A leap for faith in Indonesia

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Balinese Hindus pray to celebrate the religious festival Galungan at the Jagat Natha temple in Denpasar on Indonesia's Bali island on November 1, 2017. Balinese Hindu adherents celebrate Galungan Day or the Earth's celebration to thank God for the creation of the Earth and its content. Photo: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka

In a few heart-felt moments during a hushed Catholic funeral service, Indonesian soprano Rami Kirana did more for interfaith relations in her Muslim majority country than any well-meaning government or religious figure could have done in a year of talking.

Standing in a grey hijab in the Catholic cathedral in Bogor, south of Jakarta, the young Muslim artist sang a stunning rendition of Ave Maria in a final farewell to her best friend, a Catholic woman, that took Indonesia’s social media by storm.

Typically, in today’s increasingly intolerant Indonesia, she later received threats from hard-line Islamists, forcing those responsible for posting the moving video on Facebook to try and tone down the reaction in the interests of her safety.

Kirana, whose mother and grandmother were both noted sopranos, received permission from the church to sing the traditional Angelic Salutation prayer as the casket bearing her friend’s body was closed in the final stages of the requiem mass.

Fittingly, the November 6 funeral came a day before Indonesia’s Constitutional Court issued a landmark ruling in which the government was instructed to officially recognize traditional faiths, seen as a small but overdue victory for religious freedom.

Until now, in what has long been regarded as an infringement of individual rights, the state has only recognized Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, leaving about 245 traditional faiths in limbo. The court’s ruling creates a seventh encompassing category.

Dance called "Legong Dance" at the Palace of Ubud. Ubud-Bali. Traditional balinese dance in Ubud. There are many Balinese dance performances to see in Bali, sacred dances can be subdivided into various groups such as temple dances, Pendet dance, Rejang dance, Barong dance, Legong dance, Sanghyang dance and Kecak dance. The sacred dance Pendet and Rejang dance will be held when the temple anniversay. Mostly for visitor they like to see Barong Keris Trance Dance, Kecak Fire Trance Dance and Legong Dance. Combination Legong dance with other dance, Mask dance and Barong dance with instrumental group music. Legong dancer will dance by beautifull girls wearing colourfull cloth. The dance performace held in outside courtyard of Ubud Palace with background huge closed gate, start at 7.30 pm till 9.00 pm. Everyday they show different kinds of Balinese dance in this place such as Ramayana Ballet, Mahabarata Ballet and Spirit dance. Included to see this dance with other tour destination Ubud Village Tour. The Barong is a mythological being in Bali that takes the form of a four-legged wild animal. This wild animal was the totem animal or the animal protecting the Balinese people before the Hindu relegion entered the island, because of the function as protector, the Barong is said to be manifestation of good forces which will always fight the manifestation of evil forces, the Rangda, who take the form of a frightening she-devil. The Barong Dance has always been popular in Bali. It is danced by two men, one man dancing the head and forelegs and other playing the hind legs and tail. The wel-known barong in Bali are the Barong Keket, the Barong Kalekek and Barong Landung. The dance performance show in the morning at Batubulan Village start at 9.30am taken from the Mahabarata epic, you can include to see this dance with other tour destination Volcano Tour, Bedugul Tour, Besakih Tour and Ubud Volcano Tour.

A dancer performs the scared Balinese Legong Dance at the Palace of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: AFP.

The government does not recognize agnosticism or atheism and blasphemy prosecutions have multiplied from only a handful during former President Suharto’s heavy-handed New Order regime to more than 130 under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s decade-long rule.

The court decided that provisions in the 2013 Civil Administration Law requiring followers of indigenous tribal and other unrecognized faiths to leave the religion field in their identity cards blank was discriminatory under the 1945 Constitution.

The panel of nine judges agreed with lawyers representing four traditional faiths, who last year filed a request for a judicial review, that the two articles in question provided no legal certainty and violated the principle of equal justice for all.

Moving faster than normal, the House of Representatives quickly initiated a review of its own, which will likely lead to a revision of the legislation to bring it into line with the ruling.

There are believed to be up to 15 million native faith adherents in Indonesia who, because they aren’t permitted to record their religion, have difficulty obtaining birth certificates, registering their marriage or otherwise qualifying for government services.

