Report from a delegation visit to INDONESIA
by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief,

July 29 - August 11, 2002


by Oddbjørn Leirvik


Delegation members (all from the Oslo Coalition’s working group on Indonesia):


Lena Larsen, co-ordinator of the Oslo Coalition and president of the Islamic Council Norway

Nelly van Doorn-Harder, Valparaiso University, USA (has been doing research and teaching in Indonesia, at Duta Wacana Christian University in Yogyakarta)

Oddbjørn Leirvik, Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo (board member of the OC)

Kari Vogt, Institute of Cultural Studies, University of Oslo (board member of the OC)

Dag Kaspersen, Åssiden parish, Church of Norway (has been teaching in Indonesia)

Hans Morten Haugen, Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, Church of Norway

List of contents:


1       Background and introduction


2       List of organisations and persons whom the delegation met


3       The political and legal scene


3a      The shari‘a question      
3b      Religious freedom and interreligious relations


4       National cohesion and communal conflicts


5       Interfaith co-operation in Indonesia


6       Current trends in Islamic thought


         6a      The centrality of women’s issues

         6b      Muhammadiyah and NU – the historical background    

6c      Nahdlatul ‘Ulama and "contextual Islam"

6d      Muhammadiyah

6e      IAIN, Paramadina and the Liberal Islam Network

6f      Indonesian Islam – its real and conflicted diversity


7       Current developments in the churches


8       Civic and Religious Education


8a      Civic or citizenship education

         8b      Religious education

         8c      Religious and civic education in private schools

8c      Higher education and university co-operation


9       Recommendations


10     Bibliography


1       Background and introduction


In the autumn of 2000, the Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religion or Belief decided to investigate the possibilities for a co-operation with individuals and organisations in Indonesia committed to interreligious dialogue and human rights protection. A working group was formed in order to outline the details of a project which might generate both support and mutual learning between Norwegian and Indonesian actors with converging interfaith and human rights agendas. It was decided that the focus should be on the responsibility of the faith communities (in particular, Muslim and Christian organisations) in safe-guarding religious freedom, fostering tolerance and facilitating conflict resolution. It was also agreed that particular emphasis would be put upon women- and youth perspectives, and the role of religious education. (In the following report, religious education will be dealt with under a separate paragraph. Women's issues were so central in our conversations with representatives of Muslim organisations that they are integrated in paragraph 6 rather than being dealt with in a separate paragraph, cf. our comments in 6a.)

From the outset, the Oslo Coalition was acquainted with the plans for an official Norwegian-Indonesian dialogue about human rights, which from 2002 has been implemented in co-operation with the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights. Whereas the official human rights dialogue will engage representatives of the authorities and of public institutions such as the judicial system, the Oslo Coalition will focus on civil society and emphasise the role and responsibilities of the faith communities.

With a view to finances, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was approached and stated their readiness to support a planning project. A planning seminar was held in November 2002, with Olle Törnquist (University of Oslo) and Nelly van Doorn-Harder (Valparaiso University) as resource persons. Nelly van Doorn-Harder stated her willingness to join the working group and to take part in the delegation visit. Without the invaluable insights and networks of Nelly van Doorn-Harder, which she generously has shared with the Oslo Coalition, the delegation visit could not have been carried through in the form it took.

The current report is based on impressions from our encounters with persons and organisations in Indonesia, with a view also to written material obtained from Indonesian and international sources. As indicated by the list below, the persons and institutions which the delegation met with in Indonesia can be grouped in three partly overlapping categories: (1) interfaith organisations, (2) Muslim and Christian organisations, and (3) educational institutions.

With regard to interfaith organisations, the delegation spent an afternoon with Interfidei in their house in Yogyakarta, but met also with representatives of Madia and ICRP in Jakarta.

As to Muslim organisations, our priority was the Nahdlatul ‘Ulama and Muhammadiyah networks. Their broad popular basis as mass organisations, their educational activities and their engagement in reformist Islamic thought imply that the networks of these organisations constitute the most vital and influential part of civil society in Indonesia. In accordance with our priorities, we spent most our time with their women’s and youth networks. We also met with representatives of smaller Muslim organisations with an outspoken liberal agenda, namely Paramadina and the Liberal Islam Network. With regard to  the churches, our priority was to meet with representatives of ecumenical networks and educational institutions on the Protestant side, and with well-informed Catholic fathers and representatives of the educational activities of the Catholic church.

In tune with the Oslo Coalition’s emphasis on the role of school education in fostering interreligious tolerance and freedom of religion or belief, we met with representatives of several educational institutions. Regarding primary and secondary education, our main focus was on private schools run by Nahdlatul ‘Ulama (pesantren in Jombang), other Muslim foundations and the Catholic church. But we also informed ourselves (by meetings in the Ministry of National Education) about current developments with regard to religious and civic education in the public school system. At the level of higher learning, we visited the State Islamic University and State Institute of Islamic Studies in Jakarta and Yogyakarta respectively, the private Muhammadiyah University in Yogyakarta, and the Protestant Duta Wacana university (also in Yogyakarta).

2       List of organisations and persons whom the delegation met:


(for internal use)

3       The political and legal scene


In the recent years, in the wake the fall of Suharto, Indonesia has undergone a process of democratisation which has also implied a larger degree of decentralisation. But there is also a great deal of frustration because many feel that the legacy of authoritarian rule is still – despite of democratic openings – firmly embedded in the structures of power. The process of democratisation has unleashed a vibrant activity in civil society. The conflicting voices of liberal and ultra conservative Islam which can now be observed in party politics and civil society assert themselves more vigorously than before because Indonesians' are committed to creating a real democracy. The major Muslim organisations in Indonesia – NU and Muhammadiya – try to recapture a role as independent agents in civil society, but are still felt by many to be too much tied up with party politics.

As can be seen from the violent confrontations in recent years – culminating in the bombing in Bali two months after the delegation visit – freedom of speech and action can come at great cost. In the new battle about power, which to a large extent takes the form of a battle over Islamic symbols, Christians may seem to a lesser stake than in the previous period in which the pancasila ideology was still firmly upheld by the regime. And the violent clashes in the Moluccas and other places have often taken the shape of "Muslim-Christian" confrontations.

3a       The shari‘a question


During the delegation visit, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) discussed a package of proposed amendments to the 1945 Constitution. Main issues were the establishment of a constitutional commission aimed at a general revision of the Constitution, direct presidential elections, the removal of special seats in MPR for the so-called interest groups (i.e., the police and the military), and a proposal to introduce a reference to shari‘a in paragraph 29 of the Constitution. Direct presidential elections and removal of the interest groups was finally agreed upon, whereas the shari‘a proposal was turned down.

An expression of the pluralist Pancasila ideology of Indonesia, paragraph 29 proclaims that "The state is based on one supreme godhead" (the Indonesian word which is used is ketuhanan, "godhead", rather than Tuhan, "God".) The proposed amendment implied an insertion of the so-called "seven words of the Jakarta charter" – a reference to formulations in a 1945 draft of the Constitution stating "the obligation to practice shari‘a for its followers". When the Constitution was agreed upon in 1945, these formulations were not included – out of fear for the detrimental consequences it might have for the "pluralist" composition of Indonesia and the other religious communities. (In our conversations with mainstream Muslim groups, many used the notion "pluralist" to designate their vision of an inclusive Indonesia and a corresponding form of tolerant Islam. It should be noted that the cue "pluralist" in current Muslim or Christian discourse in Indonesia should not be confused with notions of religious pluralism which plays down the difference between religions.).

The 2002 proposal was put forward by the three Islamic-based parties PPP (the United Development Party of Hamzah Haz, the current vice president), PBB (the Crescent Star Party) and PDU (Daulatul Ummah Party) which received a total of about 14 % of the votes in the 1999 elections. Previous to the debate in the People’s Consultative Assembly, both Nahdlatul ‘Ulama and Muhammadiyah had taken a clear stand against the proposed inclusion of a reference to shari‘a in the constitution. 

During our visit to various pesantren in the rural NU-context of Jombang, we asked about their opinion on the current shari‘a-debate. The teachers responded that they were against the inclusion of shari‘a in the constitution, since "Indonesia is pluralistic".

In our discussions with representatives of NU and Muhammadiyah, our general impression was that NU has taken a more principled stand against a reference to shari‘a in the Constitution. The position of Muhammadiyah seems to be slightly more pragmatic. But parts of Muhammadiyah too seems to be moving in the direction of a more principled, pluralist position in the question of religion and state. Whereas NU-representatives spoke of the need to "deformalise" shari‘a from law to ethical code, people from Muhammadiyah seem often to reason along the following line of thought: there is nothing wrong with shari‘a itself, but in the way it is interpreted by its current proponents, a further implementation of shari‘a at the legal level is probably not a good idea. Also, the fact that there is no reliable law enforcement in the country raised doubts in the minds of those who in principle might be open to a further inclusion of shari‘a-based principles in general legislation. By women, it was often pointed out that if shari‘a was further formalised as public law, the flexibility of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) would also be lost.

