and to what extent? The trend so far has been toward more and more elements of religious (Islamic) law creeping into state legislation ""through the back door"", as it were, namely, not clothed in the sharia.
Our nation was not built upon a common religious ground, but a common political ideal -- the establishment of a nation-state, independent of any foreign domination, to promote general welfare based on justice -- not to implement any religious law and teachings. Hence the independent republic was designed to be a secular state, separating state and religion.
The term ""secular"" or ""secularization"", however, is often misunderstood here as ""anti-religion"". Here one should note the words of noted scholar Fatema Mernissi. In a translation of her book Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World, the noted female Muslim scholar from Morocco wrote the following:
""The .... argument is that if Islam is separated from the state, no one will any longer believe in Allah ... Since we are constantly bombarded via satellite by advertisements for all sorts of products ... the state must defend Islam.
""Such reasoning is in fact an insult to Islam, with its suggestion that Islam can succeed only if it is imposed on people in a totalitarian manner, through courts that punish those who drink wine or refuse to fast during Ramadhan ... Islam has nothing to offer a modern citizen, who would quickly abandon it if state surveillance were lifted ...
""As both Christianity and Judaism have done, Islam cannot only survive but thrive in a secular state. Once dissociated from coercive power, it will witness a renewal of spirituality.""
She continues, ""Christianity and Judaism strongly rooted in people's hearts are what I have seen in the United States, France and Germany. It has put a brake on the state's manipulation of religion. It took three centuries of effort by many European philosophers and several revolutions for this fundamental nuance to be developed, accepted, and made understandable ...""
The preamble to the Constitution should be changed so as to make the Republic of Indonesia a secular state. Otherwise this nation would continuously be subject to conflicts and threatened by disintegration. The principles of Pancasila are already embodied in democratic ideals -- equality and justice for all, and respect for human rights.