Consortium of:

State of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Indonesia

  September 3rd 2020

(Photo Illustration By: Chinh Le Duc on

On August 18, 2020, ICRS in cooperation with CRCS, YLBHI, KOMNAS HAM RI, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) and several other institutions organized the first part of four-part series of online seminars on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) entitled ‘State of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Indonesia’ there are nine speakers of this online seminar: Dr. Ahmad Najib Burhani from Indonesian Institute of Sciences; Adam Mirza, member of Milah Abraham; Rina Tjua Lee Na from Majelis Rohani Nasional Baha’i Indonesia; Dr. Siti Aisyah Bakrie, representing Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia; Dra. Endang Sri Rahayu, M.A., representing Muslimah Ahlul Bait Indonesia; Dr. Nifasri, M.Pd., representing PKUB Ministry of Religious Affairs; K.H. Maman Imanulhaq, Member of Parliament, Indonesia; K.H. Dr. Ali M. Abdillah, lecturer at UNISIA and researcher at Majelis Ulama Indonesia; and Fr. Dr. Vitus Rubianto S.X., lecturer at STF Driyarkara, Jakarta. Muhammad Hafiz, Executive Director of HRWG served as moderator for the online seminar.

The seminar opened with a speech from Eva Sundari, representing Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). In her opening, Eva Sundari argued that freedom of religion or belief  is the upstream and foundation of other human rights. In Indonesia, these rights have always been problematic, because the approach used in relation to these rights is always harmonization, such that the rights of minority groups are sacrificed in the name of harmony. Therefore, Eva Sundari finds that this trend must be ended. FoRB is an individual right. It should do away with and overcome the issues of discrimination against minorities and the tensions between the majority and the minority. This webinar hopes to provide enlightenment on the problems and potential solutions related to this issue. 

Ahmad Najib Burhani presented his material entitled ‘Challenges of Religious Minorities in Indonesia’. Burhani sadly exposed many recent cases related to FoRB in Indonesia amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including persecution of Habib Umar Assegaf’s family in Solo on August 8, 2020. There are many cases in other areas which, for Burhani, is related to several problems. First, Burhani argued that there is a misconception of harmony or euphemism of harmony in Indonesia which is closely related with homogeneity. People think that harmony will exist if society is homogenous. Therefore, some groups, especially minorities, should be excluded. Secondly, there is ‘messianic tendency’ in which people want to be messiah for others. In Indonesia, the term kafir exists in a framework which views other religious groups as wrong or infidel and in need of salvation. Third, there is false virtue. In order to implement their messianic tendency, certain groups are willing to use violence and its legitimized by the false virtue of the need to save others from infidelity. Fourth, there is a conservative mental construction which leads the majority to blame the minority. Fifth, pluralism is delimited because of regulations or laws which include the concept of official or recognized religions, including Law PNPS NO 1 of 1965. Lastly, there is no coherent and strong legal basis to secure freedom of religion or belief for minority groups.

Aligned with Ahmad Najib Burhani’s presentation, there were four speakers representing minority religious groups in Indonesia: Adam Mirza, Milah Abraham, Rina Tjua Lee Na, and Dr. Siti Aisyah Bakrie. Each of these speakers explained the problem that their community faces in relation to the state, regulations, and society as it concerns their persecuted status. Milah Abraham share the plight of Ahmadiyah members, now restricted in Indonesia, who face persecution in various places, including Sampang and Lombok, and are forced to live in shelters for many years as a result. The Shia community also faces discrimination and conflict with the majority Sunni Muslim population of Indonesia. So, too, Baha’i is understood to be an unofficial religion. While faced with these issues, all of the speakers representing minority groups share the hope that they can attain protections from persecution and secure freedom of religion and belief. Rina Tjua Lee Na, for instance, argued that the problem of FoRB in Indonesia is rooted in the narrow mindset that sees that each community as separate. However, according to the Baha’i the lives of people are interconnected like a human body. If one part is sick or hurt, all parts of the body are damaged. Moreover, there is no part of the body which is not important. Therefore, Rina Tjua Lee Na encourages all religious groups, even if they are minorities, to strive to contribute to the development of Indonesia.

Dr. Nifasri, representing the Ministry of Religious Affairs, argued that communication is the key to conflict resolution related with FoRB problem in Indonesia. Dr. Nifasri believes that through dialogue all problems can be resolved. KH. Maman Imanulhaq, representing the Parliament of Indonesia, agreed with Burhani’s earlier comments that Indonesia has a fundamental misconception of harmony of religions that discriminates and suppresses minority religious groups. This is worsened by a strong conservative mentality of the majority and laws that support the discrimination of minority groups. Therefore, K.H. Maman Imanulhaq encouraged all parties, especially human rights activists,  to take the regulatory path by joining Parliament and producing regulations that support minority groups as it concerns FoRB. Imanulhaq argued that the advocacy for minorities should be done through regulation and through constitutional processes as well as limiting the ability of intolerant groups to use official institutions to spread their influence.  He finds education initiatives aimed at government representatives in the local areas should be aligned with public education to help the nation to appreciate the plurality of Indonesia. Imanulhaq mentioned the importance of interreligious festival as a meeting point for many different religious groups, because culture and art can be used to unite different religious groups.

Lastly, K.H. Dr. Ali M. Abdillah emphasized the importance of ukhuwah wathaniyah (brotherhood of the nation), and ukhuwah basyariyah (brotherhood of mankind) beside ukhuwah Islamiyah (brotherhood of Muslims) in order to implement Islam Rahmatan Lil Alamin or Islam as a form of mercy and compassion from Allah SWT, gifts and favors given to his creatures throughout the universe. Fr. Dr. Vitus Rubianto SX highlighted the importance of the role of religious leaders and government officials in the grassroots struggle for FoRB. In the Catholic Church, there are commissions for interfaith relations which helps to educate local people to appreciate plurality. Religious leaders in cooperation with local government officials have a responsibility to educate people and defend minority groups at the local level. Therefore, there will be no space for intolerance and intolerant groups to spread their influence in the society.