All our informants agreed that in the current situation, symbolic references to shari‘a in the constitutions followed by attempts at practical shari‘a enforcement outside the established realm of family law jurisdiction will most likely victimise women and further jeopardise the prospects of reconciliation and peaceful interreligious co-existence in Indonesia. The cultural dimension of the shari‘a debate was emphasised by many, who argued that in the present situation campaigns to implement shari‘a reflect the combined influence of traditional patriarchy and "Arab" pressure groups. Recent experiences from shari‘a enforcements in Aceh were cited as examples of how "implementation of shari‘a" in the present cultural and political climate mainly meant seclusion and veiling of women (for instance, by means of police controls ensuring that all women were wearing the jilbab – the headscarf – within a distance of two hundred meters from a mosque). Because of the openings linked with decentralisation politics and the influence of regional interest groups, many indicated that the shari‘a question was much more difficult to handle at the regional than at the national level.

3b       Religious freedom and interreligious relations


The general impression left with the delegation was that of a strong and confident co-operation between the leaders of the mainstream churches and the dominant Muslim networks of NU and Muhammadiyah. But there are pressure groups on both sides which by their confrontational discourses and actions increase communal tension in many of the regions.

With a view to religious freedom,  many of our informants claimed that "shariasation from below" in the regions is the main threat. For Christians, the government decree from 1970 that the building of new churches must be approved of by the local authorities and the local community, has always been regarded as a potential human rights problem, but more as an exception to the general rule of non-discrimination which has prevailed. With pressure from below, this problem may now become aggravated. Furthermore, the recent church burnings and attacks on mosques have brought the issue of efficient protection of holy places to the fore. In a human rights' perspective, popular violation of churches and mosques highlights the responsibility of the authorities (the police, and the courts) to protect holy places and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

With regard to inter-communal conflicts and the situation of religious minorities, many of our informants pointed to the fact that in lack of a reliable rule of law, relatively small but violent groups may incur much damage. An episode in Solo (a main city in Central Java) just before the delegation arrived in Yogyakarta may be indicative of the general problem. In conjunction with some Indonesian Protestant churches, a German missionary organisation had initiated a church conference in Solo with their Asian partners. When the participants arrived at their hotel in Solo, they discovered that militants associated with Laskar Jihad (or perhaps, splinter groups from Laskar Jihad) had camped outside the hotel and threatened the participants with unpleasant consequences if they did not agree to move the conference from Solo. In the local press, the militants put forward the claim that some of the conference participants were in fact the master minds behind the violence in the Moluccas. During two days of tension, the conference organisers were able to gain support from local Muslim leaders but found themselves faced with a police which demonstratively did not want to interfere in the conflict. Short of efficient protection, the conference organisers finally decided to move the conference to the hotel in which our delegation was also staying in Yogyakarta.

In light of this episode and numerous indications that the interreligious violence in the Moluccas and Sulawesi has been instigated by factions in the military and allowed to spread by a general lack of police and law enforcement, the decision to focus on the rule of law in the official Norwegian-Indonesian human rights dialogue, seems to be wise.

In a wider perspective, it seems clear that the re-establishment of communal harmony in Indonesia presupposes both a further democratisation of the political system, more efficient measures against corruption among the politicians and in the military, and a general strengthening of the social cohesion by confidence-building measures at grass-root levels. As a NU-representative expressed it: currently, people are loosing their trust in leaders and the social contract is in danger.

4       National cohesion and communal conflicts

The reasons for the recent communal conflicts in the regions can obviously not be reduced to a common denominator. Each regional conflict has its particular nature. But some general observations can still be made. Many of our informants expressed the view that the real issues behind the outbreaks of communal violence from the latter part of the 1990s were either tribal/ethnic or socio-economic in nature. But religious allegiance has also played a major part, resulting in a dangerous blend of regional conflicts and identity politics. The triggers have been manifold: resettlement programs and reorganisation of administrative units which have toppled the demographic balance in certain regions; the fight for control over natural resources; the destabilising influence of criminal youth gangs as well as of disloyal elements within the military; the lack of reliable police- and law enforcement; and the establishment of militant groups with a national agenda such as Laskar Jihad (which was formed in response to a perceived threat to the safety of Muslims in the Moluccan islands). Another factor is the lack of reliable information about the events, which makes it more easy to manipulate the interpretation of violent incidents. Against this background, the PGI has proposed the establishment of joint crisis centres – as a much needed co-operation between Christian and Muslim organisations and representatives of the authorities.

In a broader perspective, the regional conflicts are also linked with an unresolved tension between national and religious allegiance in Indonesian identity perceptions. During the New Order regime of Suharto, the religious discourse was dominated by a tightly controlled discourse of nationalism – connected to forced declarations of loyalty to the state ideology of Pancasila. Most of our informants expressed the view that although Pancasila may still represent the national consensus of the religious communities, it has been severely discredited by an authoritarian misuse of Pancasila principles as a stick against non-conformists. Pancasila must therefore be rehabilitated and reformulated. In accordance with the enforced state ideology, in public discourses during the reign of Suharto people related to each other as Indonesian nationals and citizens and downplayed the role that religion played in their search for identity. But some Muslim groups took advantage of Suharto’s increasingly Muslim appearance and consolidated their power by strengthening their particularist dimension of Islamic identity. During the same period, Muslims were forbidden to congratulate Christians on the occasion of Christmas. Many Muslims also joined the national resettlement program and moved to areas where Christians had traditionally formed the majority (Ambon, Papua and East Timor). The Christians, on the other hand, used the discourse of pancasila nationalism in an attempt to maintain their political power in the same regions and tried to penetrate into areas with a Muslim majority by citing the human rights’ principle of freedom of religion.

During the 1990s, it became clearer than before that religious ties were perceived by many to be stronger than cultural and ethnic bonds – which had lost much of their strength because of sociological changes. By playing down the role of religion in the identity formation of the Indonesian people and by insisting that Indonesian identity should be defined by the pancasial ideology only, the Suharto regime had created a vacuum which was now filled by fundamentalist factions such as Laskar Jihad on the Muslim side. Also among the Christians, fundamentalist movements appeared with the aim of Christianising the whole of Indonesia and eliminating any traits of Muslim culture (such as the established use of the name of "Allah" in Indonesian bibles) from Christian discourse. After having been banned for more than thirty years under Suharto, the discourse of religious identity came out like a flood and religious differences seemed to take its revenge after having been suppressed in public discourses for a long time.

The cited shift in dominant discourses was seen as a threat by all our informants, Muslims as well as Christians. Some NU-representatives added that the hardliner groups on the Muslim side are often led by Muslim who take their inspiration from "Arab" sources and not from the contextualised form of Islam that has prevailed in Indonesia. In this perspective, a convergence of interest (not necessarily intended, but still real) may be observed between Saudi politics, domestic radicalism and disloyal factions of the military. When inquiring about the possible influence of  extremists or hardliners in the NU stronghold of Jombang, pesantren teachers responded that such people were not found in their environment: "Extremism is fitna (sedition leading to unwanted disorder in society) – so who is  the third, instigating party?"

From the Christian side, it was noted that some of the hardliner Christian groups take their inspiration from American, charismatic Christianity. The "hardliner" groups of either side are not necessarily violent (most of them are not), but their radical discourse and sectarian identity politics may nevertheless serve to fuel outbursts of communal violence.

The major outbreaks of communal violence since 1999 have been in the Moluccas and in Sulawesi. As for the interreligious components, it was noted that although there have been relatively few attacks in the same period on Christians in Java and Sumatra, Christians generally feel unsafe. Conversely, Muslim villagers feel their interests threatened by perceived Christian expansion. The question was raised: How can there be peace, when both parts see themselves as victims?

Regarding the situation in Java, we were given divergent interpretations of the Sitobondo riots in 1996 and other incidents of communal violence which have not necessarily taken the form of religious clashes. Some stressed the cultural element in such violence and its possible roots in the aggressive sub-currents of Javanese escapism and mysticism – currents that may suddenly erupt into irrational violence such as burning of houses and killings. It was noted that also the violence against the communists in 1965 could partly be explained in the same way – and most people have never been willing to speak honest and openly about this. Others focused rather on socio-economic factors and the dramatic changes in village economies related to globalisation and monopolisation of the economy – changes that have severely affected the lives of ordinary NU-people.

Teachers at NU-pesantren in Jombang gave a different picture of the situation in their area. Responding to our question about local Muslim-Christian relations, the teachers claimed that Muslims and Christians are living harmoniously together in this part of Java – "even though this has been an area of Dutch missionary activity and also has got a substantial Chinese Catholic population. After 11 September we care even more about our good relations with the Christians."

5       Interfaith co-operation in Indonesia


Despite a looming disruption of national unity and several violent conflicts in the regions, several examples of increased interreligious solidarity and networking were also told. For example, a peace forum was established on the initiative of Muslims (even with the support of some hardliners) after the burning of churches during Christmas 2000. Many Muslims have also volunteered to protect churches during Christmas and Easter celebrations, in Yogyakarta and other places. But the role of religious leaders in instigating confrontations and violence cannot be overlooked. Some Protestant pastors claimed that when trying to understand the factors that may lead to outbursts of communal violence, the fundamental lack of understanding between many Christians and Muslims must be taken seriously – as a call for more concerted efforts at relation building and more courageous attempts at dialogues in the open. As a sign of hope, it was noted that Muslim and Christian leaders in Java increasingly make contact on the local level – now on the basis of religious identity and not merely of nationalism.

