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Islam in Indonesia

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Islam in Indonesia

Map showing religious composition of Indonesia. Islam is shown in light and dark Green. Islam commands the loyalty of 87.18% of Indonesians.

Indonesia is constitutionally a secular state (but the government officially recognises only six formal religions), with Islam being the dominant religion in the country. Indonesia also has a larger Muslim population than any other country in the world, with approximately 202.9 million identifying themselves as Muslim (87.2% of Indonesia's total population in 2011).[1]

Based on demographic statistics, 99% of Indonesian Muslims mainly follow the Shafi'i school of Sunni jurisprudence,[2][3] although when asked, 56% does not adhere to any specific denomination.[4] There are around one million Shias (0.5%), who are concentrated around Jakarta,[5] and about 400,000 Ahmadi Muslims (0.2%).[6] The remaining 0.3% are adherents of other branches including Wahhabism/Salafism etc. In general, Muslims in Indonesia can be categorised in terms of two orientations: "modernists" who closely adhere to orthodox theology while embracing modern learning, "traditionalists," who tend to follow the interpretations of local religious leaders and religious teachers at Islamic boarding schools (pesantren).


  • History 1
    • Spread of Islam (1200–1600) 1.1
    • European colonisation 1.2
    • Post independence 1.3
  • Demographics 2
  • Organisations 3
  • Society 4
  • Religious freedom 5
    • Shari'a in Aceh 5.1
    • Islamic customs 5.2
    • Ahmadis 5.3
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Notes 8
  • Further reading 9


Spread of Islam (1200–1600)

Indonesian Muslim recite Al Quran in Masjid Istiqlal, Jakarta, Indonesia

There is evidence of Arab Muslim traders entering Indonesia as early as the 8th century.[7] Indonesia's historical inhabitants were animists, Hindus and Buddhists.[8] However it was not until the end of the 13th century that the spread of Islam began.[7]

The spread, although at first introduced through Arab Muslim traders, continued to saturate through the Indonesian people as local rulers and royalty began to adopt it, subsequently their subjects would mirror their conversion. The spread of Islam continued as Muslim traders married the local women, with some of the wealthier traders marrying into the families of the ruling elite.[9]

In general, traders and the royalty of major kingdoms were the first to adopt the new religion. By the end of the thirteenth century, Islam had been established in Northern Sumatra; by the fourteenth in northeast Malaya, Brunei, the southwestern Philippines and among some courts of coastal East and Central Java; and the fifteenth in Malacca and other areas of the Malay Peninsula. Dominant kingdoms included Samudra Pasai in northern Sumatra, Demak Sultanate and Mataram in Central Java, and the sultanates of Ternate and Tidore in the Maluku Islands to the east.

Through assimilation related to trade, royal conversion, and conquest, Islam had supplanted Hinduism and Buddhism as the dominant religion of Java and Sumatra by the end of the 16th century. The eastern islands remained largely animist until adopting Islam and Christianity in the 17th and 18th centuries, whereas Bali still retains a Hindu majority.[10] During this process "cultural influences from the Hindu-Buddhist era were mostly tolerated or incorporated into Islamic rituals".[7]

Despite being one of the most significant developments in Indonesian history, historical evidence is fragmentary and generally uninformative such that understandings of the coming of Islam to Indonesia are limited; there is considerable debate amongst scholars about what conclusions can be drawn about the conversion of Indonesian peoples.[11] The primary evidence, at least of the earlier stages of the process, are gravestones and a few travellers' accounts, but these can only show that indigenous Muslims were in a certain place at a certain time. This evidence cannot explain more complicated matters such as how lifestyles were affected by the new religion or how deeply it affected societies. It cannot be assumed, for example, that because a ruler was known to be a Muslim, that the process of Islamisation of that area was complete; rather the process was, and remains to this day, a continuous process in Indonesia. Although it is known that the spread of Islam began in the west of the archipelago, the fragmentary evidence does not suggest a rolling wave of conversion through adjacent areas; rather, it suggests the process was complex and slow.

By the late fifteenth century, the Majapahit Empire in Java had begun its decline. This last Hindu kingdom in Java fell under the rising power of the Islamized Sultanate of Demak in the 1520s; in 1527, the Muslim ruler renamed newly conquered Sunda Kelapa as Jayakarta meaning "precious victory" which was eventually contracted to Jakarta. Islam in Java then began to spread formally, building on the spiritual influences of the Wali Songo (or Nine Saints).

