The decision by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court to allow followers of Indonesia’s numerous indigenous faiths (collectively grouped under the term Aliran Kepercayaan) to declare their beliefs on their official state ID cards was hailed by many as an important step towards combating religious persecution. But the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Indonesia’s top Islamic clerical body, has voiced strong opposition to the decision, especially the notion that ancient indigenous faiths could be considered religions in the same category as Islam.
Yesterday, MUI issued a recommendation to the government that the court’s decision be upheld by giving followers of Aliran Kepercayaan be given special ID cards, different to those of any other citizen, so that they can declare their faith without the state official recognizing them as a religion.
“MUI proposes that their ID card be specially made so as not to cause problems and rejection, while still allowing the Constitutional Court’s decision to be fulfilled,” MUI Chairman KH Ma’ruf Amin said on Wednesday as quoted by Tempo.
The court’s decision allowed Indonesian citizens to pick Aliran Kepercayaan — a term that covers multiple mystic belief systems — for the religion category required on all state ID cards. Previously, they could only choose one of the six religions officially recognized by the state or to leave the religions category blank altogether.
MUI’s proposal would mean creating a differently designed ID card just for indigenous faith followers that did not include the word religion, because, in the clerical body’s judgement, none of the estimated 187 types of Aliran Kepercayaan followed in Indonesia constitutes a religion.
The official recommendation released by MUI based on the Constitutional Court decision said the court’s decision “hurts the feelings of the faithful, especially Indonesian Muslims” because it places indigenous faiths at the same level as religion. They argue that the verdict will have detrimental legal and social consequences on the country.
The statement goes on to say that MUI respects the different religion and beliefs of every citizen and agrees that discrimination or denial of civil rights due to belief should not be allowed.
The problem, of course, is that the creation of special ID cards for followers of indigenous faiths would be an act of discrimination in and of itself (based on the court’s ruling). Forcing followers of minority beliefs to have their own distinct cards – making it explicit that they cannot be considered at the same level as followers of “official” religions – would only serve to perpetuate the kind of discrimination that the court ruling sought to end.
In explaining the court’s decision, Judge Saldi Isra said the previous law restricts the religious rights of citizens by only allowing them to officially declare their belief in religions recognized by the state.
“This is not in line with the spirit of the 1945 Constitution, which explicitly ensures that every citizen is free to embrace their own religion and beliefs and to worship according to their own religion and beliefs,” Saldi said.
After the court’s decision was announced, MUI law commission member Anton Tabah Digdoyo said that recognizing indigenous faiths is be a major step backward for Indonesia.
“The Constitutional Court’s decision signifies the country’s regression into the stone age, animism-dynamism will flourish again in Indonesia in the era of advanced science,” Anton said as quoted in a written statement.
Followers of aliran kepercayaan filed the Constitutional Court petition that overturned the law as they had previously been forced to either falsely declare themselves a member of a religion they didn’t follow or leave the religion column on their IDs blank, which often led to denial of government services and accusations of atheism (which remains officially illegal in Indonesia).