By Testriono, The Daily Star
Recent cases of religious intolerance in Indonesia have led some observers to worry that U.S. President Barack Obama’s praise of religious tolerance in Indonesia during his visit in November 2010 was exaggerated. Public statements and decrees from Indonesian government officials have discredited religious minority groups and exacerbated conflict between minority religious groups and the largely Sunni Muslim population in some Indonesian communities.
Contemporary state officials in Indonesia often consider religious freedom issues through the lens of their particular political interests. For example, it has become popular lately among government officials to restrict and marginalize religious minority groups. Their efforts range from banning worship or religious practices and restricting access to jobs based on religious dress codes, to turning down permits to build places of worship and implementing conservative interpretations of Islamic law. They mistakenly believe that these actions will ease conflicts and increase their own popularity.
Since it was founded in 1945, Indonesia has welcomed people of all faiths to practice their religion. Although the population is predominantly Muslim, various faiths and different Muslim sects coexist peacefully. For centuries, both Sunni and Shiite mosques have stood side-by-side with Buddhist and Hindu temples (some of which date back to the 9th century) and Indonesia’s numerous Christian churches (some established as early as the 17th century).
Even the Ahmadi religious group was left mostly undisturbed until recent years. The Ahmadis came to Indonesia at the beginning of the 19th century and were founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, an Indian religious leader who claimed he was the promised messiah foretold by the Prophet Mohammad.
Fortunately, religious tolerance in Indonesia is not the exclusive domain of the government, and other groups are actively trying to fill the gap. Despite a worrisome trend among officials to avoid, rather than deal with, conflict between religious groups, it is important not to forget the many constructive initiatives, whether inter- or intra-religious, that are on-going in Indonesia to bridge divides between various religious communities.
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)