Many of our Christian informants emphasised that good relations to mainstream Muslims are more important than police protection. But the idea of Muslims protecting Christians – although much appreciated when performed as an act of solidarity in critical situations – was also questioned by some: "We don’t like the language of protection – that is why we want to develop a civil society (madaniya). We don’t want to be dhimmis!"

With regard to the national level, we were informed that in 2002, NU initiated a new program for moral awakening and interreligious solidarity in co-operation with Muhammadiyah, PGI, KPI (the catholic bishop’s conference), Hindus and others – under the title of a "National morality campaign". The initiative was mentioned by several as a new and promising structure for interfaith co-operation, nationally and regionally. Several such structures have evolved in different cities and regions. For instance, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders in Yogyakarta (mostly people related to the respective academic institutions) meet regularly in Yogyakarta in serious dialogues about both communal and theological issues.

This recent initiative adds to the efforts made by the established forums for interreligious dialogue and co-operation, such as Interfidei, Madia and ICRP. During the 1990s, interreligious dialogue has become institutionalised in Indonesia, to the extent that one may also observe a certain element of competition linked to diverging "politics of interreligious dialogue". Among our informants, there was nevertheless a general understanding that the three main actors (ICRP, Madia and Interfidei) had succeeded in reaching a viable division of labour.

The Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace distinguishes itself as a formal and representative body for interreligious dialogue. Established in 2000, it could be described as a networking effort between the different groups that are committed to interreligious coexistence and pluralism. The recent conflict within ICRP (or rather, between ICRP and the Indonesian members of the Asian Conference on Religion and Peace, i.e. the regional body) was interpreted by some as a sign of the tension between an inherited New Order approach to dialogue focused on the formalised co-operation between state recognised religions, and a more open approach based on a fundamental acceptance of inter- as well as intra-religious pluralism.

The second oldest forum for interreligious dialogue is Madia, the Society for Inter-Religious Dialogue which was established in 1996. Based in Jakarta and with networks in four other cities or areas (Surabaya, Manado, Bandung, South Sulawesi), Madia is more informal and personal than ICRP. Madia has initiated a number of multilateral and bilateral (i.e., Muslim-Christian) dialogue projects, aimed either at religious leaders or youth. We were informed that Madia mainly operates on an issue basis. Their most recent project, for which they are now seeking funding from fresh sources, is focused on the cultural and political question of shari‘a implementation – with emphasis on its gender dimension. Many expressed the view that the cultural developments that accompany the call for implementation of shari‘a are more dangerous than the possible insertion of a reference to shari‘a in the constitutional level. In tune with this recognition, the representatives of Madia emphasised that the challenge must first and last be addressed locally.

The oldest of the existing forums for interfaith dialogue in Indonesia is Interfidei, which was founded in Yogyakarta in 1991 and is now active in several regions. Interfidei is well established institutionally, with seven people (of which four are full time) in their staff. Already in 1991, Th. Sumartana (the director of Interfidei) and others committed to interreligious understanding saw the danger of religious conflict in Indonesia, especially among young people. Much of Interfidei’s work has taken the form of courses and thematic dialogues (e.g., on history, ethics, human rights, religion and state) which have partly been documented in publications. Since 1998, after the outbreak of communal violence in the Moluccas, Interfidei has been reaching out for the conflicted areas by visits, peace campaigns and conflict resolution workshops. Several interreligious forums have thus been initiated in the regions. Their local conflict resolution workshops have both an interfaith and an interethnic perspective. In the beginning, mostly activists and students came to the workshops, but since 2000, Interfidei has also more actively been trying to involve farmers, representatives of the military, local politicians etc. Much of the work is done in co-operation with local NGOs, recognising however that "the stakeholders for growing peace are not only NGOs and students, but even more so the religious communities and the government representatives." We were told that the main challenge in these workshops was to have the local people recognising their own potential for solving their problems and implementing a plural society, against the background of often strongly conflicting perceptions of the local situation: "It is not easy to have them tell the truth – the first two days may be very difficult!" As to the form of the workshops, it was emphasised that also singing together and having each community preparing prayers was an essential part of the workshops. Sometimes, the workshops offered the first opportunity for Christians and Muslims ever to visit a mosque or a church. With regard to how local conflicts should be interpreted, it was emphasised by Interfidei that there are both socio-historical and "theological" factors at work. The need to formulate new and more "pluralist" theologies in all camps must therefore be taken seriously, as well as the need for new institutions which may efficiently disseminate the idea of dialogue.

The people at Interfidei also shared the experience made by some of estrangement from their own religious community, because of a lack of understanding for dialogue among the traditional religious leaders, resulting perhaps in a new sense of "interreligious community" among those committed to interfaith solidarity and action.

Christian and Muslim dialogue activists thus often strike inter-religious alliances which may be felt to be controversial in both camps. In inter-religious dialogue, internal differences must be taken just as seriously as efforts at overcoming boundaries between the religions. Noting, for example, that the main problem in Indonesia today is perhaps the competition between different Muslim groups – "there are 1000 Muslim groups and 100 Protestant groups and in this country …" – Interfidei activists emphasised that dialogue must always begin within one’s own religion. Also other informants – both Muslims and Christians – underlined the point that in present-day Indonesia, intra-religious dialogue is increasingly felt to be a equal or perhaps even more pressing challenge than inter-religious dialogue.

6       Current trends in Islamic thought


How do the various Muslim networks respond to the present challenges? Our main guides during our visits to Jakarta-Jombang and Yogyakarta were two women connected to the Nahdlatul ‘Ulama and Muhammadiyah networks respectively. Through the program they helped us to facilitate, we were given a unique opportunity to observe and reflect on both the similarities and the differences between these vast networks within Indonesian Islam.

6a       The centrality of women’s issues


A uniting bond between NU and Muhammadiyah is their firm resolution to be fully independent of the political authorities – as free agents in civil society. Another common feature is the strong women’s organisations in both organisations. In both NU and Muhammadiyah, women’s issues seems to be a major trigger behind the current efforts at a hermeneutically refined interpretation of the Qur’an and a reformulation of shari‘a which is sensitive to women's rights. In Muhammadiyah, women have recently been accepted as central board members. Due to its nature of being a movement of the ‘ulama, NU has not yet taken a similar step. In our meeting with a member of the Executive Council of Nahdlatul ‘Ulama, Lena Larsen (who is also the president of the Islamic Council in Norway) challenged NU on this point, suggesting that the concept of ‘ulama should be widened so as to include women. She received firm support from Lily Munir of the central board of Muslimat NU, who has often made the same point in the internal discussions of NU. The representative of the Executive Council agreed that the question of women in governing boards should now be discussed seriously.   

Another prominent representative of female activism in NU is Ibu Nuriyah, the wife of Abdurrahman Wahid. Ibu Nuriyah has dedicated much of her energy to combatting the legacy of polygamy which has been revigorated in some Islamist circles and legitimised by the current Vice President of Indonesia who practices polygamy. Some elderly kiai also have the habit of taking a second, younger wife. According to Ibu Nuriyah, NU has nevertheless taken a clearer stand against polygamy than Muhammdiyah. Some NU-pesantren have also established crisis centra for victims of domestic violence, a fact which was considered by Ibu Nuriyah as a major breaktrough for women's rights. In her books and by her interventions in media, Ibu Nuriyah has published her exegetical efforts aimed at reinterpreting qur'anic concepts and injunctions, concluding i.a. that the qur'anic ideal is monogamy and that womens' free choice of spouse (possibly, also a non-Muslim) should in no way be restricted. In the question of how to understand the term qawwamun in Qur'an 4:34, which has traditionally been interpreted as men's authority over women, Ibu Nuriyah holds the view that the term rather refers to those – men or women – who support their family in the sense of providing for it. In principle, therefore, a women may also be the head of the family.

In the fatwa committee of Majlis Ulama Indonesia, four of members are women – including the famous Qur’an reciter, Maria Ulfa, whom we also had the pleasure to meet. In the question of Qur’an recitation, the NU gave a fatwa as early as in 1978 which challenged the traditional perception of women's voice as ‘awra ("nakedness") and sactioned that women might recite in mixed audiences on official occasions such as feasts and weddings. Maria Ulfa, who has published a treatise on women-related fiqh (Risalah Fiqh Wanita), has become a symbol of this opportunity and also advocated other women's rights' issues such as their access to being judges. In our meeting, she argued that in order to safeguard women's rights, the legacy of the different Islamic schools of law must be allowed to be used in a creative way.

In our visit to Jombang – a typical rural stronghold of NU, where its founder is buried – we experienced that in certain NU-circles, a commitment to women’s empowerment may go further back than the present generations. In the Sunan Ampel pesantren – the pesantren of Lily Munir’s family – we met with her mother Ibu Abida. A mother of 11 children, she became a member of the district council and a shari‘a judge who also took part in the great Kompilasi Islam effort (the compilation of Indonesian shari‘a) which was completed in 1984. Her husband Mahfudz Anwar (the founder and first kiai of this pesantren) encouraged both her and his daughters to educate themselves and take responsibility in society. Similar to the interpretation of Ibu Nuriyah cited above, he held the view that qawwamun in Qur’an 4:34 did not mean that men should exercise "authority" over women but rather that they should "stand up for" them in the sense of empowering women.

            As can be seen from the following paragraphs, women's issues was also a central focus in our conversations with several other Muslims organisations and individuals.

