What Future for Christians in Indonesia?

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Franz Magnis-Suseno, SJ

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A model of Islamic tolerance?

For a long time Indonesia was regarded as the model country of Islamic tolerance. With 87 percent of its 255 million inhabitants being Muslim, it is the country with the biggest number of Muslims in the world. Despite isolated tensions and conflicts, they have lived in peace together with the remaining population composed of 10 percent Christians (almost one-third Catholics), 1.7 percent Hindus (on the island of Bali), and a small number of Buddhists and Confucians. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Indonesian constitution and change of religion takes place generally without problems. As far as civil legislation is concerned, there is no prohibition against changing religion nor any punishment for apostasy, except where Sharia is applied.[1] Non-Muslims are fully recognized as citizens of Indonesia.

But during the last 12 months Indonesia has seen a wave of Islamist populism that has made many Indonesians worry, including Muslims. The reason for this unexpected outpouring of Islamic identity was the case of Ahok. The then-Governor of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, Ahok, whose full name is Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is a Protestant Christian of Chinese origin. Thus he is a double minority in Indonesia. From the very beginning Muslim hard-liners sought to widen their influence among Indonesia’s Muslims by rejecting him fiercely. But Ahok was popular, he proved himself not corrupt and the most efficient governor of Jakarta for more than 40 years.

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