Semarang student held back a year after refusing to take part in religious studies class

The case of ZL, an 11th grade student at the SMK Negeri 7 vocational school in Semarang, Central Java, highlights some of the difficulties Indonesians whose beliefs lie outside of the nation’s 6 recognized faiths could face.

ZL’s story is now being widely reported in the media because he, a follower of a nondenominational faith, will have to repeat 11th grade after scoring zero in religious studies class.

“In grade 11 the student took the [theoretical aspect of] Islamic religion class, but when it came to learning the practice of reading the Quran and performing prayer, the student refused because he follows a nondenominational faith,” said the school’s principal, Sudarmanto, as quoted by Detik on Tuesday.

Sudarmanto added that when ZL registered at the school, his religion was listed as Islam in accordance to his family card (which only enables families to choose from 6 state-recognized religions). As such, academic rules required ZL to take Islamic studies class since there were no versions of religious studies class for state-unrecognized nondenominational faiths.

“It’s not because [ZL] follows a nondenominational faith. It’s because he scored zero [in the class], so it’s an academic issue,” said Semarang’s Education Agency Head Bunyamin.

ZL’s mother, identified as SW, told the media that his son always stayed strong in his conviction to not take part in the practical aspects of Islamic studies class despite being warned he would fail the class overall. She said that ZL should have scored something other than zero because he had at least taken part in the theoretical aspects of Islamic studies class. 

ZL and his parents have filed an appeal and are now awaiting the school’s decision on whether they would overturn ZL’s grade retention. Meanwhile, ZL has not been attending school because he does not wish to repeat 11th grade. The Central Java Ombudsman Services has stepped in to mediate the two parties. 

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