European colonisation

Mosque in Pati, Central Java, in the early 20th century in Indonesia

The Dutch entered the region in the 17th century due to its lucrative wealth established through the region's natural resources and trade. The Maluku Islands in the Indonesian archipelago were known as the "spice islands". The country's natural spices, including nutmeg, pepper, clove, were highly prized. Other popular trade items of the area include sandalwood, rubber and teak.[12]

Although the entering of Indonesia resulted in a monopoly of the central trading ports, through closed trading ports, this helped the spread of Islam, as the local Muslim traders relocated to the smaller more remote ports, establishing Islam into the more rural provinces of the region.[12]

Towards the beginning of the 20th century "Islam became a rallying banner to resist colonialism"[7] There was a move, inspired by the Islamic scholar, Muhammad 'Abduh, to return to the original scripture of the religion. The movement "built schools that combined an Islamic and secular curriculum" and was unique in that it trained women as preachers for women.[7] The activities of the reformers and the reactions of their opponents, Indonesian society became more firmly structured along communal (aliran) rather than class lines.[13]

The Minangkabau ulema played an important role in the early reform movement.[14]:353 In 1906, Tahir bin Jalaluddin published al-Iman, the Malay newspaper in Singapore. Five years later followed publication of al-Munir newspaper in Padang. In the first 20th century, Muslim modernist school arose in West Sumatra, such as Adabiah (1909), Diniyah Putri (1911), and Sumatera Thawalib (1915). Later, Islamic movement also developed in Java with the birth of the NU and Muhammadiyah.[14]:356

Post independence

Eid al-Fitr mass prayer in Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia

When Indonesia declared independence in 1945, it became the second largest Muslim-majority nation in the world; following the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, it emerged as the most populous Muslim country in the world. Today about 88% of Indonesia's 235 million people is Muslim. In recent years there has been a trend toward a more orthodox interpretation of Islam.

Upon independence there was significant controversy surrounding the role of Islam in politics; this caused enormous tensions. Eventually, "Indonesia adopted a civil code instead of an Islamic one".[12]

In the New Order years (Suharto's presidency), there was an intensification of religious belief amongst Muslims.[15] Under the Suharto regime, all Islamic parties were forced to unite under one government-supervised Islamic party, the Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (Party for Unity and Development or PPP).[7] With Suharto's resignation in 1998, "the structure that repressed religion and society collapsed".[7]

Currently "Muslims are now fully represented in the democratically elected parliament".[7] However, some critics assert that this has led to the emergence of such extremist groups as Laskar Jihad and Jemaah Islamiyah. Abu Bakar Bashir is an example of an extremist leader, exiled from Indonesia under Suharto, who returned to re-establish a support base.


Islamic Centre Mosque in Samarinda, East Kalimantan

Muslims constitute a majority in most regions of Java, Sumatra, West Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi, coastal areas of Kalimantan, and North Maluku. Muslims form distinct minorities in Papua, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, parts of North Sumatra, most inland areas of Kalimantan, and North Sulawesi. Together, these non-Muslim areas originally constituted more than one third of Indonesia prior to the massive transmigration effort sponsored by the Suharto government and recent spontaneous internal migration.

Internal migration has altered the demographic makeup of the country over the past three decades. It has increased the percentage of Muslims in formerly predominantly Christian eastern parts of the country. By the early 1990s, Christians became a minority for the first time in some areas of the Maluku Islands. While government-sponsored transmigration from heavily populated Java and Madura to less populated areas contributed to the increase in the Muslim population in the resettlement areas, no evidence suggests that the Government intended to create a Muslim majority in Christian areas, and most Muslim migration seemed spontaneous. Regardless of its intent, the economic and political consequences of the transmigration policy contributed to religious conflicts in Maluku, Central Sulawesi, and to a lesser extent in Papua.


Jong Islamieten Bond (Young Muslim Union) delegates in Youth Pledge. Batavia, 1928

Suharto counted himself as one of its adherents. The Kebatinan or Kepercayaan have no certain prophet, sacred book, nor distinct religious festivals and rituals; it has more to do with each adherents internalised transcendental vision and beliefs in their relations with the supreme being. As the result there is an inclusiveness that the kebatinan believer could identify themselves with one of six officially recognised religions, at least in their identity card, and still maintain their kebatinan belief and way of life.

