Officially the Indonesian government allows people to choose from six religions. Those religions are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and “Chinese Religions”. All Indonesians must choose one of these six religions and it is stated on a person’s identity card. If a person is not religious then he will usually put “Islam” on his ID card because Muslims get more privileges than people of other religions.
Islam came to Indonesia through Middle Eastern and Chinese traders in the 14th century. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Eighty-eight percent, or 202.9 million, Indonesians identify themselves as Muslim (Wikipedia). Most Indonesian Muslims are considered Folk Muslims; while they may pray regularly and visit the mosque on Friday, they also visit the witch doctor to protect themselves and their homes from evil spirits.
Before Islam, Indonesians were Buddhist and Hindu. This is still evident in the type of Islam practiced in Indonesia. Most of Indonesia’s Hindus live on Bali. The Hinduism practiced in Bali is very different from Hinduism in India. In Bali, one will not find pictures or idols of the 330 million Hindu gods, but altars where offerings are given to spirits.
The oldest Buddhist temple in the world is in Magelang, Central Java. Because most Indonesians are Muslim, it is predominantly now a tourist site. However the temple is still used by the small number of Indonesian Buddhists during the annual celebration of Waisak. Most of the Indonesians who practice Buddhism are of Chinese descent.
“Chinese Religions” is a recent addition to the list of approved religions in Indonesia. It constitutes the smallest minority in Indonesia.
Protestantism and Catholicism are considered separate in Indonesia. The majority of the people in both groups are of Chinese descent. The Batak are also a people group that has been Christian for a long time. Many people who become Christians from another religion do not change their ID card. While it is very easy to change from any religion to Islam, the government makes it almost impossible to change from Islam to any other religion.
In recent years, Christians have faced more persecution. A 2006 Indonesian ministerial decree made it more difficult for Christians to build churches. The intent was to “maintain religious harmony,” but in reality, like many of the other religious laws, it is only enforced on religious minorities. (AINA.org)
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