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Jakarta Post

Indonesia ranks among most religious countries in Pew study

  • Made Anthony Iswara

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, July 31, 2020   /   09:04 am
Indonesia ranks among most religious countries in Pew study Muslims observe physical distancing during the congregational Friday prayer on June 5, 2020 at Al Azhar Mosque in South Jakarta, the first to be held at the mosque since the COVID-19 restrictions were eased in the capital city. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Indonesians are among the most religious people in the world, a recently released survey from the Pew Research Center says.

Nearly all Indonesian respondents (96 percent) surveyed stated that belief in God was necessary to be moral and have good values, revealed the Pew Research Center's “The Global God Divide” report, published on July 20.

The results of the survey, which covered 34 countries, places Indonesia alongside the Philippines as the two countries with the highest percentage of citizens (96 percent) who equate belief in God with having good values.

Most Indonesians also deemed religion, God and prayer to be an important part of their lives, at respectively 98 percent, 91 percent and 95 percent of respondents.

“Over time, the importance of religion in Indonesia has not changed, making it one of the most religiously devout public that we surveyed,” Jacob Poushter, Pew associate director of global attitudes research, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

The survey confirmed that it was important for Indonesians to define themselves along religious lines, with "religiously unaffiliated people" like agnostics and atheists rarely found in the country.

Read also: 'Like a robot': Indonesia’s nonbelievers struggle to blend in during Ramadan

Indonesian laws guarantee freedom of religion, although in its implementation, citizens must subscribe to one of the six approved official religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam or Protestantism.

Experts have said that Muslim-majority Indonesia is neither an Islamic state nor an entirely secular one, with religion largely recontextualized as a sociopolitical issue through the country's democratic and nationalist principles.

Meanwhile, Poushter noted that Indonesia bore similarities with other highly religious societies in emerging and developing economies, where people generally tended to be more religious than people in more advanced economies.

Wahid Foundation researcher Alamsyah M. Djafar suggested that the government’s move to formalize religion may have bolstered Indonesians' high level of religiosity as shown in the Pew survey. The  government’s policy on religion includes permitting specific regions to adopt sharia, such as Aceh where it is obligatory for Muslim women to wear hijab.

Other factors like economic inequality, the politicization of religion and wide-ranging uncertainties across various sectors may have also contributed to high religiosity in Indonesia, as religious institutions offered their congregations a sense of certainty and safety.

But Alamsyah also pointed out that intolerance remained prevalent in the country.

He criticized a 2006 decree that made it difficult for minority religions to build places of worship.

The joint ministerial decree on houses of worship requires a congregation to collect 90 signatures from its members and another 60 signatures from other residents in the community before a building permit can be issued. Many minority religions have been unable to fulfill the requirement and so have been unable to build a house of worship.

Alamsyah also said that local administrations had been inconsistent in supporting minority religions that could not meet the decree's requirements.

His view echoes that of many activists who have long criticized the decree and its misuse by local communities across the country as a means of obstructing the construction of places of worship for minority religions.

Read also: Supreme Court asked to review provision on places of worship

Experts have also previously condemned the draconian 1965 Blasphemy Law that privileged the Muslim majority over religious minorities, as well as discriminative regional bylaws that provide justification for religious intolerance.

In addition to fixing the regulatory loopholes, Alamysah called on the public to employ critical thinking in their religious belief.

“Critical thinking is shown in how people understand religion from more than one source or opinion. If they deem one [religion] is wrong and another is right, then he or she is likely following a conservative view,” he said.

Meanwhile, Religious Affairs Ministry spokesman Oman Fathurahman said on Monday that the Indonesian results of the Pew survey were “unsurprising”.

“Spirituality has been an inseparable part of Indonesia for hundreds of years,” he said.

Oman was quick to add that Indonesia's high religiosity must be balanced with moderate, inclusive understanding that did not claim “a [particular] religious interpretation as absolute truth”, considering the diverse religious beliefs and practices of Indonesia.

Read also: Religious harmony index up but intolerance remains

He said the ministry was currently strengthening and expanding its “religious moderation” programs and was including the programs in the ministry’s five-year development plan to guide future policies on religion.

Oman stressed that the purpose of religious moderation was to prevent acts of intolerance and conservative extremism, as well as to educate people to avoid freely “ignoring or degrading [other] religious values”.

“In principle, they must be fair and balanced in practicing religious teachings and not be excessive [in leaning toward] either the extreme right and left, because they will both be counterproductive for the very religious people of Indonesia,” he said.