They are not the only Indonesians who have been discriminated against over the years. It was only in 2000 that ex-tapol (ET), or political prisoner, was removed from the ID cards of thousands of people mostly imprisoned without trial in the bloody aftermath of the fall of president Sukarno in the mid-1960s.

Those two letters condemned them and their families to a life of misery and unemployment. Even as late as 1995, a doctor was fired from the hospital she had worked at for 25 years after it was belatedly discovered her journalist husband was branded as ex-tapol.

An Acehnese woman gets whipped for spending time in close proximity with a man who is not her husband, which is against Sharia law in the city of Jantho, Aceh province on March 10, 2017. Indonesia's only province to impose sharia law caned Buddhists for the first time, after two men accused of cockfighting opted for punishment under the strict Islamic regulations. / AFP PHOTO / CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN

An Acehnese woman is whipped for spending time in close proximity with a man who is not her husband, a violation of Sharia law in the city of Jantho, Aceh province on March 10, 2017. Photo: AFP/Chaideer Mahyuddin

Despite the Constitutional Court ruling and a charter that specifically guarantees freedom of religion, minorities still face an uphill battle to preserve their rights in the face of the growing influence of conservative Islam.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a lobby group, recently called on the government to scrap a Religious Affairs Ministry draft law on the “protection” of religious rights, which it says only reinforces existing regulations that discriminate against minorities.

The so-called Religious Rights Protection Bill enshrines both Indonesia’s blasphemy law, as well as existing decrees that impose restrictions on minorities seeking permits to build houses of worship.

It also lays down an excessively narrow criterion for a religion to receive state recognition and increases the powers of the misleadingly named Religious Harmony Forums (FKUB), formed under the Yudhoyono government when religious tolerance took a big backward step.

“The misnamed religious rights bill is nothing less than a repackaging of highly toxic regulations against religious minorities,” said senior HRW researcher Andreas Harsono. “The government should abolish discriminatory regulations, not collect them under a cynical veneer of ‘religious protections.’”

The government has sought to justify the law on the basis that existing regulations guaranteeing the protection of religious rights are neither sufficient nor applicable enough to the “changing landscape of society’s legal needs.”

TO GO WITH AFP STORY INDONESIA-RELIGION-RIGHTS-ISLAM-AHMADIYAH, FOCUS BY ARLINA ARSHADThis picture taken on April 9, 2013 shows cleric of the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect, Rahmat Rahmadijaya, speaking through a door during an AFP interview at Al Misbah mosque in Bekasi. A group of minority Ahmadiyah Muslims in Indonesia have been holed up in a mosque since authorities shuttered it earlier this month, in a stand-off that starkly illustrates the growing religious intolerance sweeping the country. AFP PHOTO / ADEK BERRY / AFP PHOTO / ADEK BERRY

An Ahmadiyah Islamic sect cleric speaks through a locked door at the Al Misbah mosque in Bekasi, Indonesia. Photo: AFP/Adek Berry

But while religious minorities are already vulnerable to discrimination and what has become widespread official indifference to worsening intolerance by militant Islamists, the draft law is seen to compound rather than reduce those threats.

In particular it reinforces and expands the scope of Article 156a of the Indonesian criminal code, known as the blasphemy law, which punishes deviations from the central tenets of the six officially recognized religions with up to five years in prison.

The article was used earlier this year to prosecute and imprison ethnic Chinese Jakarta governor Basuki Purnama and a growing number of religious minorities and traditional religions, including three leaders of East Kalimantan’s beleaguered Gafatar community.

It also formed the legal basis for a June 2008 government decree that ordered adherents of the already bloodied Ahmadiyah Islamic sect to cease all religious activities on the grounds that they deviated from the principal teachings of Islam.

In fact, the new bill expands the current criteria for a blasphemy offense from “showing hostility, abuse, or desecration” toward a religion to anyone who persuades others to convert from their original faith, who purposefully creates noise near a house of worship, or who destroys or defaces a holy book.

Moreover, Christians will find it more difficult to build churches in Muslim majority communities, with the law stipulating that official approval will be dependent on the “proportion in which adherents of a particular religion, which wants to set up the house of worship, is relative to their village’s total population.”

With the legislation still on Parliament’s schedule, and President Joko Widodo apparently unwilling to intercede with the 2019 presidential elections around the corner, it now remains to be seen whether Rami Kirani’s soaring tribute to her friend was merely a voice in the wilderness.

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