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Driving SDG Progress: The Dynamic Role of Religion in Indonesia

Prof Kamaruddin Amin, Director General of Islamic Community Guidance at the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs, discussed the positive impact of religion on Indonesia’s socio-political landscape and its role in achieving the SDGs at PaRD’s Annual Forum on Religion and Sustainable Development 2023. He gave this speech only one week after the official announcement of the Indonesian Ministry becoming part of PaRD’s Steering Board for the period 2023-2025.

Prof Kamaruddin Amin speaking at PaRD's Annual Forum on Religion and Sustainable Development 2023 in Berlin, Germany. Credits: GIZ/PaRD, Maurice Weiss

Dear ladies and gentlemen, guten Tag!

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak to you here in Berlin at the PaRD Annual Forum2023. I have very positive memories of Germany. I wrote my PhD thesis in Germany!

In such a mega diversity country as Indonesia, social cohesion and political stability are crucial issues. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be achieved if we are successful in managing these issues. What role has religion been playing in managing the diversity of Indonesia and in achieving SDGs? At this highly prestigious occasion, I would cordially like to put forward the Indonesian experience on how religion has been contributing in shaping the socio-political landscape of Indonesia, including its contribution to accelerate the achievement of SDGs.

A. Peace and Justice

In Indonesia, religion has been playing a pivotal role in every aspect of life of the society and of the nation. Indonesia is a mega diversity country, consisting of hundreds of languages (718), tribes (1340), religions (six recognized) and faiths/indigenous religion (187). Religion has been significantly contributing to this mega diversity, and the socio-political dynamics of Indonesia.

The constitution of Indonesia puts religion in a dignified position. No strategic policies have been made without taking religious values into account. All citizens, no matter what religions they adhere, have equal rights and responsibilities. Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) is strongly guaranteed by the constitution, but rights are not absolute, but litigious. We have been working hard to make sure those constitutional rights are enjoyed by all citizens.

The current government of Indonesia has been mainstreaming the highly nationally prioritized program called “Religious Moderation”, which promotes the following:

1. National commitment. Religious moderation calls each citizen regardless of its religion to subject to the constitution of the country, that is, Pancasila (official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state, comprising the five principles including belief in the divinity of one and only God), the 1945 Constitution of the republic of Indonesia (UUD), NKRI (Unitary State of the republic of Indonesia) and Bhinneka tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity). Being religious or a devout religion adherent means being a good citizen. Being a good citizen is subject to national commitment or to the obedience to the constitution of the country. Religious moderation is not exclusively about being a pious or devout adherent of a religion but equally being a good and obeying citizen. In other words, paying respect and treating all citizens equally, no matter what religion and faith they decide to adhere is crucial.

2. Religious moderation promotes tolerance. Tolerance is the key to manage the mega diversity Indonesia. Being tolerant does not mean believing that all religions promote identical theology and teachings. Every religion has its characteristics and fundamental teachings distinguishing it from other religions. Tolerance means respecting others and allowing them to freely live their religions. It is the constitutional right of each citizen.

3. Another aspect of religious moderation is nurturing and respecting local living tradition. Religious values are manifested in a living tradition.

4. Nonviolent religious trait. Religious Moderation promotes peace, respect to diversity. Religious Moderation has been proven to be fundamentally contributing to making Indonesia peaceful, creating social and political stability amidst the mega diversity Indonesia.

B. Poverty Alleviation

Indonesia is regarded as one of the most generous countries in a survey carried out recently by the British-based Charities Aid Foundation 2021. Religious values and teachings have been fundamentally manifested in the life of society and of the nation. This was empirically confirmed when COVID 19 hit Indonesia. What was astonishing is that the number of people who donated and the amount of donated charity increased significantly when the economy of the country was hit and got worsened due to the pandemic. Islamic charity was of paramount importance in keeping the economic stability of the country.

