The Jakarta Post
The West Sumatra provincial administration is currently under the spotlight after its letter requesting the central government take down a Bible application from a digital distribution service circulated widely, prompting debates in the country.
According to a copy of the letter obtained by The Jakarta Post, which was dated May 28 and addressed to Communication and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate, West Sumatra governor Irwan Prayitno requested the ministry take down an application named “Kitab Suci Injil Minangkabau” (The Bible in Minangkabau language) that was available on Google Play Store.
He said the existence of the application had caused Minangkabau people – most of whom are Muslim residents of the province – to be uncomfortable.
“The application contradicts Minangkabau culture with its philosophy of Adat Basandi Syarak, Syarak Basandi Kitabullah [culture is based on sharia, sharia is based on Quran],” Irwan wrote in the letter.
Irwan asked the ministry – through the Informatics Application Directorate General – to take down the app and to prevent similar apps from emerging in the future.
West Sumatra Communication and Information Agency head Jasman Rizal confirmed the request. “We appreciated the people who were responsive by giving us information [about the existence of the app],” said Jasman as quoted by tribunnews.com on Thursday.
The finding, Jasman added, had been discussed by the West Sumatra office of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the West Sumatra governor. As of Wednesday, the application had been taken down from Google Play Store, he said.
The issue has triggered a public uproar, not only from some West Sumatrans but also from the public across the country. The keyword “Minang” is one of Twitter’s trending topics in Indonesia, with more than 8,000 tweets as of Friday noon.
“What was asked is actually specific, to take down the app which is in the Minang language, the one in Indonesian is left alone […] Why should [we] make a big deal out of this?” a user named @adianasrul responded.
A senior journalist in West Sumatra, Syofiardi Bachyul, wrote on his Facebook account that the Minang language was not identical to Islam. He quoted his own writing in 2018, also posted on Facebook, which describes the history of Buddhism in Sumatra, including Minang land, before Islam came to the area.
BAHASA MINANG TIDAK IDENTIK DENGAN AGAMA ISLAM Dulu sebelum Islam masuk ke Ranah Minangkabau pada akhir tahun 1400-an...Dikirim oleh Syofiardi Bachyuljb pada Kamis, 04 Juni 2020
When asked about the issue, MUI secretary-general Anwar Abbas echoed the statement of the West Sumatra governor, which emphasized the religious philosophy that was observed by most Minangkabau people, the one that was guided by Islamic beliefs, despite the fact that 69,253 residents -- or 1.43 percent of West Sumatra residents are Christian, 2010 census data from Statistics Indonesia (BPS) reveal.
“So, the guidance of the Minangkabau people is not the Bible. Hopefully, there will not be a Bible [published] in Minangkabau language,” Anwar told the Post on Friday.
Meanwhile, Hariyono, the deputy head of the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education argued that the governor’s move contradicted the values of Pancasila, which give space for religious freedom.
“Every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not cause disruption in the public. And of course, some of the residents of West Sumatra are also Christian, and the governor himself is a governor to everyone, not a certain ethnicity or religious belief,” he told the Post.
“Officials and public figures must be wise to respond to the dynamics of religious life in their surroundings,” he said, citing numerous figures from West Sumatra who also upheld diversity during the Indonesian struggle for independence, such as Agus Salim, Mohammad Natsir and Mohammad Hatta.
Hariyono said he believed that holy books could be translated into any language as long as they were not misinterpreted.
Halili Hasan, a researcher from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, responded to the issue by emphasizing the fact that the existence of the application did not violate the law and the Constitution.
“The request from the governor could be a bad precedent, as one day it will be used by some groups that do not value diversity to do the same thing,” he told the Post.
According to him, the existence of the application is indeed important for the advancement of tolerance and does no harm to Minangkabau culture, which is basically open to interacting with other cultures.
“What is dangerous, I think, is the perspective of local political elites and intolerant groups [in West Sumatra] which, for me, are not representative enough for the Minangkabau people and its inclusive culture,” he said.
Meanwhile, Religious Affairs Ministry director general for Christian community guidance Thomas Pentury asserted that although the matter was the domain of the Communication and Information Ministry, he wanted the people in West Sumatra to remain in harmony despite the issue, adding that he believed the development of the application had gone through the correct procedure.
“We need to see this matter from a positive perspective and I hope that this issue is not being blown up,” Thomas said.
Christians in West Sumatra have experienced hardship in trying to establish churches in the province. On Christmas last year, some Catholics and Protestants in Dharmasraya regency in West Sumatra had to get into tough negotiation with the local authority to be able to celebrate Christmas at home.