The President of Indonesia has reiterated his stance that his country should remain a secular state, not one dominated by Islamic law.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said after receiving the Sukarno (Indonesia’s first President) prize for championing humanity and democracy, “We have to protect this. My fear is that there are changes, pushes and thinking that tend toward turning this country into a non-secular one. Secularity is final, and this is an important legacy that we have inherited from Sukarno and the other founders of this republic.”
Indonesia declared independence from its Dutch colonizers in 1945. Shortly thereafter, much to the dismay of the Islamic community, the newly-created Indonesia’s constitution recognized six official religions: Islam, Catholicism, Prostestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Indonesia set a precedent, still followed today, for a secular state with the motto of “unity in diversity.”
While secularism is preached as the best governing policy, atheism is largely frowned upon in Indonesian society.
President Yudhoyono said of the precedent established by Indonesia’s first president, “I don’t just respect what was done by this great leader, but also how his thoughts are still relevant in answering the questions we continue to face today.”
Indonesia’s relatively secular policies on a national scale have been contradicted at times within local districts. Last year, a district within the country successfully enacted into law a shariah-compliant measure that banned women from dancing in public. “Cultural preservation should not damage Islamic Shariah values, such as dancing performed by adult women,” said district chief Muhammad Thaib after the law’s implementation.
Last year, it was reported that Indonesia’s final remaining Jewish synagogue was destroyed by Islamists. The synagogue was frequently hounded by anti-Israel protesters prior to its dismantlement.
A Pew poll from 2010 showed 30% of Indonesian citizens believe capital punishment is an appropriate method for dealing with apostates who leave the Islamic religion. The percentage is significantly less than other Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt (84%), Jordan (86%), and Pakistan (76%).
According to its 2000 census, 88 percent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, 9 percent Christian, and 2 percent Hindu.