Because Indonesia is not a theocratic country, the state cannot force the adherent of any religion to live according to their religious doctrines. Paying zakat (Islamic charity) is obligatory in Islam, but not every Muslim performs this religious obligation. However, the state facilitates the adherents of any religion to practice their religion. Religious figures incessantly call Muslim to pay their obligatory zakat, donate and help the financially and socially underprivileged people.

BAZNAS (national board for Islamic Philanthropy) is the government (non-structural) institution that is nationally responsible for the collection, distribution, and the management of zakat. In addition to Baznas, there are hundreds of non-government zakat institutions who collect and distribute zakat to needy recipients.

Each year the collection of Islamic philanthropy reaches the amount of 23 T, which is equivalent to 1,5 Billion USD, while the potential is about 500 T, which is equivalent to 32 Billion USD. There is still a big gap between the potential of zakat (Islamic charity) and what has been collected from people so far. BAZNAS and other Islamic philanthropy institutions in cooperation with religious leaders and MORA are incessantly encouraging Muslim people to perform their zakat and charity.

Islamic philanthropy has provided financial charity to no less than 33.952.469 million socially and financially underprivileged beneficiaries per year. In addition, it also helps small and medium enterprises to develop their business.

This charity has even been instrumental in helping beneficiaries to become financially independent.

C. Family Resilience: Health, Gender Equality

Indonesia has been struggling to deal with numerous challenging family issues, such as: high rate of divorce, domestic violence, early/child marriage, and prevalence of stunting. Twenty percent of newly married young couples get divorced due to different reasons, ranging from economic issues, mental immaturity or unpreparedness to build a strong family, disloyalty, and the lack of understanding the essential meaning of family. Though early marriage is illegal in Indonesia, it’s prevalence remains significant. There are at least three main causes, namely, lack of education and information, the economic situation, and cultural norms in their society.

Stunting remains a big issue in Indonesia. It’s current prevalence remains 21 percent, although it declined from 24,4 percent in 2022. The government of Indonesia is endeavouring a great effort to reduce its prevalence to 14 percent by 2024, undertaking numerous diversified and synergized efforts and programs, engaging formal and informal actors, religious and civil society leaders.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Health and the National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN), the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) offers family consultancy programmes and premarital courses for male and female marriage candidates. In these courses participants are provided with relevant knowledge and skills on how to build a good quality family, how to become knowledgeable, fully aware and well-informed parents about health, reproduction, parental behaviour before, during, and after pregnancy, raising children, management of the economy of the family, the essential meaning and goal of building family from a religious perspective..

D. Quality Education

Religious leaders, religious based civil society organization, and religious based education institutions have been playing a fundamental role in providing access and good quality education to Indonesian children. No less than 25 percent of national education institutions in Indonesia are run by religious based civil society actors. Faith based schools/madrasah provide access to education to more than ten million elementary and secondary students, and to more than one million students in tertiary education.

E. Gender Equality

As the most populous Muslim country and the third largest democratic country in the world, Indonesia has been struggling in promoting gender equality. Yet, by referring to religious texts voiced by religious figures, its promotion is becoming more successful. For example, in terms of the provision of access to education, gender equality is no longer a big issue. With regard to political participation, political parties require twenty percent minimum of women engagement. Civil society organizations, including the religiously based, as well as educational institutions have significantly contributed to mainstreaming and empowering women for gender equality. Women movements in Indonesia have been among the most successful movements. Regarding social life, the role of man in many cases still dominates, but it evolves into a more balanced situation.

F. Environmental Protection

Lust but not least, religious actors have been crucially engaged in promoting an environment friendly life. Referring to religious texts, they elaborate the urgency of nurturing and protecting the environment. MoRA runs several environmentally oriented programs and encourages all mosques and other places of worship to always consider environmental issues. Mosques have been a resource not only of religious literacy but also of environment awareness.

I thank you very much! I am looking forward to the discussions during this PaRD Annual Forum