Confucianism has held an ambiguous and changing place in the official acceptance of Indonesian religions in Indonesia.
In 1965 President Sukarno’s Old Order recognised six official religions: Islam; Hinduism; Buddhism; Catholicism and Protestantism; and Confucianism.
But in 1979 President Suharto’s New Order government de-recognised Confucianism, with most Indonesian Confucians becoming part of the ‘others’ category or registering as Buddhists or Christians.
In the 1971 census 954,584 people (0.8 per cent of the population) identified as Confucians. By 2000, following decades of New Order government pressure to follow an accepted religion (and avoid the slur of being an ‘atheist Communist’), only 0.2 per cent gave their religion as ‘other’, of which only a portion would have been Confucian.
Confucianism in most other parts of the world is seen more as a ‘belief’ or a ‘philosophy’ than a religion. In the 1970s, Confucianists met together in religious services with the Four Books (Su Si), bound up like a Bible and placed on an altar, listened to sermons from a priest (haksu) or a lay preacher (bunsu) and sang songs from a type of hymn book. These changes were similar to the changes now taking place in Hinduism, in part to enable its acceptance by the Ministry of Religion. (See Elizabeth Rhoads’ article in this issue.)
As part of the post-1965 crackdown on Chinese, displays of Chinese religiosity were prohibited. This included a ban on public celebrations of Chinese New Year (Imlek).
President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) in his Presidential Decision No. 14 of 2000, abrogated Suharto’s 1967 Presidential Instruction, which banned open celebration of Chinese religion, belief and customary practices.
On 31 March 2000, the Minister for Internal Affairs rescinded the 1978 Circular, which stated that only five religions were recognised — that is, the 1978 Circular did not recognise Confucianism.
President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared Imlek a national holiday in 2002.
In 2006, Confucianism was again officially recognised as a religion in a Ministry of Religion circular which stated that there were six official religions in Indonesia, including Confucianism. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told 5000 Indonesian Confucians celebrating Chinese New Year in Jakarta on 4 February last year that discrimination on matters of citizenship, nationality, religious rituals and marriage should cease.
In the same month, the Minister for Internal Affairs issued a circular asking governors, regents and mayors to provide administrative services to Confucians. This would allow Confucians to conduct marriages according to a Confucian service and to state their religion as Confucianism on their identity cards.
The next month, Handeyjanto Sosilo, 60 years old, and Mary, 50 years old, celebrated their marriage at the Tek Hay Kiong Chinese temple (klenteng) in Tegal, Central Java. The couple had been living together unwed for 24 years, but refused to get married in another religious tradition. In the meantime, they had had two children, now in their twenties. On their identity cards, however, Mary is noted as Protestant and Handeyjanto as a Catholic. Their marriage was registered, within the klenteng building, on the Civil Marriage Register.
The demand for a revision in legislation on matters of marriage and identity cards is now coming from people from a variety of minor religious faiths. Draft legislation is being considered by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the DPR (People’s Representative Council), following the latter’s decision in mid-November 2006 to maintain the religious reference on identity cards.
Helen Pausacker (email@example.com ) is Inside Indonesia’s Office and Production Manager.