Contemporary Muslim Arguments for State Neutrality and Religious Freedom: Liberal and Progressive Voices in Post-New Order Indonesian Islam

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Date(s) - 17/10/2012
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Elizabeth Burchill Room, Building 68, Monash University Clayton Campus


Monash Asia Seminars – CSEAS Seminar Series

Supriyanto Abdi
University of Melbourne

** Change of Venue: The Seminar will be held at the Elizabeth Burchill Room (Building 68), Monash University Clayton Campus **

Despite the reaffirmation of the ‘secular’ character of the Indonesian state and the strengthening of constitutional guarantee for religious freedom during the constitutional reform period (1999-2002), religion-state relations and religious freedom in Indonesia has remained characterised by certain paradoxes. One of these paradoxes can be seen in the enactment of a number of laws strongly influenced by particular interpretations of Islamic law at the national level and the introduction of various “shari’a bylaws” at the regional level. Another paradox is the remaining in force, and its recent affirmation by the Indonesian Constitutional Court, of Law No.1/PNPS/1965 on Blasphemy which prohibits and criminalizes religious interpretations or practices which are considered “deviant” from the core tenets of six “recognized religions” (Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism). In these two cases, the principle of state neutrality, championed as one of the core principles of liberal democracy and religious freedom, has been put into question with certain interpretations of particular religion are allowed to dictate the state’s laws and policies. These paradoxical developments, however, are not without challenges. One of the sustained challenges came from “liberal” and “progressive” Muslim intellectuals and activists who strongly oppose both the formalization of Islamic law and the continuing application of the Blasphemy Law. The paper will focus on some of discursive efforts made by a number of liberal and progressive Muslim activists in response to these two particular issues. Based on the writings of and interviews with some of these Muslim activists, the paper will examine the extent to which they have advocated and negotiated the liberal discourse of state neutrality and religious freedom in the political-legal debates on these two issues. The central question of the paper is how and to what extent they reconcile the liberal premises of state neutrality and religious freedom with the Islamic politico-legal discourses and the historically dominant ideological narrative of the Indonesian state as a compromise between its “Islamic” and “secular” orientations.

Supriyanto Abdi is PhD Candidate at the Asia Institute, the University of Melbourne. Prior to his PhD study, he completed his Master of Contemporary Asian Analysis at the University of Melbourne (2005) and his undergraduate study in Islamic Studies at the Islamic University of Indonesia (Universitas Islam Indonesia/UII) Yogyakarta (2000). His recent publications include “Islam and (Political) Liberalism in Indonesia: A Note on the Recent Debate”, Journal of Indonesian Islam, Vol. 3 No. 2 (December 2009) and “Islam, Religious Freedom and the Challenge of the Blasphemy Law in Post-New Order Indonesia: Liberal and Progressive Muslim Voices” in Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority Localities in Southeast Asia: Areas of Toleration and Conflict, edited by Bernhard Platzdasch and Johan Saravanamuttu (Singapore: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, forthcoming).

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