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Bid for religious curbs in Indonesia

Bid for religious curbs in Indonesia

Author: Devi Asmarani
Publication: The Straits Times
Date: November 2, 2003
URL: http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/asia/story/0,4386,217704,00.html

Introduction: Muslim hardliners draft Religious Tolerance Bill to stymie spread of Christianity, but some Islamic groups say the move would be divisive

Muslim hardliners, fearing the spread of Christianity, are pushing for a Bill to place curbs on religious activities in Indonesia.

Among other things, it will restrict the building of new churches and subject foreign aid for religious groups to government scrutiny.

One article in the draft Bill states that religious rituals will be restricted to members of the faith, in effect putting the brakes on conversion efforts by Christian groups.

The proposed measure will also ban a person from converting to another religion upon marriage.

Adoption of children across religious divides will also be forbidden.

Although the proposed Bill on Religious Tolerance is ostensibly for maintaining religious harmony, analysts here see it as the latest bid by conservatives in the government to put an Islamic stamp on Indonesia by legislative means.

A team in the Religious Ministry, backed by several Islamic political parties, drafted the Bill.

It is expected to be tabled soon for debate in Parliament.

It is backed by the conservative Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the nation's Islamic authority, and hardline groups such as the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia.

However, mainstream moderate Muslim bodies such as the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah reject the move as retrogressive and a source of potential religious tension.

They and religious minorities argue that religious tolerance is not something that can be legislated.

Muslim scholar Ahmad Baso of Desantara, an independent think-tank, told The Straits Times: 'This Bill only creates more division between religious worshippers.'

'Not only will it affect the non-Muslims, it will also cause tension among the Muslims as it will lead to attempts to forge a uniformity of religious interpretation.

'MUI will have too much power.'

Others pointed to the dangers of government intervention in matters of faith.

The chairman of the Council of Churches in Indonesia, Mr Nathan Setiabudi, told The Straits Times: 'I fear that the law would be used to justify moves by certain groups to repress others who are not in line with their beliefs.'

Many like him fear some Muslim-based parties are pushing their religious agenda into public policies.

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