6b       Muhammadiyah and NU – the historical background


Muhammadiyah was established in Yogyakarta in 1912, as a puritan and reformist response to correct the perceived backwardness and syncretistic nature of Indonesian Islam. Its founder Ahmad Dahlan was much affected by the writings of the Egyptian reformist Muhammad ‘Abduh who advocated purification and reform of Islamic thought and practice through a modernised system of Islamic education. Muhammadiyah’s main base is urban and middle class. The organisation has about 29 million members and runs a large number of self-supported institutions. It caters for 3700 of kindergartens and a large percentage of primary and secondary education (the number given by our informants was 10%), and runs also a number of institutions for higher education.

Nahdlatul ‘Ulama (or Nahdatul ‘Ulama) was established in Surabaya in 1926, with the aim of strengthening traditional Islam and unifying Indonesian Muslims against secular nationalist ideologies and the rival religious appeals of Muhammadiyah. NU’s base has mainly been rural, and its backbone is the country’s network of ‘ulama, the local spiritual leaders known as kiai and the indigenous madrasa school system known as pesantren. The number of NU followers is estimated to 30-35 millions. Whereas its outlook was originally traditionalist, more recent developments have made Nahdlatul ‘Ulama a symbol of a "contextualist" (pribumisasi) approach to Islam. Through the political thought of Abdurrahman Wahid and other leaders with a similar line of thought, NU has become a stronghold for pluralist thought in Indonesia. Its current pluralist profile can also be seen from the three terms that are used in their presentation brochure to describe NU’s societal attitudes: tawasuth (moderation), tasamuh (tolerance) and tawazun (balance).

The existence of such large and well-functioning Muslim networks as NU and Muhammadiyah, in which new lines of thought in the leadership may trickle down to millions of adherents, is a rather unique feature of Indonesian Islam which makes the role of religious organisations in civil reform and raising of human rights' awareness all the more important.

The relation between Muhammadiyah and NU has sometimes been tense and conflicts flared up again after Abdurrahman Wahid was deposed as president in 2001. But there have also been renewed efforts at reconciliation. Both NU and Muhammadiyah have – through some of their prominent leaders – been associated with party politics, with strong links to the National Awakening Party (PKB) of Abdurrahman Wahid and the National Mandate Party (PAN) of Amien Rais respectively. Both organisations have also, however, tried to regain their identity as independent social and religious movements.

6c       Nahdlatul ‘Ulama and "contextual Islam"


In a meeting in Jakarta with Cecep Syarifuddin from the Executive Council of Nahdlatul ‘Ulama, it was emphasised that NU no longer had any ambition of being a political party but rather aimed at serving the nation as a whole. The above mentioned National Morality Campaign was launched in co-operation with the leaders of other religious communities as a response to the current crisis of values and institutions in Indonesia. As an explanation of NU’s resistance against the inclusion of a reference to shari‘a in the Constitution, it was explained that is NU wants Islamic values (makarim al-akhlaq) to be implemented in substance rather than formally – within the framework of a plural society and without any kind of discrimination against other believers. In our meetings with NU leaders, we were repeatedly told that Indonesia is different from Saudi Arabia – "we must renew Islamic law in a contextualised manner."

In a session with NU’s Office for Human Resource Studies and Development (Lakpesdam), we were shown how their ideas of a "deformalisation of shari‘a", a "rational fiqh" and a "pluralist" and "post-traditionalist" Islam were expressed in publications such as the journal Afkar. In this journal, the vision of a contextual Islam is merged with the ideas of leading "pluralist" Muslims in the internationally such as Abdullahi Ahmed an-Na‘im, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd and Farid Esack. The unique feature of NU is expressed by Lakpesdam’s combined effort at intellectual renewal and local network building in the districts. Their local leadership training programs aim not solely at strengthening the NU network but also at the formation of citizen forums which often include non-Muslims. In all their activities, Lakpesdam puts also much emphasis on women's rights.

Women's rights is the main focus of the Fatayat Welfare Foundation (the organisation of the young women in NU, known as YKF). In our meeting with YKF and some young kiai in Yogyakarta, we were explained how their work for women’s reproductive and political rights was anchored in efforts at "socialising" the issue of gender equality in the world of the pesantren. As stated in their presentation brochure, working with the pesantren is "a strategic decision in YKF's efforts to eliminate discrimation against women. There is room to work within these institutions in order to eliminate a reinterpretation that is not gender discriminative." As indicated in the above quotation, their practical work is combined with the introduction of "liberating" approaches to the Qur’an which may counter its oppressive use against women in questions such as domestic violence, forced marriages, polygamy and inheritance rights. In terms of activities, YKF organises numerous workshops focused on women's rights and also marriage courses aimed at preparing spouses for gender equity. YKF activists have also publicly confronted male Muslims who have recently become more demonstrative in their advocacy of polygamy. YKF has also approached other highly sensitive issues such as HIV/AIDS, and their project in this particular field appears to be quite unique.

Their strategy is to focus on methodology, in recognition of the fact that only thus can previous moral and legal decisions be superseded in a manner which is likely to gain support. We were explained by the young activists that a main point in their reinterpretive strategy is to point out the highly patriarchal context in Arabia to which the message of the Qur’an was originally related, and to argue that this context has now entirely been changed. In more general terms, the sources must be approached with such questions in mind as "what lies behind the text", "to whom was it written", "what is its central motif", "what was in the minds of those who wrote it" and "how has it been used". In the view of these young NU activists, Islamic law must be in accordance with time and place. For this to happen, the philosophy of jurisprudence (hikam al-tashri‘) must become more sensitive to context. The classical method of deduction from the normative sources must be further developed by drawing new and contextually conscious conclusions from general values that are reflected in the text such as "equality".  It is, however, not only a question of reinterpreting fiqh (classical jurisprudence) but also of socialising it.

According to the explanation of these young activists, the contextual method was incepted in the 1970s by leaders such as Abdurrahman Wahid who initially became unpopular but nevertheless were able to gain strongholds in the pesantren milieu. It was emphasised that a liberating reinterpretation of the Qur’an must be a gradual process. The process has, however, already produced some new and more liberal kiai. Many young people now fulfil the criteria for ijtihad – as scholars trained in the classical disciplines but with a modern outlook. It is exactly this combination of traditional training (from the pesantren system) and modern outlook on religion (as it can also be acquired in some of the State Institutes of Islamic Studies) which seems to be the distinctive advantage of NU. Their classical santri (formal Islamic) schooling of these kiai make them different from Muhammadiyah youth with a similar outlook. Both groups can, however, be characterised as progressive thinkers in the sense of "pious" or "believing" modernists".

It was emphasised by several NU people that the current efforts at contextual reinterpretation of Islam is not merely a "liberal" effort. They are based on a social conscience and linked with a sensitivity towards the real hardships of women and village people which increasingly find themselves marginalized by changes related to liberalisation and monopolisation of the economy. These changes severely affect the lives of ordinary NU-people. Mochammad Maksum, the  new leader of NU in Yogyakarta, emphasised that the recent examples of communal violence which has sometimes involved NU-people can only be understood against the background of the increased socio-economic marginalization of ordinary villagers.

6d       Muhammadiyah


In our meetings with Muhammadiyah representatives in Yogyakarta, it was emphasised that the uniting element of the Indonesian nation must be something else than "culture". Neither Javanese culture nor any other cultural tradition rooted in the Indonesian archipelago can constitute a uniting bond. Also the Muhammadiyah representatives whom we met expressed their strong commitment to a plural society. But perhaps more clearly than the NU leaders, they underlined the uniting role that religion may play and highlighted the fact that Indonesia has got a Muslim majority. However, religion can only unite to the extent that it brings something good to people, for example by using religious principles in economics.

In our meeting with ‘Aisyiyah, the women’s organisation of Muhammadiyah, it was expressed that there should be an interreligious discussion about religious values and national unity – "but our main responsibility is educating the Muslims."

The focus of  ‘Aisyiyah´s work is "the role of religious women in civil society", – materialised in educational institutions ranging from kindergartens to midwife- and nursery schools. But like the women of NU, they too are struggling with patriarchal attitudes and corresponding interpretations of the Qur’an (in particular, the notorious problem of how Qur’an 4: 34 should be interpreted). Like NU women, they also realise that in the Indonesian context, women are likely to be the first victims of the kind of implementation of shari‘a which is called for by the hardliners ("although there is not a problem with shari‘a itself"). As for interreligious commitment, ‘Aisyiyah has taken active part in the Asian Conference for Religion and Peace and in discussions about pluralism and local problems in Yogyakarta with other religious leaders (for instance, those involved with Interfidei).

In a meeting with Nashiyatul ‘Aisyiyiah – the young women of ‘Aisyiyah – and men and women from the university students’ associations of Muhammadiyah, it was mentioned that the students’ association had received international support from the Asia Foundation and (as a concrete example) from the British Council for a conference on "Living in plural societies". The keen interest in "pluralism" seems in fact to be a uniting bond between youth and student groups in both NU, Muhammadiyah and the declared liberal networks such as Paramadina (see below). Many Muhammadiyah students – so we were told – are influenced by "liberal thought". They are discussing issues such as liberal theology, religion and state, democracy and interreligious dialogue – i.e., the same issues that are keenly debated by the advocates for "contextual" and "liberal" Islam in their respective networks.

