In recent years Islamism has grown in Indonesia, though the government is working to combat extremism and re-assert the state philosophy of “Pancasila” that created a society of marked religious tolerance until a few decades ago.
President Joko Widodo’s government has successfully dissolved two hard-line Islamist organisations (Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and the Islamic Defenders Front). However, a new group – the Islamic Reformist Movement – allegedly funded by Saudi Arabia, has since emerged.
During Christmas 2021 the government deployed almost 180,000 police officers to protect public places, including churches, from attack.
Hostility from Muslims towards Christians varies across Indonesia, a vast country comprising thousands of islands. Although central government is often supportive of Christians, provincial and local authorities may be hostile. Hostility is most severe in the semi-autonomous province of Aceh, the only province governed by sharia (Islamic law).
In September 2022 a church in Cilegon, Banten province, was refused permission to construct a new building by local authorities. This refusal was in line with a 1975 agreement but Christians and moderate Muslims argued in 2022 that the agreement should no longer apply. Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, a Muslim and Minister of Religious Affairs, criticised the decision. Yaqut had previously promised to combat “Islamic populism”.
Muhammad Kace, an Islamic cleric who became a Christian, was in October 2021 brutally beaten by fellow prisoners after being arrested for alleged “blasphemy”. He was sentenced to ten years in prison (subsequently reduced to six).
A 2006 decree forbids religious services in private residences and requires places of worship to have at least 90 members and approval from 60 households of other religions before constructing their own building. An attempt by Christians to overturn the decree was rejected by the Supreme Court in June 2020. Implementation is the responsibility of local authorities, and the decree is not consistently enforced.
Pray for God’s protection over His people, especially in areas where hostility is greatest or terrorists are active. Give thanks for the stance of central government against extremism and ask that moderate voices in Indonesian society will be heeded.