What Role Should Sharia Law Play in Indonesia?


Sixty-four percent of Indonesian Muslims believe that sharia should be implemented as the national law, according to a special report by the Pew Research Center. We asked a panel of six Indonesian leaders—three Muslims and three Christians—their thoughts on this finding.

Muslim respondents:

Amin Abdullah: Sharia is a way of life; it is how people live guided by religious values. In Islam, it is not monolithic but consists of various interpretations.

Sharia in a religious state will undoubtedly differ from sharia in a nation-state. For instance, sharia in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran will be different, particularly concerning civil and criminal law, from sharia in Indonesia. Sharia in our country is in line with its culture and history.

In the private domain, religious matters such as rituals, prayers, almsgiving, and pilgrimage can be practiced fully. But in the context of Indonesia as a nation-state, sharia cannot be fully applied at the national level. When it comes to public or national matters, there are certain procedures to follow because Indonesia has a democratic state system that must be adhered to by all citizens.

The encouraging thing is that when the state was being formed, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists sat at the same table. At that time, the Muslims accepted Pancasila, making Indonesia a nation-state instead of a religious state. In Pancasila, there is no religious egotism; rather there is religious freedom.

Halim Mahfudz: In the rural area where I live among the Muslim communities and more tolerant groups, Muslims are not interested in implementing sharia as the basis for national law. This is because in Indonesia, we have a long shared history of struggling for independence against colonial powers since the arrival of the Dutch in the 1500s.

In the formulation of the Pancasila and the 1945 constitution, there was a debate about whether or not to remove the “seven words” in the Jakarta Charter that would have made it an obligation for Muslims to abide by sharia law. The words were deleted immediately after independence.

This indicates that from the beginning, we never aimed to establish Indonesia as a theocracy. Islamic values are present in the constitution, further strengthened by the Pancasila ideology, particularly the first principle of the belief in the one almighty God. All the principles of Pancasila are rooted in religious and divine values, and these are the values of Islam.

Inayah Rohmaniyah: The Pew survey seems to link sharia with hudud (restrictions) and qanun (laws made by Muslim rulers). It implies the formalization of hudud, suggesting that Islam should be the law that governs all of society.

Problems arise when the survey’s questions generalize the term sharia itself. In the Muslim community, sharia is essentially synonymous with Islam. If you ask if a Muslim should be governed by sharia, the answer is usually yes, because sharia represents the Islamic law that should be followed by all Muslims.

It’s important to note that sharia applies only to Muslims; people of other religions do not need to follow Islamic sharia law. Therefore, Indonesian Muslims must maintain internal and external balance, which is represented by Pancasila. Pancasila is the contextualized Islamic sharia in Indonesia.

Christian respondents:

Tantono Subagyo: The definition of sharia itself varies among Muslims. Some desire the strict implementation of sharia, while others prefer a more flexible application that adapts to the changing times. Two factors underlie why some Muslims in Indonesia believe that sharia should be used as national law: low political literacy and the tendency for Indonesian politicians to use religion as a tool for seeking power.

In Indonesia, hardline Islamic parties often use religion [for instance, urging Muslims to only vote for Muslim candidates] to gain votes. One example was the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial election, which was rife with identity politics and threats against those who did not vote for a certain candidate. Christians need to be cautious because if the Indonesian public is not educated and is misled by individuals seeking power, chaos can occur.

Ferry Mamahit: As a Christian who interacts with diverse communities in Indonesia, I am not overly concerned about this finding. First, the Indonesian government is responsible for upholding and implementing national laws based on Pancasila and the 1945 constitution, which protects our religious freedoms.

Second, major Islamic organizations such as NU, Muhammadiyah, and others agree that Pancasila and the 1945 constitution are the legal foundation that unites the Indonesian nation. They are committed to preventing Islamic sharia from becoming the basis of the state. As part of civil society, they work to raise awareness and counter groups that seek to change the foundation of the state, considering it antidemocratic and deviating from the principles of Islam as a religion of rahmatan lil-alamin (mercy to all).

Third, I believe that Christians should support the commitment of the government (Rom. 13:1–4) and moderate Muslims (Mark 9:40) to build a democratic society that prioritizes religious and humanitarian values for a better future for Indonesia.

Farsijana Adeney Risakotta: Sharia helps Muslims become integrated individuals in practicing their worship in line with the five pillars of Islam and implementing Islamic principles in economic activities. I support Indonesian Muslims earnestly applying sharia in their daily lives.

Recently I attended a leadership training led by a practitioner from an Islamic sharia savings and loan cooperative. When I heard his explanation about why he believes that cooperatives are suitable for building justice and distributing prosperity to the entire nation, I was reminded of my own motivation to work with the poor in applying social justice.

His words reminded me to delve deeper into the teachings of Christ that empower me to continue working alongside Muslim brothers and sisters in building our nation.

Read our panelists’ bios in the series’ lead article, Parsing Pancasila: How Indonesia’s Muslims and Christians Seek Unity. (Other articles in this special series are listed to the right on desktop or below on mobile.)





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