While it appears that democracy has found its place in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, religion continues to play an important role, SBS’ Yalda Hakim reports.


In an affluent suburb in central Jakarta, Bashir Asary’s family gather to discuss Indonesia’s upcoming election.

They consider themselves are followers of Islam but that’s not how other Muslims perceive them.

They belong to a sect, the Ahmadiyahs, which has more than half a million followers in Indonesia.

For centuries, the Ahmadiyahs have been persecuted and denounced as deviant non-muslims.

Their core belief is that it was the 19th century leader, Mirza Ahmad who was the promised messiah, not the Prophet Mohammad.

“There’s only a certain faction of Muslims who are really against us… the government knows it and is very well aware of these groups,” Bashir Asary said.

Now, despite democracy flourishing in Indonesia they fear that no matter which political party comes into power, Ahmadiyahs will still be targeted.

“They should do more to protect freedom of religion, human rights… for every citizen, you see our Ahmadiya people they are all innocent citizens”.

Mr Asary says his community lives in fear everyday: fear of being attacked by extremists putting pressure on the government to ban their religious practice.

The hardliners are being accused of using the Ahmadiyah issue in a desperate attempt to win votes.

In April’s parliamentary elections, support for Islamic parties dropped dramatically… but some groups continue to push the government to incorporate Sharia Law into the constitution.

Followers of Hizb-ut-Tahrir — a hardline group which is banned in many countries say it has not stopped them from spreading their message.

“Islam is the solution for our world today, we don’t believe democracy, pluralism, human rights. We don’t believe in the free market concepts because these concepts were born in western civilisations,” Hizb-ut Tahrir said.

“Yoyo won’t be voting himself and says if people must vote, he urges all Indonesian muslims to vote for the leader they think best represents Islam,” he added.

But Sabera Syahrir, from a farming community in Tasik Malaya in southern Java, these are minor problems.

Sabera is concerned the incumbent president Susilo Bambang Yudhyono has done little to help the poor.

“Many people think Susilo Bambang Yudhyono is very charming but he has failed to deal with our main concerns which is farming… but we believe Megawati’s opposition party will support us.

The muslim farmers of Tasik Malaya say despite their strong Islamic beliefs they prefer to vote for secular parties like Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Democratic Party of Struggle.

For them its all about the policies — not religious beliefs.

The role of religion in Indonesian politics