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Jakarta Post

Indonesia aims to root out bigotry in schools, mosques

  • Margareth S. Aritonang and Marguerite Afra Sapiie

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, February 10, 2017   /  07:39 am
Indonesia aims to root out bigotry in schools, mosques The children always went to school with a bright smile on their faces, notebooks in their backpack (or sometimes a plastic bag) and they were all barefoot. (JP/Dita Nurtjahya)

Islamic education teachers in private and public schools will soon be required to have a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies.

Preachers will soon also have to follow guidelines set by mainstream clerics on what they should not preach in Friday sermons.

The Religious Affairs Ministry, tasked with maintaining religious harmony in the country, is working to tackle the problem of intolerance by ensuring that bigotry is neither taught at schools nor preached in mosques.

The ministry would distribute circulars to regional administrations and schools asking them to no longer employ people with insufficient qualifications in Islamic studies to teach the religion, the ministry’s Islamic education director general Komaruddin Amin told The Jakarta Post.

“All teachers with insufficient educational backgrounds must be replaced. To avoid [students] being misled, we must not entrust those who are lacking competence to teach religious education,” he said.

(Read also: Bigotry haunts nation)

The official said the policy had been decided upon after a number of studies had shown that many Islamic education teachers were themselves intolerant.

A 2016 study by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) revealed that 78 percent of Islamic education teachers supported organizations that demanded the implementation of sharia in the country.

The study, which was conducted at schools in Banda Aceh, Central Java, West Java, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi, also found that 87 percent of Islamic education teachers opposed to the appointment of nonMuslims as school principals, and nearly 90 percent of them refused to vote for non-Muslims as mayors or regents.

According to ministry data, there are currently 186,000 Islamic education teachers in the country while there are more than 230,000 schools that are in need of Islamic studies teachers.

The Indonesian Islamic Education Teachers Association (AGPAII) has said that several of its members did not have formal education in Islamic studies and that may be the reason why they have failed to understand the need of promoting tolerance.

Other than reforming Islamic education, the ministry also aims to nix bigotry from religious sermons being delivered in mosques.

The ministry has said it will work with Muslim clerics to create guidelines on what preachers should convey in Friday sermons, following complaints from some Muslims that Friday sermons in several mosques have been inaccurate and inflammatory.

“The government will not intervene, let alone regulate the content of sermons like in the past. Today is a whole different era. And it’s impossible for us to do such things because we know that it’s not part of our domain,” Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said.

However, the minister asserted “what we need is guidance that can serve as a reference point for the preachers to know what they can and cannot say during sermons.”

Some Muslim scholars have criticized the plan, saying the government should not regulate what preachers should say. But others support the policy, saying that the government is trying to ensure that religious preachers are competent.

“Nowadays, clerics have a bigger role to play in influencing people’s thoughts, more than that of teachers in formal education institutions. [...] If standardization doesn’t lead to censorship, then why not [have such a policy]?,” Haidar Bagir, a graduate of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, said.

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