Kebatinan is generally characterised as mystical, and some varieties were concerned with spiritual self-control. Although there were many varieties circulating in 1992, kebatinan often implies pantheistic worship because it encourages sacrifices and devotions to local and ancestral spirits. These spirits are believed to inhabit natural objects, human beings, artefacts, and grave sites of important wali (Muslim saints). Illness and other misfortunes are traced to such spirits, and if sacrifices or pilgrimages fail to placate angry deities, the advice of a dukun or healer is sought. Kebatinan, while it connotes a turning away from the militant universalism of orthodox Islam, moves toward a more internalised universalism. In this way, kebatinan moves toward eliminating the distinction between the universal and the local, the communal and the individual.

Another notable view is the division between traditionalist and modernist Islam. The nature of these differences was complex, confusing, and a matter of considerable debate in the early 1990s, but traditionalists generally rejected the modernists' interest in absorbing educational and organizational principles from the West. Specifically, traditionalists were suspicious of modernists' support of the urban madrasa, a reformist school that included the teaching of secular topics. Traditionalists also sought to add a clause to the first tenet of the Pancasila state ideology requiring that, in effect, all Muslims adhere to the sharia.[20]

Despite these differences, the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama, the progressive Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims (Masyumi), and two other parties were forcibly streamlined into a single Islamic political party in 1973 — the United Development Party (PPP). Such cleavages may have weakened Islam as an organised political entity, as demonstrated by the withdrawal of the Nahdlatul Ulama from active political competition, but as a popular religious force Islam showed signs of good health and a capacity to frame national debates.

Women's higher employment rate is also an important difference between Indonesian and Middle East cultures.

Religious freedom

The Indonesian Constitution provides "all persons the right to worship according to their own religion or belief" and states that "the nation is based upon belief in one supreme God." The Government generally respects these provisions; however, some restrictions exist on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognised religions.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs extends official status to seven faiths: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Bahá’í. Religious organisations other than the six recognised faiths can register with the Government, but only with the Ministry for Culture and Tourism and only as social organisations. This restricts certain religious activities. Unregistered religious groups cannot rent venues to hold services and must find alternative means to practice their faiths.

Although it has an overwhelming Muslim majority, the country is not an Islamic state. Article 29 of Indonesia’s Constitution however affirms that “the state is based on the belief in the one supreme God.” Atheism and agnosticism are not explicitly outlawed but socially stigmatised.

Over the past 50 years, many Islamic groups sporadically have sought to establish an Islamic state, but the country's mainstream Muslim community, including influential social organisations such as Muhammadiyah and NU, reject the idea. Proponents of an Islamic state argued unsuccessfully in 1945 and throughout the parliamentary democracy period of the 1950s for the inclusion of language (the "Jakarta Charter") in the Constitution's preamble making it obligatory for Muslims to follow Shari'a. During the Suharto regime, the Government prohibited all advocacy of an Islamic state. With the loosening of restrictions on freedom of speech and religion that followed the fall of Suharto in 1998, proponents of the "Jakarta Charter" resumed advocacy efforts. This proved the case prior to the 2002 Annual Session of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), a body that has the power to change the Constitution. The nationalist political parties, regional representatives elected by provincial legislatures, and appointed police, military, and functional representatives, who together held a majority of seats in the MPR, rejected proposals to amend the Constitution to include Shari'a, and the measure never came to a formal vote. The MPR approved changes to the Constitution that mandated that the Government increase "faith and piety" in education. This decision, seen as a compromise to satisfy Islamist parties, set the scene for a controversial education bill signed into law in July 2003.

Shari'a in Aceh

A proper Muslim-style outfit billboard in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, The text is Indonesian, the left picture says "Wrong clothing", the right picture says "Correct clothing"

Shari'a generated debate and concern during 2004, and many of the issues raised touched on religious freedom. Aceh remained the only part of the country where the central Government specifically authorised Shari'a. Law 18/2001 granted Aceh special autonomy and included authority for Aceh to establish a system of Shari'a as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, national civil and criminal law. Before it could take effect, the law required the provincial legislature to approve local regulations ("qanun") incorporating Shari'a precepts into the legal code. Law 18/2001 states that the Shari'a courts would be "free from outside influence by any side." Article 25(3) states that the authority of the court will only apply to Muslims. Article 26(2) names the national Supreme Court as the court of appeal for Aceh's Shari'a courts.