In women’s and youth networks, one may thus identify a convergence of "liberal" interest across organisational divides. Much like the young women of NU, Muhammadiyah’s young women and students focus on gender awareness, women’s rights in everyday life and (like Interfidei and other interfaith networks) anti-violence training in conflict areas. In response to our questions about the relation between the youth and students’ organisation and the senior leadership in Muhammadiyah, it was stated that "the culture in Java can be very paternalistic and this has also put its mark on Muhammadiyah." It was emphasised that although the theology of the youth and students’ organisation in the main follows that of Muhammadiyah, they are independent and may often criticise Muhammadiyah in such questions as gender equality and contextual interpretation of the Qur’an. It was also explained that Muhammadiyah youth and students did not affiliate with any particular party (although many sided with new PAN party of Amien Rais in 1999).

            As for possible generation conflicts, we got the impression from some of the students at Muhammadiyah University that "it is not quite open here, the teachers are too dominating." Explaining that women needs to wear the jilbab (the headscarf) inside the university, one of the teachers added a complaint that many took it off outside the campus – a fact seemingly taken as a token of the increasing permissiveness in society. The general impression, however, was that the "new headscarf" has a strong position as an identity mark among the committed young women in Muhammadiyah.

As for the current debate on shari‘a, it has already been noted that Muhammadiyah opposed the proposal of the Islamic parties in 2002 to include a reference to shari‘a in the constitution (cf. part I above, "Introduction and background"). It should be added, however,  that some observers raised the question of where exactly Muhammadiyah stands in this matter. Do they see shari‘a as a formalised system of law, which ideally should be implemented in legal terms, or as moral values (cf. the "deformalising" approach to shari‘a typical of the NU avant-garde and other liberals)? As noted by one Christian observer, "the current leadership seems to take a clear pluralist stand, but there are hardliners as well in Muhammadiyah".

6e       IAIN, Paramadina and the Liberal Islam Network


Persons involved in formulating a "contextual", "pluralist" and "gender conscious" Islam belong to networks which apparently overlap. As it will be  further described below (under Education), the State Institutes of Islamic Studies (IAIN) – particularly those in Jakarta and Yogyakarta – have played an important role in the development of reformist, liberal Islamic thought in Indonesia. Teachers and researchers engaged by IAIN may have their background in either NU, Muhammadiyah or Paramadina, but their commitment to some pivotal issues such as plural society, human rights, gender awareness and interreligious relations clearly converge. As an example, Professor Komaruddin Hidayat of IAIN Jakarta (now a full fledged university, UIN) is also an activist in Paramadina, and rector Amin Abdallah at IAIN Yogyakarta maintains his relations with Muhammadiyah and was elected as the leader of their fatwa council Majlis Tarjih in 1995. The council has become a forum for developing new Islamic thought and women are invited into the process (three women are currently on the board of Muhammadiyah).

In the present Indonesian context, Amin Abdullah stands out as one of the most profiled, liberal Muslim thinkers. He has published several books with a great influence on social-, gender- and interfaith issues. In a meeting with him (see below, under Education), Amin Abdullah expressed his personal view that an-Na‘im's book Toward an Islamic Reformation is currently the best and most innovative work in this field. Significantly, he explained, the Indonesian edition of an- Na‘im's book was given the title "the deconstruction of shari‘a".

In recent research on modern trends in Indonesian Islam, Greg Barton and other researchers have employed the term "neo-modernist thought" to describe some common features of Abdurrahman Wahid’s "contextual Islam" and the liberal vision of Islam associated with Nurcholish Majid. Differently from many Muhammadiyah leaders who lack a background in traditional Islamic scholarship, Abdurrahman Wahid and Nurcholish Majid combine their traditional schooling with impulses from modern Western thought and liberal impulses channelled through the State Institutes for Islamic Studies in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Calling for a fresh ijtihad as a response to modern challenges, they hold the view that progress in society at the technological, social, intellectual and moral levels must also be reflected in Islamic law.

The Paramadina network initiated by Nurcholish Majid has focused much of their energy on publications and educational renewal, as expressed through their Madania schools (see below) and their Paramadina University in the Jakarta area. Differently from the vast networks of NU and Muhammadiyah, Paramadina understands itself (in the words of Komaruddin Hidayat) as "a small group with big ideas" with the aim of further developing a liberal, intellectual Islamic discourse Indonesia.

The Liberal Islam Network, which is led by Ulil Abshar Abdallah, was established in 1998 as a response to Islamist revivalism. Himself a symbol of interreligious learning, he has been a student of the Jesuit scholar Franz Magnis Suseno, in addition to his studies in Islamic universities. His Liberal Islam Network produces publications and radio talk shows and organises discussion groups at the universities (realising that the universities are the main bases of the radical and sometimes militant Islam of the "hardliners"). According to Ulil Abshar Abdallah, the basic conviction of any trend which labels itself "liberal Islam" is that no school of thought in Islam can claim to hold the sole truth. In the political realm, "liberal Islam" means struggling for civil liberties such as freedom of expression, minority rights, women’s rights and freedom of religion ("why does Islamic revivalism – in their justified fervour for social justice – always want to restrict human freedom?"). The Liberal Islam Network has also addressed sensitive human rights issues such as interreligious marriages (prohibited by law in Indonesia from 1974, but still widespread) and the difficulties that Christians encounter when wanting to build new churches.

As sources of inspiration for the Liberal Islam Network, the names of several controversial Islamic thinkers in the West, in the Middle East and in South Africa were mentioned – for example, Abdullahi Ahmed an-Na‘im, Mohammed Arkoun, Ibrahim Musa, Farid Esack, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Hasan Hanafi and more traditionally oriented scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Many of the works of these authors have been translated into Indonesian, and the State Institutes for Islamic Studies in Jakarta and Yogyakarta has functioned as important channels for their thoughts. The ambition of the Liberal Islam Network is to remake their impluses in the local context, in conjunction with the legacy of "neo-modernist thought" in Indonesia. Ulil Abshar Abdallah emphasised that reformist Muslim thinkers in Indonesia, seeing e.g. an-Na‘im's ideas of an Islamic reformation (cf. his book Toward and Islamic Reformation) as a hypothesis to be discussed, not as a vision to be copied. The main issue of interesest, said Ulil Abshar Abdallah, was an-Na‘im's discussion of the notion of citizenship and his insistencs that the modern notion of citizenship requires a rethinking of classical shari‘a.

People from the Liberal Islam Network are also active in interfaith organisations such as the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace. They may take some of their inspiration from Christian theologians of religion such as Hans Küng. But they are also trying to respond to the deep-rooted prejudices against Islam among many Indonesian Christians. In response to our questions about how to deal with qur’anic verses that are negative to Christianity, Ulil Abshar Abdallah emphasised that antagonisms can only be overcome when Muslims and Christians learn to tackle the hard questions (another example is violence and its possible roots in the religious traditions) together. He also underlined, however, that intra-Muslim dialogue was often felt as a more pressing challenge than inter-religious conversation.

6f        Indonesian Islam – its real and conflicted diversity


Needless to say, the above reflections about current trends in Muslim movements in Indonesia cannot do justice to the rich and conflicted diversity of Indonesian Islam. As mentioned in the introduction, an alliance of Islamic parties have long been pressing for an implementation of shari‘a which may or may not gain increased support in the time to come. Other parts of the Muslim reality in Indonesia was only seen in glimpses – such as militants from Laskar Jihad in white garbs selling newspapers at road junctions, or traditional Muslim pilgrims displaying their "syncretistic" (in the view of the puritans) faith by reaching out for the blessing of Buddha in the stupas of Borobodur. As for the relation between NU and the religious customs in Indonesian folk Islam, we were explained that NU still accepts the widespread popular practices in folk Islam (not only in Indonesia) connected with amulets and mantras or meditation in seclusion during certain periods of life.

Our encounters with youth, women and senior leaders in NU, Muhammadiayh and the liberal Islam networks gave the impression of a strong convergence in the direction of a pluralist, democratic vision of Islam. But the following overheard reflection should not be neglected: "the militant hardliners are few but they have money and are prepared to give everything in the struggle, whereas the moderates are often sleeping".

7       Current developments in the churches


Although the percentage of Christians does probably not exceed 10% at the national level (3% Catholics, 5-7% Protestants), in many regions the Christian constitute a much larger part of the population. This is not only true of several regions in the Moluccas and Sulawesi, but also of Yogyakarta which may have about 20% Christian inhabitants (indicative of the fact that religious statistic is seldom an exact science, the percentage of Christians in Yogyakarta given by our informants varied between 15 and 30%). As for the long term development, it was argued by one Catholic observer that the total number of Indonesian Christians have probably not increased by more than 1% during the last 30 years.

As for the growth of Pentecostal churches, they feed on the other churches mainly. As noted, in some of these circles a radical discourse has been emerging aimed at purging Indonesian Christianity from cultural elements that may be identified as "Muslim" (not least, the convention of speaking of God as Allah), paired with an ambition to further "Christianise" Indonesia. There is also a new, evangelical council of churches which does not cooperate with established ecumenical body among the Protestants, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI). On the other side, there is also a attraction towards Greek and Syrian Orthodoxy among some artists and intellectuals.

