Stranded: Members of the Congregation of Batak Protestant Churches (HKBP) Filadelfia attend a service outside their sealed church in Bekasi, West Java. Many have claimed that the issuance of the 2006 joint ministerial decree on places of worship has discriminated against religious minorities in Indonesia. JP/R. Berto WedhatamaThe government claims that the 2006 joint ministerial decree on places of worship was drafted to maintain harmony between subscribers of different faiths.
But for smaller religious communities, the decree has been blamed as a source of harassment toward minorities.
The decree requires religious groups to seek approval from local residents before building their places of worship.
Abdul Kadir Makarim, head of the East Nusa Tenggara branch of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), said that it was difficult for Muslims to build mosques in the predominantly Catholic province.
He added that even though the Muslims had obtained the building permit (IMB) from the mayor, they could not proceed with construction because locals objected.
“We have fulfilled all requirements stated in the decree, including securing the approval of 60 local residents of different faiths. Just when we are about to start the construction, residents withdraw their support. It always happens like that,” he said from Kupang in a telephone interview on Monday.
The Religious Affairs Ministry’s data from 2010 shows that there were 1,026 mosques, 5,035 Protestant churches and 2,102 Catholic churches in East Nusa Tenggara. Meanwhile, the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) recorded that there were 423,925 Muslims, 1,627,157 Protestants and 2,535,937 Catholics in the province that same year.
Abdul said that what happened to them was unfair because locals could build their churches without having to comply with the decree. He added that the local administration had also turned down some building permit requests submitted by Muslim community members.
Irfan Abubakar, the director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture, said that freedom of religion was acknowledged in Indonesia’s Constitution, but in practice, many communities strived to retain their dominant position.
“This shows in the incidents that have happened so far,” he said.
Nurul Hidayat, a professor of Islamic studies at Udayana University in Denpasar, Bali, said that it had not been easy either for Muslims to build mosques or mushollas (small mosques) on the island of the gods.
“Muslims need to get approval from Hindu locals who are the majority,” he told The Jakarta Post.
There are places, though, where Muslims can feel at ease in Bali. In some traditional villages, such as Kampung Jawa, Kampung Islam Kepaon and Kampung Islam Bugis, Islam is the dominant religion.
In Bali in 2010, Muslims accounted for 13.37 percent of the population with 520,244 people. There were 669 mosques and 21,483 Hindu temples in the same period.
Bonar acknowledged that the frequency of religiously intolerant acts was on the rise in Indonesia, but said the intensity of the problem varied among the religions.
“There are people who say that Christians are not the only ones being persecuted because Muslim minorities in some parts of Indonesia are also forbidden from building their mosques. But these Muslims are not harassed, attacked, beaten or chased away from their own premises,” he said.
Both Abdul and Nurul said that nobody had ever resorted to violence as a reaction the construction of mosques in their areas.
Irfan attributed the phenomena of Muslims’ use of violence in religious disputes to historical events. He cited the fact that although Islam was the dominant religion in Indonesia, Muslims had been disenfranchised under the authoritarian regime of former president Soeharto.
Irfan said that this had imbued Muslims with an inferiority complex that was now coloring their behavior toward people of different faiths, especially in places where Muslims were in the majority.
“There are now radical Islamic groups in Indonesia and they are very sensitive to issues of Christianization, secularization and Westernization,” he said.
Another factor in the increase of sectarian rifts is the lack of legal assurance on religious rights in the 1945 Constitution and the state ideology of Pancasila, a problem which the joint ministerial decree was meant to address.
According to Untung SK Wijayaputra, head of the Communion of Indonesian Churches’ (PGI) branch that oversees the southern, western and southeastern parts of Sulawesi, there had been no legal protection before that decree. He pointed to incidents in which mobs attacked the churches and burned down the local PGI office in 1990s.
“The joint ministerial decree is not perfect. At the moment, I am working with other church officials in drafting a new regulation to replace the decree. We hope that the draft will help solve the recurring problems,” Untung said. (tas)