Aceh is the only province that has Shari'a courts. Religious leaders responsible for drafting and implementing the Shari'a regulations stated that they had no plans to apply criminal sanctions for violations of Shari'a. Islamic law in Aceh, they said, would not provide for strict enforcement of fiqh or hudud, but rather would codify traditional Acehnese Islamic practice and values such as discipline, honesty, and proper behaviour. They claimed enforcement would not depend on the police but rather on public education and societal consensus.

Because Muslims make up the overwhelming majority of Aceh's population, the public largely accepted Shari'a, which in most cases merely regularised common social practices. For example, a majority of women in Aceh already covered their heads in public. Provincial and district governments established Shari'a bureaus to handle public education about the new system, and local Islamic leaders, especially in North Aceh and Pidie, called for greater government promotion of Shari'a as a way to address mounting social ills. The imposition of martial law in Aceh in May 2003 had little impact on the implementation of Shari'a. The Martial Law Administration actively promoted Shari'a as a positive step toward social reconstruction and reconciliation. Some human rights and women's rights activists complained that implementation of Shari'a focused on superficial issues, such as proper Islamic dress, while ignoring deep-seated moral and social problems, such as corruption.

Islamic customs

There were no reports of forced religious conversion. This coincided with a continuing de-escalation of violence in the country's main areas of interreligious conflict: the eastern provinces of Maluku, North Maluku, and Central Sulawesi.

Some Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist holy days are national holidays. Muslim holy days celebrated include the Isra and Mi'raj, Idul Fitr, Idul Adha, the Islamic New Year, and the Prophet's Birthday. National Christian holy days are Christmas Day, Good Friday, Pentecost, Easter and the Ascension of Christ. Three other national holidays are the Hindu holiday Nyepi, the Buddhist holiday Waisak, and Chinese New Year, celebrated by Confucians and other Chinese. On Bali all Hindu holy days are regional holidays, and public servants and others did not work on Saraswati Day, Galungan, and Kuningan.

The Government has a monopoly on organising the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and in February, following the latest hajj, the Department of Religious Affairs drew sharp criticism for mismanaging the registration of approximately 30,000 prospective pilgrims after they had paid the required fees . The Government unilaterally expanded the country's quota of 205,000 pilgrims, claiming it had informal approval from the Saudi Government, an assertion that proved incorrect. Members of the House of Representatives have sponsored a bill to set up an independent institution, thus ending the department's monopoly.


Ahmadiyya followers recognise Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a prophet, while other mainstream Muslim groups recognise Muhammad as the absolutely final prophet, and consider contradiction of Muhammad's finality to be blasphemy.[21] In the past, mosques and other facilities belonging to Ahmadis had been damaged by offended Muslims in Indonesia; more recently, rallies have been held demanding that the sect be banned and some religious clerics have demanded Ahmadis be killed.[22][23]

See also


  • Ricklefs, M. C. (1991). A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1300, Second Edition. MacMillan.  