As mentioned above, Christians see the main threat to freedom of religion in the growth of Muslim militancy and the ongoing "shariasation from below" in certain regions. In addition to the destructive effect of church burnings, local developments have made it more difficult to build churches in some places. But more seriously, the violence and the intensified shari‘a discourse has spread a general feeling of insecurity among Indonesian Christians. On the other hand, several examples can also be cited of intensified contact between Christian and Muslims leaders on the local level, and Muslim leaders has often offered to protect churches during Christmas and Easter celebrations.

            One protestant observer noted that in many circles, people are still critical towards the PGI since they the previous leadership was thought to be too much tied up with the Suharto-regime. After the fall of Suharto, however, several initiatives have been taken to strengthen PGI as an independent actor in civil society – in co-operation with other faith communities. In our meeting with the current president, Natan Setiabudi, we were informed that until 2000 there was also a tradition of annual dialogue seminars with representatives of the other religions in Indonesia (initiated by the German theologian Olaf Schumann). After the recent communal clashes, the PGI has concentrated its efforts on contact with NU and Muhammadiyah. Together with the Catholic bishops’ conference (KPI), PGI was also actively involved in the Malinu agreements on Poso and Ambon, in this case with Majlis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) as the Muslim partner. But unfortunately, trust is still not growing between ordinary Christians and Muslims and neither between the people and the authorities (unfortunately, the solidity of local authorities was simply taken for granted in the Malinu agreements).

Setiabudi noted that "there are cultural bonds between Christians and Muslims  in Ambon, even in families – but these were not able to hold provocations by Laskar Jihad and elements from the military." As for the possible uniting effect of the Pancasila ideology, Setiabudi suggested that it may still reflect the consensus of all religious groups in Indonesia. But since it was misused by Suharto as a stick against non-conformists, it needs to be reformulated if it shall ever again function as a uniting bond. Another observer noted that differently from Muhammadiyah, which abolished the reference to Pancasila just after the fall of Suharto, none of the churches have yet removed the Pancasila clause from their constitutions.

            At the theological level, efforts at formulating a contextual Christian theology (similar to the "contextual Islam" trend in NU) can be identified, for example as expressed in the writings of Emmanuel Gerrit Singgih at the Protestant Duta Wacana university in Yogyakarta (cf. his book Berteologi dalam konteks, "doing theology in context"). The impression left by our meetings with Catholic fathers (all of them Jesuits) was that of a commitment to living the gospel in deep respect of other faiths and in sensitivity towards the cultural context. But the perception of the context changes with time. As one of the fathers explained, it was only ten or fifteen years ago that the relation to "Islam" began to be considered as the main contextual challenge for Indonesian Christianity.

            As for Christian involvement in interfaith issues, several networking initiatives have already been cited above – with Interfidei as the main institutional expression. At the level of higher education and research, several examples can be cited of co-operation between Catholic and Protestant universities on the one hand and Muslim private universities or State Institutes of Islamic Studies on the other (see below, under Education).

8       Civic and Religious Education


As the Oslo Coalition has a special project on school education, interreligious dialogue and freedom of religion, the delegation wanted to inform itself about current developments regarding civic and religious education in Indonesian schools.

            The administration of the institutions involved in school education is divided between two different ministries. The Ministry of National Education (MONE) is responsible for the secular (government) schools, whereas the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) is responsible for the religious (private) schools. The percentage of pupils going to private schools varies from 99.6% at kindergarten level, 17% in primary school, 41% in junior secondary school and 53% in senior secondary school level.

The pesantren madrasas have gradually been included in the overall public school system. In average, 2/3 of the time is spent on formal education in accordance with the public curricula, whereas the remaining 1/3 of the time is dedicated to informal education centred on extra diniyya (religious education) in the early morning and in the evening. Muhammadiyah runs a different system of Muslim private schools which caters for a large percentage of the total education offered at primary and secondary levels. There are also other Muslim private schools with their particular traditions and visions. In addition, there are several Christian private schools.

8a       Civic or citizenship education


The Education Act No. 2 of 1989 stated that the curriculum of all educational institutions in Indonesia – from primary to tertiary levels – should include both Pancasila education, religious education and citizenship education. Also pre-school education was supposed to include both "Pancasila morals education" and religion.

Civic education has traditionally aimed at instilling in the student the values and obligations stated by the Preamble of the Indonesian Constitution and known as the five Pancasila principles: "[1] the belief in the One and Only godhead/God, [2] just and civilized humanity, [3] the unity of Indonesia, [4] democracy guided by the inner wisdom of deliberations amongst representatives and [5] the realization of social justice for all of the people of Indonesia." According to the new Bill of Education which was passed in 2002, Pancasila education will cease to be a separate subject in school. Instead, it will be integrated in a revised subject of Civic Education (Kewarganegaraan, lit. "citizenship") which is supposed to be taught for two hours per week in primary and secondary school.

Among our informants, there was a common understanding that both Civic/Pancasila and Religious education has been undermined by an outdated methodology focused on dogmatic memorizing, an authoritarian practice of the Pancasila ideology, and a dominant perception of religious authority in Indonesian society which has also deeply affected the school system. The new curriculum for Civic Education includes subjects such as democracy and human rights. Its introduction in primary and secondary schools is paralleled by Civic Education programs in some of the universities and the State Institutes of Islamic Studies (cf. the book published in 2000 by IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah: Pendidikan Kewargaan, lit. "citizenship education"). It was stated by some of our informants that Civic education can in fact be seen as a new way of implementing Pancasila values, only with a more critical and analytical approach. According to its architects, the new subject should aim at training the students in expressing their own opinion while fully respecting the other. The IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah has also a Civic education project for Muslim preachers and madrasa leaders which includes gender issues and human rights.      

Apart from the new subject of Civic education, other pilot projects aimed at critical thinking and peace education have also been tried out during the last years. In co-operation with Temple University in the United States, Unicef Indonesia has been carrying through a pilot project in some schools in East Java and South Sulawesi, under the title of "Deep Dialogue and Critical Thinking". According to the Unicef official we met, the project got stuck because of a lack of pedagogical tools and the difficulty of overcoming traditional forms of teaching: "Dialogue in school has to do with creating a new atmosphere." According to the same source, a new Peace Education Project in Aceh, which is carried out in co-operation with the organisation Non-violence International, may be more rewarding. Both the Ministry of National Education and the faith communities have been involved in the curriculum development of the peace education project.

8b       Religious education


The new Kurikulum Berbasis Kompetensi (basic competence curriculum) implies that three hours per week in primary school and two hours in secondary school will be set apart for Religious education (Pendidikan Agama). Religious education in public schools has traditionally been offered for adherents of the five recognised religions in Indonesia (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism). In public schools, every student is entitled to religious instruction according to his or her religion. However, normally a minimum number of students adhering to a particular faith is required before religious education is provided by the local school (the minimum number stated by different sources varied between 3-4 and 10). Islam-teachers are usually graduated from Islamic institutions and  Christianity-teachers most often come from Christian seminaries. But there is a lack of qualified teachers in remote areas. If no suitable religious education can be offered in accordance with the students’ faith, they have – in principle – the right to be exempted from Agama. It was noted as a problem by one observer that there is no complaint mechanism in terms of law if children do not get what they are entitled to – or if teachers attack the tenets of other religions.

Religious education is carried out in accordance with the national curricula. When revising the curricula, the ministry must consult the religious communities – using PGI as their Protestant partner and KPI as the catholic one. Textbooks are produced by autonomous publishers but screened by the Ministry of National Education.

An addendum of article 39 of the Education Act of 1989 defined Religious education as an effort to strengthen the faith of school children or students towards the one supreme God – i.e., in tune with the Pancasila ideology. In 2002, the different curricula for Religious education were revised in accordance with a less dogmatic and more competence-oriented curricula for Indonesian schools. In tune with a general opening towards other religions than the five recognised ones, also education in Confucianism can now be offered as an option in school. In order to enhance the teachers’ knowledge of what is taught about other religions, the general competence aims for the other religions are now cited in the introduction to the curricula for every religion. The new curricula states also that all religions should be taught in accordance with the same pedagogical ideal – i.e. not only as a "subject", but with a view to living faith and moral practice.

 With regard to Islamic education provided in public schools, one observer has noted that although it is often superficial it projects a more universalistic interpretation of Islam than the more traditional, allegedly "syncretistic" types of religiosity in Indonesia.

In our meeting with PGI, the president expressed the view that ideally, religion in school should be comparative religion, not teaching of discipleship. "But this is the idea of some intellectuals only". He also raised critical questions as to the real effectiveness of civic and religious education in the light of the current national crisis and the problems related to corruption and violence. But the PGI continues to be a partner for the Ministry of National Education, in a shared commitment to improve not only the curricula but the overall conditions for religious education in school.

8c       Religious and civic education in private schools


As for private schools, they are free to add extra hours of religious education. There is an ongoing debate about whether the private schools too should be obliged to offer alternative options of religious education in accordance with the pupils’ faith, but the established tradition implies that in private schools, only a religious education which corresponds to the confessional nature of that particular school is available.

