Tjahjo Kumolo, Indonesia's new Home Affairs minister, faces resistance from some influential Muslim organisations for suggesting a change to a policy governing the religion listing on national identification cards.
Earlier this month, Tjahjo spurred controversy by floating the idea that Indonesians affiliated with religions and spiritual organisations not officially recognised, be given the option of leaving that category blank on their Indonesian ID cards (KTP), according to local news reports.
Indonesia recognises six faiths as official religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism , and Confucianism.
"The government should not intervene into each citizen's beliefs," Tjahjo said November 4th, when he proposed the policy change.
The newly installed government of President Joko Widodo has also drawn criticism for proposing the religion category be erased from the cards altogether.
Minister of Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said the government's plan to abolish the category was part of an effort to protect citizens' rights, Kompas reported.
But on November 10th, Kompas quoted Tjahjo as confirming that the new government had no intention of removing the category.
"There must be a religion column, because it is the law…. We don't need to remove it," Kompas quoted Tjahjo as saying.
For many years, Indonesians were required to identify themselves on ID cards as followers of one of the six recognised faiths. But under the previous government headed by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, adherents of non-official or indigenous religious and spiritual groups – such as Sunda Wiwitan, Buhun, or Kejawen – could state such affiliations on their cards.
Since Tjahjo floated the idea of allowing Indonesians from non-recognised faiths to leave the "religion" portion of their ID cards blank, Indonesia's leading Muslim organisations – Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah among them – have spoken out critically.
"Religious identification is important for Indonesia, and this must be respected by everyone. If we allow individuals to leave the religion column blank, it means that the government tolerates its citizens who do not recognise God," NU General Chairman Said Aqil Siroj told Khabar Southeast Asia.
If the minister allowed this change to the ID policy to happen, it could have dangerous consequences, Said warned. "We should take this issue seriously because we want to make sure our country is secure from any violence," he said.
Muhammadiyah Chairman Din Syamsuddin said Tjahjo should leave the policy alone and focus on more pressing issues.
"This policy will be controversial, and I think he knows there will be huge consequences following his decision," Din told Khabar.
The country's leading clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), apparently came out in favour of Tjahjo's proposal on November 13th.
"If someone adheres to a faith outside of the six, then they should leave [the column] blank but still have to register [their faith] with civil administration offices," Maruf Amin, MUI vice chairman said according to the Jakarta Post.
To human rights activist Haris Azhar, co-ordinator of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence ( Kontras ), requiring Indonesians to list their religious affiliations on their IDs impinges on their freedoms as individuals.
"There is no need to list religions on the KTPs, because without it, people will be more respectful to each other without worrying if they have a similar faith or not," he told Khabar.
"Secondly, it also prevents sectarian conflict from occurring. Lastly, adding religion on the ID card shows that the government is still intruding into the lives of its citizens."