  1. ^ Miller, Tracy, ed. (October 2009), Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population (PDF),  
  2. ^
  3. ^ Religious clash in Indonesia kills up to six, Straits Times, 6 February 2011
  4. ^ "Chapter 1: Religious Affiliation". The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity.  
  5. ^ Reza, Imam. "Shia Muslims Around the World". Retrieved 11 June 2009. approximately 400,000 persons who subscribe to the Ahmadiyya 
  6. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report 2008". US Department of State. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Martin, Richard C. (2004). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World Vol. 2 M-Z. Macmillan. 
  8. ^ Duff, Mark (25 October 2002). "Islam in Indonesia". BBC News. 
  9. ^ Rhoads Murphey (1992). A history of Asia. HarperCollins. 
  10. ^ Aquino, Michael. "An Overview of Balinese Culture". Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  11. ^ Ricklefs, M.C. (1991). A History of Modern Indonesia since c.1300, 2nd Edition. London: MacMillan. p. 3.  
  12. ^ a b c Ehito Kimura (2002). "Indonesia and Islam Before and After 9/11". 
  13. ^ Ricklefs (1991), p. 285
  14. ^ a b Ricklefs, M.C. (1991). A History of Modern Indonesia 1200-2004. London: MacMillan. 
  15. ^ Ricklefs (1994), p. 285
  16. ^ Ranjan Ghosh (4 January 2013). Making Sense of the Secular: Critical Perspectives from Europe to Asia. Routledge. pp. 202–.  
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ [2] Wakhid Sugiyarto, Study of the 'Santrinisation' process
  20. ^ Bruinessen, Martin van. "Islamic state or state Islam? Fifty years of state-Islam relations in Indonesia" in Ingrid Wessel (Hrsg.), Indonesien am Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts. Hamburg: Abera-Verlag, 1996, pp. 19-34.
  21. ^ Indosiar news
  22. ^ Ahmadiyya (Nearly) banned. Indonesia Matters
  23. ^ "Indonesian Muslims rally for ban on Ahmadiyya sect". Reuters. 20 April 2008. 

Further reading

  • Gade, Anna M. Perfection Makes Practice: Learning, Emotion, and the Recited Qur’ân in Indonesia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
  • Munjid, Achmad. "Is Indonesian Islam tolerant?" (Archive) (Opinion) The Jakarta Post. Friday 14 September 2012.
, there was the current of santri In contrast to the Mecca-oriented philosophy of most

These historical processes gave rise to enduring tensions between orthodox Muslims and more syncretistic, locally based religion — tensions that were still visible in the early 1990s. On Java, for instance, this tension was expressed in a contrast between the traditionalist santri and abangan, an indigenous blend of native and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs with Islamic practices sometimes also called Javanism, kejawen, agama Jawa, or kebatinan. The terms and precise nature of this opposition were still in dispute in the early 1990s, but on Java santri not only referred to a person who was consciously and exclusively Muslim, it also described persons who had removed themselves from the secular world to concentrate on devotional activities in Islamic schools called pesantren—literally "the place of the santri".

To a significant degree, the striking variations in the practice and interpretation of Islam — in a much less austere form than that practised in the Middle East — in various parts of Indonesia reflect its complex history. Introduced piecemeal by various traders and wandering mystics from India, Islam first gained a foothold between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries in coastal regions of Sumatra, northern Java, and Kalimantan. Islam probably came to these regions in the form of mystical Sufi tradition. Sufism easily gained local acceptance and became synthesised with local customs. The introduction of Islam to the islands was not always peaceful, however. As Islamized port towns undermined the waning power of the east Javanese Hindu/Buddhist Majapahit kingdom in the sixteenth century, Javanese elites fled to Bali, where over 2.5 million people kept their own version of Hinduism alive. Unlike coastal Sumatra, where Islam was adopted by elites and masses alike, partly as a way to counter the economic and political power of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, in the interior of Java the elites only gradually accepted Islam, and then only as a formal legal and religious context for Javanese spiritual culture.

A mosque in Bukittinggi, with traditional Minangkabau roof architecture
Children studying Quran in Java during Dutch colonial periods


Separate from the country's dominant Islam population, a small minority of persons subscribe to the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam. However, this group maintains 242 branches throughout the country. In 1980 the Indonesian Council of Ulamas (MUI) issued a "fatwa" (a legal opinion or decree issued by an Islamic religious leader) declaring that the Ahmadis are not a legitimate form of Islam.

Equally controversial are groups at the other end of this spectrum such as Indonesian Islamic Propagation Institute (LDII) continues to grow.[19]

A number of smaller Islamic organisations cover a broad range of Islamic doctrinal orientations. At one end of the ideological spectrum lies the controversial Islam Liberal Network (JIL), which aims to promote a pluralistic and more liberal interpretation of Islamic thinking.

Muhammadiyah head office in Jakarta. It is the second largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia.
The leading national "modernist" social organisation,

Founded in 1926, NU has a nationwide presence but remains strongest in rural Java. It follow ideology of Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaah with Sufism of Imam Ghazali and Junaid Bagdadi. Many NU followers give great deference to the views, interpretations, and instructions of senior NU religious figures, alternately called "Kyais" or "Ulama." The organisation has long advocated religious moderation and communal harmony. [17][16]

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