Posted by: Jamilin Sirait | March 24, 2010

Human Rights and Religious Freedom

Part I


It is a wonderful opportunity for me to attend this conference and participate in giving contribution on human rights and religious freedom as I may see in my own  context and situation nowadays. I come from Huria Kristen Batak Protestant (HKBP) with the members of four million people spread in the whole areas of Indonesia, served by 1380 pastors, hundred teacher preachers, biblewomen,  deacons and elders. HKBP was formed from the initial names of four missionaries who met in Sipirok, South Tapanuli on October 7, 1861 that are: Heine, Klammer, Betz, and Van Asselt. The date of their meeting was stated as the birth of Batak Church. It seems, the missionaries realized the difficulties to work in South Tapanuli because the most of the people already confessed Islam. Then they left South Tapanuli and then moved to North Tapanuli. The people in North Tapanuli was more opened to welcome missionaries. But the successful spread of mission in Batak land happened one year later after the meeting of the four missionaries. It was Dr Inger Ludgiw Nommensen sent by RMG who was more successful to convert the Batak people from tribal religion into Christianity by doing the cultural approach. He has been called as the Apostle of Batak. Before the centennial of HKBP, his name was commemorated by founding a University, that is HKBP Nommensen University.

However, we have to say that not all Batak people simultaneously to be Christians. In fact, besides Islam there are still many as the adherents of Batak tribal religion. Although the majority of Batak in North Tapanuli are Christians but in the contrary the majority of people in South Tapanuli are Muslim. So we can not claim that Batak people must be Christian or Islam,  everyone is free to choose a religion according to his/her conscience. We together recognize that there is no coercion in religion. It is possible for members of one Batak family confessing several religions, that is Islam, Christianity and tribal religion. For a long time, normally the adherents of different religions do not disturb and hurt each other but have a good relationship as one family. The people of different religions meet at the traditional ceremony (festival, wedding ceremony), in the market and live together in one village. We have a culture (“adat”) as the rallying point that bind ourselves in unity. Unfortunately, coinciding with the recent situation globally where the religious fundamentalism has been rising and now spread also in Indonesia, the good relationship between different religions in many areas of our country (including in South Tapanuli) begun to be disturbed. It was worsened by the new governmental system of Indonesia where many local governments have an opportunity to implement the local autonomous law based on Shari’ah of Islam. We are facing a serious problem because in many areas the minority experience the restriction of  the human rights and religious freedom. Although all people recognizing human rights and religious freedom theoretically but it is not  really performed pratically. So the disccussion of the topic in this conference is very useful for me, I hope that we can share each other how to overcome the challenge we are facing in our own country. 


Peace on Religions and the New Situation of Indonesia

Generally speaking, each religion teaches its adherents to implement the mutual respect and let the others performing their religious obligation based on their belief. Viewed from the basic teaching of religion, no one of the religions commands its members to do violence toward others. Principally, all religions have concern for the peace of the world. The popular motto of Hans Kung: There is no peace among the nations without peace among the religions, there is no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions”   is accepted by most of us generally. Peace is the core and basic teaching all religions. Muslims believe that Islam coming from Arabic word “aslama” means peace. Therefore, Islam is a peaceful religion. Likewise, if we talk concerning the Christianity, the Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the final appearance of God into the world. He is the only true Love who suffered to redeem all people from sin and transgression. Then He asked His followers to love anybody, including the enemies. Love is the greatest and first commandment (Matt. 22:37-40). So, when we speak about peace in the religions, the principles of human rights and religious freedom should become the actual signs hold by the religious adherents. 

However in fact, as we may see in the history of the religions, the different belief had been used to fire the hostility and war between the different religious people. We can not  neglect that the tension and suspicion of different adherents of religions sometimes happened anywhere. The reason of the tension and suspicion are various, either based on economic injustice, political factors or by mis-interpreting of the Holy Books. Actually, the most influential is economic and political factor. But it is hidden in the backside. At the surface the religious difference and sentiment appears as the real reason of conflict. It means that religions still have intergrative or disintegrative power.

We have to recognize, besides the economic and political factors, one of the crucial factors of tension and suspicion which results in conflict coming from the interpreting of mission (Islam: da’wah). Muslims are sure that Islam is a missionary religion. Therefore it is an obligation for every Muslim to propagate Islam and convert the others to be Muslim. The same understanding we have also in the Christianity. Based on the understanding of mission as a main task of all religious adherents necessitated in the holy books, either Muslims or Christians couregously struggle to convert the others to multiply the number of members to become one line in their faith.

