The practice of indigenous beliefs predates the introduction of religions like Islam and Christianity by centuries. In other words, it is known as agama asli Nusantara, or otherwise understood as the original religion of Indonesia. That alone is enough to point out how much of an important asset it is in Indonesian culture. Centuries of practice and even in the present day, it is still prevalent with a recorded population of 138.791 believers as of 31st July 2017.
Why Local Beliefs are not Considered an Official Religion?
Ironically, those that believe in these beliefs are treated with the least respect, be it in the form of unfair treatment, restrictions, or even belittlement. An example of such includes but is not limited to legal mistreatment. Some cases of the ill treatment mentioned previously are having difficulties in obtaining permits for open gatherings and marriage licenses.
In a country where religion is regarded highly enough to the extent of being legally obligated to have one, it raises the question of why local beliefs are not considered an official religion. The issue of inadequate recognition has existed for quite some time, and yet little has been done over the years in efforts to resolve it.
It was only until somewhat recently, specifically on 7th November 2017, that the Indonesian Constitutional Court stepped in and made somewhat of a change to the status quo. On that eventful day, citizens were officially given the choice to list their religion as penghayat kepercayaan on their national ID cards.
Local believers were finally liberated from either have it blank or being forced to identify with one of the six official religions, which is usually adjusted to match the major religion of the region they reside in. It is unfortunate that some people have no choice but to fake something as individualistic an private as religion due to not being facilitated.
The Majority of Local Believers Still Face Discrimination Among the Public
But truthfully, the ruling did not really make a significant change, since it merely accommodated penghayat kepercayaan as a choice in the religion column of the national ID rather than actually recognizing it as the seventh official religion. Several prominent Muslim leaders even agreed that local beliefs is merely a cultural practice that should not be considered equal to religion in the eye of Indonesian law.
One of the reasons they invalidate local beliefs as a religion is due to the specific criteria they uphold, such as having a concept of God, a scripture, and a prophet-like figure. Though this quite a flawed way of thinking considering that despite the many types of local religions that exist, all of them believe in Tuhan Yang Maha Esa (God Almighty). Because of that, the majority of local believers still face discrimination among the public, such as facing difficulties in applying for jobs due to what they believe in. There was even news regarding local beliefs teachers not being paid despite fulfilling their responsibilities as educators.
However, such an occurrence should not even happen in the first place, considering how the law says otherwise. The 1945 Constitution, a considerably fundamental source of law in Indonesia, declares that the freedom of worship is guaranteed to all, each according to one’s own religion and belief. That alone should be a sufficient reason for the public to be more tolerant and understanding towards practitioners of indigenous beliefs as if it were truly the seventh official religion.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the many local beliefs that exist themselves, nor with the teachings and rituals. Because at the end of the day, what matters most is how one applies the teachings of their beliefs in their lives regardless of what they may believe.
Writer: Rizka Vanissa Alifia
Student of Sampoerna University