In Parung outside Jakarta, Paramadina runs a primary and secondary school called Madania. Madania is characterised by an international outlook, a commitment to interfaith understanding, and modern pedagogics applied within the framework of a modified government curriculum. During our visit to Madania, we were explained that the foundational vision of the school is  to promote a democratic, humanistic and pluralist Islam in Indonesia. Madania was initiated by teachers who had a positive attitude towards cultural and religious pluralism but were disillusioned by the public school system. 80-90% of the pupils in the Madania primary school ("Sekolah Berwawasan Internasional") are Muslims, but the school also attracts Christian, Buddhist and Hindu students. The teachers told that children often bring intolerant attitudes with them from other schools which they have previously been attending. It was commonly recognised that implanting good values and tolerant attitudes in the children is a great problem in public education which Madania seeks to solve in its own ways. In Agama (Religious Education), multiple choices are provided by Madania in accordance with the children's religion. 70% of the time is spent in separate groups, but 30% of the time is spent together in sharing and project work aimed at interreligious understanding. For instance, there are also special "tolerance days" aimed at accepting and celebrating the differences. Whereas Religious Education at Madania takes a practical and ritual approach to religion, Civic/Pancasila education at Madania has been more project oriented and focused on moral obligations. Both subjects are supposed to have a distinctive, humanistic approach. The underlying conviction for both subjects – as explained by the teachers – is that being religious is to be a good citizen.

Responding to a question raised after our visit to Madania, a representative of the Ministry of National Education confirmed that schools which offer multiple choices in religious education may modify the way in which religion is taught so that some hours may be spent together by the students of different faiths – in accordance with the general principle of local adaptation.

The secondary school in the Madania complex is a boarding school with students from all over Indonesia, including Aceh. There are also plans for a new secondary school in Aceh. Indicative of the underlying vision of Madania, the classroom doors are decorated by the name signs of a great Western and Islamic intellectual or scientist side by side.

Whereas Madania is (as yet) but one entity, Muhammadiyah runs several thousands of private schools at primary and secondary levels. In our meetings with Muhammadiyah representatives, we were explained that Muhammadiyah schools follow the national curriculum but add some practical religious activities. It was stated that Muhammadiyah schools are also supposed to respect local culture and to promote pluralism and diversity. A new curriculum for Civic Education has been implemented also in Muhammadiyah  institutions of higher learning.

Differently from the classical way of teaching the Qur'an in the pesantren system, Islamic education in Muhammadiyah schools has been characterised by a reflective approach to the Qur'an and Islamic tradition. A more interpretive approach to the Qur'an has also been introduced in some pesantren school. As noted above, it is the ambition of some young kiai to merge the classical methods of learning typical of the madrasa tradition with modern hermeneutical approaches.

The delegation made a short visit to Balai Pendidikan, a well-known reform pesantren which is located in the vicinity of Borobodur. Balai Pendidikan was established in the 1960s as an independent foundation and has developed a strong interfaith commitment. For instance, it co-operates closely with catholic schools in the vicinity. In addition to Islam, Balai Pendidikan also teaches other world religions. The school follows the national curriculum but adds (as normal) more Islamic education and puts also a strong emphasis on art and music. We were informed that several contemporary exponents of liberal Islam and women's studies in Indonesia come from this pesantren.

            During the delegation's visit to Jombang, we visited several NU-pesantren. As explained by Lily Munir and experienced during our visit, pesantren are in many senses "family businesses" which has never been under the entire control of the authorities (although the pesantren are formally under the Ministry of Religious Affairs).

In connection with our visit to the Sunan Ampel pesantren (which was founded by Lily Munir's father, Mahfudz Anwar), Lily Munir presented a plan for a "Pesantren Pluralism Project". The projects aims at strengthening international perspectives, interfaith openness and gender awareness in the educational programs of Sunan Ampel pesantren and Sunan Ampel formal junior high school.

In Jombang, we also met with teachers at the al-Anwar pesantren which was founded by Mahfudz Anwar’s father who (in accordance with the NU custom) came to Jombang in order to establish a pesantren in a "virgin" area. Aimed at fighting social vices such as theft, prostitution, gambling and drinking, this and other pesantren were thought of not only as a base for traditional Islamic learning but also as a "civilising" project. Whereas the pesantren originally focused only on memorising the Qur’an and the Sunna, the students are now studying a wide array of sources such as classical works on fiqh and al-Ghazali's "Revival of the religious sciences".

During our encounter with kiai Abdul Aziz Manshoer, he underlined that his pesantren "teach respect of all religions, as long as they don’t disturb each others. Disputes should be solved by dialogue, not violence. These are the basic teachings here; but it varies how they are interpreted." As for the general, educational vision, Abdul Aziz Manshoer emphasised that any kiai is supposed to be a 24 hours model for the students. But the ultimate goal is the full independence of the students. (The pesantren ideal is not to become a civil servant but rather to become an independent agent in civil society – preferably by taking upon oneself tasks within the pesantren system.) Asked about the role of civic education in the pesantren, the kiai responded that "civic education is good and necessary. In our religion, we teach akhlaq (ethics) which includes the virtues of tolerance and respect." Further emphasising that civic education is in full accordance with Islam, he cited a saying of caliph Umar: "The one who knows the language of a society will not be manipulated by it. Also secular education has thus a religious function."

            In the pesantren system, the kiai decides whether a particular pesantren shall be for both sexes or not. Visiting the Seblah pesantren for girls only, which was established in 1929 by Lily Munir's grandfather, we were impressed by well-informed questions put to the (panelled) delegation by the teenagers and their obvious gender awareness.

            In general, the visit to Jombang left the impression of a vivid interaction between "tradition and modernity" in the pesantren system. Conscious of the wide impact that pesantren have not only on the religious and civic formation of children but also as bases of higher Islamic learning, projects aimed at raising gender awareness and widening the international and interreligious outlook in pesantren institutions would seem to have an obvious strategic importance.

            As for current developments in Christian private schools, the delegation was able to inform itself about recent changes in the way religion is taught in Catholic schools in one of the dioceses of Central Java. Catholic schools do not only attract Christian students, but also many Muslims. During a meeting at the catechetical centre of the Catholic church in Yogyakarta, we were told that in 2000, an inclusive Pendidikan Religiositas (Education in/about Religiosity) was introduced as a replacement of the traditional confessional teaching of religion "which even Catholics thought was too dogmatic." The new subject employs an Ignatian type of pedagogy which is reflective and related to life – i.e., not purely intellectual. We were informed that some Muslims leaders have voiced a certain reluctance towards the reflective element, maybe out of a concern that also the fundamentals of faith may be questioned. But most Muslim parents seem to have welcomed the new subject. The textbooks are produced by a interreligious committee and the curriculum is now also tried out in some Protestant schools. Pendidikan Religiositas is taught two hours a week, with extra religious education for the Catholic students. Having begun with the senior secondary level, the new subject will gradually also be introduced in junior secondary and primary school. As to the primary school level, there seemed to be a common understanding that children should be able to learn about their own religion before they are exposed to the faith of the others. For this reason, the new and inclusive subject might is not meant to be introduced until the fourth grade of primary school.

We were informed that before the introduction of the new subject, most Catholic schools did not offer Islamic education, although a few did offer it because of a high percentage of Muslim students and/or political pressure. With reference to the current debate on whether private schools should be obliged to offer multiple choices in religious education, we were informed that the bishop has stated that if parents ask for Islamic education, one should provide it. But no one has done so after the introduction of the new, inclusive subject.

A basic recognition behind the new subject is that religion does not necessarily make people better human beings. It may just as well enhance tension and increase the distance. This must be countered by new and creative models of religious education which help the students to see that different religions have similar moral aims but different terms and means. The values approach is central and the students are challenged to try out the values which they identify together in small local projects. In this way, it is hoped that Pendidikan Religiositas may contribute towards "religious humanity" and prepare the students to be social change agents. According to our informant at the catechetical centre, religious and moral education in an inclusive form may help Christians, Muslims, Buddhists etc. to become better Christians, Muslims, Buddhists – by getting to know each other better and by doing things together to the benefit of the entire community.

8c       Higher education and university co-operation


During our stay, the delegation visited several Muslim and Christian universities: Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic University in Jakarta (formally IAIN), Sunan Kalijaga State Institute of Islamic Studies in Yogyakarta (IAIN), Muhammadiyah University in Yogyakarta, and Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana in Yogyakarta. We also met with people involved in programs at the Catholic Sanata Dharma University and the state Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

            As noted above, the State Institutes of Islamic Studies (IAIN) has played a pivotal role in the development of Islamic thought in Indonesia. In particular, the IAIN in Jakarta and Yogyakarta have been instrumental in merging Islamic reformism and liberal thought. There are 13 IAINs in Indonesia. The IAIN does not train their students in all the traditional disciplines which are necessary in order to join the ranks of the ‘ulama. This task is catered for by thirty theological seminaries run by the state – and by the higher Islamic education which is offered by the pesantren.

IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah in Jakarta was founded in 1957 and is now a full fledged university (UIN) with nine faculties – including a Faculty of Theology (Fakultas Ushuluddin) which includes a Department of Comparative Religion, a Faculty of Shari‘a (Fakultas Syari‘ah) and a Centre for Women's Studies. The representatives of the Centre for Women's Studies informed us that women's studies is a steadily growing field of activitity and research in Indonesia. The Centre is actively seeking co-operation with centres for women's studies in the West.