In Indonesia, the issue of proselytization have become a crucial problem which it really disturbs the relationship between the people of different religions. The Muslims are suspicious toward the missionary zeal of Christians. It is worsened by the slogan of Charismatic movement: “Love has been overwhelming Indonesia”. So in many publications of Islamic fundamentalism we can read the statement which declares the Christians as the dangerous enemies. Responding the opinion of those Muslims we have to say that it is not wholly true.  Although in fact, there is more than three hundred Church’s organization in Indonesia nowadays, the Muslims should not generalize all Christians in the one line.  The members of the mainline Churches whom the Evangelical missionaries suppose to be the deviate Christians become also the target of their mission. They have been successful to influence many of mainline churches’ members abandoning their original Church. It results also the tension and suspicion in the internal circles of Christians.

On the contrary, the implementation of Islamic Shari’ah in many areas of Indonesia is viewed by the Christians as a part of Islamization process.  There are about 50 local governments which implement the local law based on Shari’ah. The Christians consider the implementation of Shari’ah as a restriction to their freedom in the area where they live and work. On the contrary, the local government in the Christian area, like North Tapanuli never hinder the number of Muslims. The number of mosque also increases significantly. In Toba Samosir which is the total population is 210.925, the number of Muslim is 18.827. Many pesantrens (specific Islamic schools) has been built in the area where Muslim as a minority. The negative attitude toward Islam was worsened by the fact of suffering of Christians in Indonesia in the recent times. Since the second half of the last century there have been 1.044 churches building burnt, destructed and banned to be built.

However, as I mentioned above, we should not generalize the Muslim at all. The majority of Indonesian Muslim is in agreeing with us in keeping peaceful condition in the country. The moderate Muslim is not in one line with the extreme people. Nevertheless, how to treat the tension and suspicion exhaustively is not easy. We are facing the politicians who use the religion as a tool to reach the political goal by firing fanatism of common people without deep understanding of the core teaching their religion. It easly escalates the religious suspicion to become tension and conflict between the different religious adherents. Although the reason of the horizontal conflict is not really based on religious teaching, but the religious factors always appears in surface. It is understoodable, as religious belief is the very inner heart of people, it is easy to use it as a tool to gain the symphaty of society. When the people are more influenced by the religious sentiment, the brutal attitude and acts defeat the core teaching of religions which stress love and good deeds towards others. The people can forget the precious teaching of religion accepted from the original bearer of it. We can see the worse action when the adherents of a religion are in anger, killing people, burning and destructing holy places without taking care of humanitarianism.

The very bad tragedies happened in many areas of Indonesia like in Ambon (Moluccan), Sambas (West Borneo), Poso (Celebes) and other areas which had been making thousands victims.  The people come to the war with swords, machete and other weapons in their hand to kill their enemies with the motto: to kill or to be killed. Although many activists supposed that the reason of those tragedies was not purely religious difference, the political interest was behind all cases, we could not deny the involvement of religious hatred and hostility flaming the situation.

Why the people of the same culture and language killed each other? The answer is not so easy. But with the horrible tragedies we realize that religion has strong influence to the people. Strictly to say, the people of different religion although they come from the same tribe and tradition is easier to fall into hatred and suspicion based on the misconception toward the other religion. It can happen also anywhere and anytime in the world.  

On the last January 2010, two churches building (HKBP and Indonesian Pentacost) were burnt by the unknown people at Sibuhuan, one small village of Padang Lawas (before it was  part of area of South Tapanuli local government ). The HKBP church has been built and used since 1970-s by 150 members of the HKBP Church in that area. Besides it, many HKBP churches in Bekasi, the suburb of Jakarta have been closed and sealed by the local government since January 2010. The reason of the closing was not clear. Usually, the rejection of majority who do not like the church building in their area is used by the local government to refuse the application of building permission. The members of HKBP churches have performed Sunday service at the road outside the church building. It is more ironic, before the tragedy, the building permission which was already got by the HKBP church in Depok (also suburb of Jakarta) from the former local government then cancelled by the new local government.  These cases has prolonged the line of churches’ number which have faced suffering since Suharto step down  as the Indonesian President. Since the government of Habibi there have been thousands church building destructed and burnt.

There are still many human rights violation happen in the areas where the Christians live as minority. For instance, in the east part of Sumatra and Middle Sumatra, there are many State Primary Schools do not have christian religious teachers who teach christian education for the students. The christians students are obliged to attend the Islam teaching. The students’ parents complained, but they could no do nothing. According to the education system in Indonesia, religious education become one of obligatory subject and it must be passed. Otherwise, the student will fail to get the next level. Every student has the right to get religious education according to their belief, but in fact there is no Christian religious teacher who teach the christian pupil. So in brief, there are still many cases of human rights and religious freedom happen in our country.  In the new context of Indonesia as a pluralistic society the churches are called to promote peace and tranquility.


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