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Welcoming Baha'€™i: New official religion in Indonesia

  • Amanah Nurish

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta | Fri, August 8, 2014 | 09:56 am

The Religious Affairs Ministry has added the Baha'€™i faith to the list of official Indonesian religions, which already comprises Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

However, to say Baha'€™i is a new world religion is, somehow, historically indelicate, as in the early 19th century, Persia (now Iran) had witnessed the birth of this youngest form of Abrahamic religion. The predecessor of this religion was founded in 1844 by Sayyed '€˜Ali Mohammad Shirazi, a charismatic young merchant from Shiraz, and affirmed Baha'€™ullah as its prophet (Momen, 2002).

The followers of Baha'€™i hold Al-Aqdas as their holy book, which has been translated into hundreds of languages. The word Baha'€™i itself means '€œthe splendor'€, meanwhile Baha'€™ullah means the '€œsplendor of God'€.

As a prophetic messiah, Baha'€™ullah proclaimed his mission to leaders of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism, and Islam (Sunni and Shia). Historically, Baha'€™ullah messages were addressed to the crowned heads of Europe, in public proclamations to Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, Pope Pius IX and other world leaders during the Adrianople in 1864'€“1868 and Akka periods in 1868'€“1892 (Buck, 2004: 157). When Baha'€™ullah died on May 18, 1892, his undertaking was continued by his eldest son Abdu'€™l-Bahá .

The Baha'€™i followers themselves have been faithful in propagating their faith to even the most obscure corners of the world (Miller, 1984). The spread of the Baha'€™i faith, thus, has been impressively fast, and on May 7, 1955, the campaign of anti-Baha'€™ism in Iran commenced.

The army and military were involved in destroying the dome of Baha'€™i center in Teheran (Fischer, 1990: 45) and Baha'€™i was then considered a (political) threat to Muslim communities, such as in Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

In Indonesia, Baha'€™i as a religious movement has existed since the 1970s, although its arrival can be traced back to the 1920s. As mentioned by Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin through his Twitter account, Baha'€™i followers in Indonesia have grown in number, scattered in major cities in Indonesia (Jakarta, Bandung, Malang, Surabaya, Medan, Banyuwangi and so on).

He said Baha'€™i was now a protected religion in Indonesia, according to Article 28E and 29 of the 1945 Constitution, and also based on Government Regulation No. 1/PNPS/1965, which refers to Baha'€™i as a form of religion apart from Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. This official acknowledgement brings with it a massive impact on the establishment of Baha'€™i in Indonesia.

Along with my almost-a-decade-research on this issue, I have witnessed various forms of social discrimination against Baha'€™i followers in my hometown Banyuwangi, East Java. In 2002, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa (edict) that bans Baha'€™i followers from being able to bury their dead relatives in public areas. Issues related to social injustice include the ban on legal Baha'€™i marriages.

Indonesian Baha'€™i followers had been living '€œin disguise'€ before the Religious Affairs Ministry acknowledged their existence.

According to my studies on the Baha'€™i faith in Indonesia, during the Dutch colonial era, the Baha'€™i faith was more accepted by society than in the New Order and Reform era. Religious violence targeting the Indonesian Baha'€™i community began in the New Order, as the Soeharto regime restricted the official religions to only five.

The government'€™s recognition of Baha'€™i as an official religion in Indonesia has confirmed the nation'€™s commitment to religious diversity. Indonesia'€™s third president, Abdurrahman Wahid, was a strong supporter of religious pluralism in the country.

The Baha'€™i faith is not deviant and every Baha'€™i follower has the right to profess their religious beliefs freely in Indonesia.

The writer is a Baha'€™i researcher in Southeast Asia who is pursuing a PhD degree at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta.

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