As part of its theological activity, UIN Syarif Hidayatullah publishes the English/Indonesian journal Studia Islamika which – since its inception in 1994 – has been an important channel for studies in contextual and liberal Islam. In a meeting with rector Azyumardi Azra and several staff members from different faculties, it was explained that the vision of Syarif Hidayatullah was to integrate "Indonesianness, Islamness, and Humanity." Their overarching aim was described as producing tolerant graduates with a modern, "Islam rasional" outlook. It was emphasised that academic institutions cannot approach religion only from the normative point of view – historical, sociological, anthropological perspectives must be added. As mentioned above, Syarif Hidayatullah has also played an important role in developing a new program for Civic Education in schools and universities.

We also had a meeting with rector Amin Abdullah of IAIN Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta, the oldest State Institute of Islamic Studies in Indonesia. As part of its theological program, Sunan Kalijaga publishes a Journal of Islamic Studies in Indonesian and English. Also according to Amin Abdullah, IAIN in Yogyakarta and Jakarta have long been in the forefront with regard to such issues as interfaith dialogue and Islam and the West ("we must explain the Saudis that they misunderstand the West"). More recently, perspectives of comparative religion have been included in Islamic studies, together with interfaith, human rights and gender issues. In the view of Amin Abdullah, "it is useless studying ourselves without considering our relation to others."

Many of their students at Sunan Kalijaga are involved in interfaith activities. As an example of ongoing research in the field of interreligious studies, it was mentioned that a PhD-student is currently writing a dissertation on the difference between a Protestant and Muslim atmosphere in dialogue, exemplified by the work of Interfidei and Paramadina respectively. IAIN Sunan Kalijaga often invites teachers from Protestant and Catholic universities, and many of the students at Sunan Kalijaga make extensive use the library of the Catholic university Sanata Dharma. Furthermore, IAIN supports the new program of Comparative Religion at the prestigious (state) Gadjah Mada University (a program which has recently been introduced in co-operation with Temple University in the United States.) In terms of international relations, Sunan Kalijaga has a long-standing co-operation with Western universities, first of all with McGill University in Canada from which 60-70 MA- and 10-15 PhD-candidates have been graduated (in Islamic studies and Social studies).

With regard to gender issues, IAIN Sunan Kalijaga has a separate program for women’s studies in which the works of such scholars as Riffat Hassan, Amina Wadud and  Fatima Mernissi are read. Gender issues are also integrated in all other subjects at Sunan Kalijaga. In a brief visit to the Centre for Women Studies, it turned out that the staff was busy with a conference on "Deconstruction of Gender".

            During a visit to Muhammadiyah University in Yogyakarta, we were struck by the modern premises of the University and informed that it had been fully financed by Muhammadiyah itself and was thus relatively unaffected by the current economic crisis. On the occasion of the visit from the Oslo Coalition, the University hosted a seminar on "Conflict Resolution in a Pluralist Society". We were informed that the Muhammadiyah University is doing critical research on the implications of the current proposal that Muslim and Christian private schools must be ready to provide multiple choices of religious education in accordance with the religion of the students/parents. With regard to communal conflicts, the Muhammadiyah University has recently been invited by two Catholic universities to join a research project on religion, ethnicity and conflict in Batak/Sumatra, Balang and Yogyakarta.

Fr. Bernhard Kieser, who teaches at the Catholic university Sanata Dharma, noted that although funding is still a problem, the planned project is a promising sign of concrete co-operation between Christian and Muslim universities. As for Sanata Dharma's own approach to interreligious issues, Kieser explained that the traditional course for first year students in Agama (religion) has been modified in tune with the new and inclusive model for religious education which is now tried out in Catholic secondary schools in Central Java.

The Protestant Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana in Yogyakarta is also much involved in interfaith co-operation with other academic institutions. As mentioned above, the work of Emmanuel Gerrit Singgih of Duta Wacana testifies to the fact that also on the Christian side, efforts are made at formulating a contextual theology which takes the relation to the other believer seriously. As an example of cross-institutional co-operation, he mentioned that he had recently been asked to supervise a work carried out by a student in the new program of comparative religion in Gadjah Mada University, on the German Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Duta Wacana's Centre for the Study of Religion engages teachers from IAIN in Yogyakarta in their pastoral courses about Islam. In cooperation with IAIN in Solo, the Centre has recently set up a research project in Solo on religion and ethnic conflict, with the aim of better understanding the local roots of violence. The resarch project will also address the question of whether a desire to reconcile can be identified in the local context. Do the religious communities teach forgiveness and reconciliation? The project is not merely oriented towards theory but aims also at "socialising" its findings in sermons and school curricula.


9       Recommendations


(for internal use)

10     Bibliography

(preparatory material and some material presented to the delegation during the visit)


George Junes Aditjondro: "Guns, pamphlets and handie-talkies. How the military exploited local ethno-religious tensions in Maluku to preserve their political and economic privileges", article from October 2002accessible at (28pp).


Greg Barton: "Indonesia’s Nurcholish Madjid and Abdurrahman Wahid as Intellectual ‘Ulamâ: The Meeting of Islamic Traditionalism and Modernism in neo-Modernist Thought, in Studia Islamika 1997: 1, p. 29-75.


Greg Barton: Neo-Modernism: A Vital Synthesis of Traditionalist and Modernist Islamic Thought in Indonesia, in Studia Islamika, vol. 2, 1995: 3, p. 1-75.


Sven Cederroth: "Indonesien och Malaysia: Mission, synkretism och mystik", in Ingvar Svanberg and David Westerlund: Majoritetens islam, Arena: Stockholm 1994, p. 307-330.


Nelly van Doorn-Harder and Kees de Jong: "The Pilgrimage to Tembayat: Tradition and Revival in Indonesian Islam", in The Muslim World 2001: 3-4, p. 325-353.


Andrée Feilland: "Indonesia´s Emerging Muslim Feminism: Women Leaders on Equality, Inheritance and Other Gender Issues, in Studia Islamika, vol. 4, 1997: 1, p. 83-111.


Faisal Ismail: "Pancasila as the Sole Basis for all Political Parties and for all Mass Organizations; an Account of Muslims´ Responses", in Studia Islamika, vol. 3, 1996: 4, p. 1-92.


Fasli Jalal: "Partnership between Government and Religious Groups. The Role of Madrasah in Basic Education in Indonesia: A Successful Response of Religious Groups to Educate Children of their Community", Ministry of National Education n.d. (2000?)


Interfidei: Newsletter Interfidei, Edisi Khusus 2001 (42 pp).


Robert W. Hefner: "Modernity and the Challenge of Pluralism: Some Indonesian Lessons", in Studia Islamika, vol. 2, 1995: 4, p. 1-45.


Ishak P. Lambe: "The Present Situation in Indonesia and the Role of the Church and the PGI", paper presented to the The Indonesia Round Table Meeting, 10-11, May 2001 in Geneva, and to the Tripartite Meeting, 14-16 May 2001, in San Francisco (15 pp).


Nurcholish Majid: "Islamic Roots of Moderne Pluralism. Indonesian Experiences", in Studia Islamika, vol. 1, 1994:1, p. 55-77.


J. Mangkey: "The Church in Indonesia: Facing New Challenges towards a New Indonesia", paper presented to the Annual Conference of Kirche in Not/Ostpriesterhilfe, Königngstein, Germany, 19 September 2002 – accessible at (9pp)


Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ: "Religious Freedom in Indonesia: Situation and Prospects", article from April 2001 accessible at (5 pp).


Fred R. von der Mehden: art. "Indonesia", in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, vol. ?, p. 198.


Mujiburrahman: "Islam and Politics in Indonesia: the political thought of Abdurrahman Wahid", in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 10, 1999: 3, p. 339-352.


Ibrahim Abu Rabi‘: "Christian-Muslim Relations in Indonesia: The Challenges of the Twenty-First Century", in Studia Islamika 1998: 1, p. 1-23.


Peter G. Riddell: "The Diverse Voices of Political Islam in Post-Suharto Indonesia",  in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 13, 2002: 1, p. 65-84.


Ismatu Ropi: "Depicting the Other Faith: A Bibliographical Survey of Indonesian Muslim Polemics on Christianity, in Studia Islamika, vol. 6, 1999: 1, p. 79-120.


Abdullah Saeed: "Ijtihad and Innovation in Neo-Modernist Islamic Thought in Indonesia", in in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 8, 1997: 3, p. 279-296.


E. G. Singgih: "Communicating the Bible in the Context of Religious Pluralism in Indonesia", paper presented to the Consultation on Communication & Theological Education for Asia in the 21st Century, World Association for Christian Communication-Asia Region, January 22-25, 2002, Sabah, Malaysia (10 pp).


Karel Steenbrink: "Interpretations of Christian-Muslim Violence in the Moluccas", in Studies in Interreligious Dialogue, vol. 11, 2001: 1, p. 1-21.


Tarmizi Taher: Aspiring for the Middle Path. Religious Harmony in Indonesia. Jakarta: Center for the Study of Islam and Society 1997.


The Asia Foundation/USINDO: "Islam in Modern Indonesia. A Joint Conference Sponsored by The United States-Indonesia Society and The Asia Foundation", conference report, 2002 – accessible at the web-site of The Asia Foundation (58 pp).


Olle Törnquist (ed.): "Political Violence: Indonesia and India in Comparative Perspective, SUM Report No. 9, Center For Development and the Environment", University of Oslo, 2000 (61 pp).