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Islam in Indonesia

Recent events point toward a radicalization of a tolerant society.

For decades Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, has been looked to as a beacon of relative tolerance among Muslim majority states. (Indonesia's population of 237.5 million people is 80 percent Muslim.) Consider the following from the 2000 edition of the Operation World prayer guide:

Monotheism and communal peace are the basis for the stated government ideology of Pancasila. All citizens must choose one of five religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Christianity (Protestant or Catholic).

But in recent years, radical Islamists have been attempting to impose a stricter version of the religion of Muhammad on their fellow Muslims–and on the rest of the nation. On June 9 the government ruled that the minority Ahmadiyah sect, a more liberal branch of Islam, may not spread its beliefs. As a result, Islamists last week sealed off more than 10 Ahmadiyah mosques. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal Asia says the government-sanctioned discrimination is unlikely to end there:

If radical thugs are allowed to target Ahmadiyah houses of worship today with impunity, what prevents them from targeting other kinds of Muslims tomorrow? Or Christians? Or Sikhs? The government's refusal to protect the Ahmadiyah threatens the underpinnings of Indonesia's tolerant society. It's a familiar theme in history, and one that has not boded well for liberal democracies.

And indeed there are numerous signs of strain on the country's communal harmony. According to a recent report by Reuters:

There is a growing risk of conflict between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia's Papua, partly fuelled by migration and a growth in fundamentalism, International Crisis Group said in a report on [June 16].

Twice last year in Papua, two provinces on the western half of New Guinea island, communal tensions almost erupted into violence linked to tensions over the building of a new mosque and an iron tower in the form of a Christmas tree, it said.

"The potential for communal conflict is high in Papua because both sides consider themselves aggrieved," said Sidney Jones, a senior adviser for the International Crisis Group.

Indigenous Christians feel threatened by ongoing Muslim migration from other parts of Indonesia, while Muslims are concerned about facing discrimination or even expulsion, it said.

The prospect of conflict has also been fanned by religious tensions in other parts of Indonesia such as the Maluku islands, which have suffered from fighting between Christians and Muslims.

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