The Country’s Conservative Muslims Threaten Growing Community Of Non-Believers
Indonesian atheists lead a secret life. In public, they do everything a devout Muslim does. Atheists have to pretend because if outed, an atheist can be physically harmed or killed by religious hardliners or jailed by the Indonesian Government. The South-East Asian country is the largest Muslim nation in the world.
Indonesia seems to be a pluralist nation with its citizens following six major religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism. The reality, however, is much murkier. Criticizing religion, especially Islam, could land a person behind bars. Muslims form almost 90 percent of the country’s population. Recently a university student was jailed and faces up to five years in prison for writing a social media post comparing the Koran to the Lord of the Rings movie franchise.
There are two main reasons why the Muslim population in Indonesia is increasing. First is the poor treatment of other religions by conservative Muslims. The second is religious intolerance toward Indonesians who identify as LGBTQ. These have made younger generations question a faith that focuses on creating divisions and cementing discrimination.
Authorities claim atheism in Indonesia is legal, as long as they do not profess their beliefs in public. Abdurrahman Mas’ud, who heads research and development at the Ministry of Religion, have made public statements that it is illegal to distribute the concept of atheism.
Islam exploded in Indonesia after the overthrow of the dictator Suharto in 1998. Recently, violence by extremists has increased with suicide bombings against Christian churches and Buddhist temples. Many minorities have become homeless due to this violence. This has created a state of fear for atheists. They believe that conservative Islamists hardliners will be egged on by populist politicians and make them new targets. This has led organizations like “You Ask, Atheists Answer” to take further steps to protect themselves, including hiding their identities and encrypting their online communications.