05 January 2011

Separation of Mosque and State...

One of the fundamental principles that make a democracy is that there needs to be separation between the state and the predominant religion of that state. In the Western context this is referred to as the separation of Church and State. In essence, religion plays no role in the affairs of state. This is sometime problematic as the US has found out with things like the pledge of allegiance and the display of the ten commandments at a court house.

In the Indonesian context, perhaps the terminology is the separation of Mosque and State. Indonesia is a democracy but sometimes there is a questionable separation between Mosque and State, particularly in terms of the recent drive to enact religious bylaws that may not be constitutionally valid. However, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has placed the issue firmly back in the spotlight by providing awards to Provincial Governors and District Heads for their efforts to enact and implement Syariah-inspired regional regulations.

The first issue is whether a Ministry that is supposed to represent all religions in Indonesia has acted responsibly in recognising just one of those religions, Islam. Is this indicative of favouritism or discrimination? The reality is that within the Ministry of Religious Affairs each religion is represented by its own directorate. These directorates are responsible for the administration of their own affairs. So, in this regard there is no reason why these directorates could not initiate similar awards. However, the real question is whether the Ministry would back these awards.

The awards in question were for the promotion of Islam through the enactment and implementation of Syariah-inspired regional regulations. On the entirely hypothetical front, if a province was to draft, debate, enact and implement ecclesiastical-inspired regional regulations, would these be recognised by the state and would the Ministry of Religious Affairs be favourable towards an award that recognised these efforts if a recognition initiative came from the relevant directorate? It would seem unlikely.

In the big scheme of things there is nothing wrong with the Ministry of Religious Affairs recognising and rewarding Islam-related achievements provided that these are not recognising initiatives that strip away basic human rights of Indonesian citizens. The reality is that some of those individuals recognised for their efforts to promote Islam have also promoted regional regulations that strip away basic human rights and discriminate against minorities and discriminate against women.

The fact that the Ministry has chosen to recognise Syriah-inspired regional regulations as progress seems to be politically motivated and designed to pander to Islamic political interests rather than the greater interests of the state. If this is the case then there are arguments to be made that the Ministry is crossing that degree of separation that is expected.

Ho hum...

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