Indonesia must ward off efforts to turn the nation into an Islamic state, outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said recently.
A movement to abolish Indonesia's secular government and impose sharia law nationwide would go against the constitution, Yudhoyono warned May 7th in Gianyar, Bali as he received the Soekarno Prize for statesmanship.
"Indonesia is a secular country and that is an important legacy that we have inherited from Soekarno and other Indonesian founding fathers," Yudhoyono said during his acceptance speech at the Soekarno Centre.
Keeping Soekarno's legacy of secularism intact is crucial to safeguarding religious plurality, he added.
"Soekarno's call is not only relevant for the past, but also to answer all of today's questions about religious tolerance in Indonesia," Yudhoyono said.
Respect the constitution: PKB leader
The comments come as the country prepares to elect a new president July 9th and after five Islam-based parties combined for 33% of the vote in last month's legislative elections.
These faith-based parties are joining coalitions for the presidential race but it is unclear whether any of them would push for the implementation of sharia law.
Mohammad Mahfud MD, a leading figure from the National Awakening Party (PKB), said Yudhoyono's speech evoked the moderate approach espoused by former president and Nahdlatul Ulama leader Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur).
"We should learn from the history of Gus Dur. He would rather leave his presidency than work against the constitution," Mahfud, a former chief justice of the Constitutional Court, told Khabar Southeast Asia. "Even though he is no longer among us, Gus Dur's spirit of pluralism is a good example and we should continue this spirit and transfer it to our younger generations."
A unique country
Yudhoyono's speech came around the time that nearby Brunei Darussalam became the first Southeast Asian nation to declare sharia the law of the land.
"I know Muslims are the majority of religious followers in Brunei. But Indonesia has a completely different dynamic than Brunei," Jakarta resident Joko Prasetyo told Khabar. "We are united through different religions, languages, and ethnicities. We realise how different we are."
One does not need to live in an Islamic state to be a good Muslim, Central Jakarta cleric Muhammad Arif Maulana told Khabar.
"Indonesia is a unique country. We should enrich this diversity and not kill it. Islam loves tolerance, and we will be good Muslims by embracing tolerance, helping others in need, and zakat (alms-giving). We can do all of these things here in a secular Indonesia," he said.