Concerns have been raised about the slow erosion of the country’s secular fabric
A court in Indonesia sentenced Meiliana, an Indonesian of ethnic Chinese origin, to 18 months incarceration as per a newly introduced blasphemy law. The 44-year-old Buddhist had complained that a mosque located close to her home created an inordinate decibel of noise when it called the faithful to prayer. She was found guilty on charges of “insulting Islam.” The court, located in city, noted that her comments, which she uttered in 2016, initiated riots which led to Muslims rampage Buddhist temples.
The conviction has been criticized not only by rights groups but also by multiple Islamic bodies in Indonesia, including its two largest ones. Robikin Emhas, who heads the legal division of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a major Indonesian Islamic body, said that it is inconceivable how pointing out the high decibel count of "adzan" or call to prayer could be construed an act of hostility against a specific religion or group. Emhas asked Indonesian authorities to stop taking advantage of blasphemy laws to inhibit freedom of expression. He said that when it comes to such matters, Indonesian Muslims must regard such opinions as a kind of "constructive criticism."
Indonesia is a huge archipelago, and the number of mosques is in hundreds of thousands. The majority of the mosques spend only a few minutes to call "adzan" or the call to prayer. A few mosques play lengthier versions of sermons or prayers which may continue for approximately half an hour. Even the Indonesian Mosque Council has deemed such lengthier adzans as unnecessary. The adzan is repeated five times every day.
According to political activists, the blasphemy laws are being utilized to bully Indonesia's minorities. Religious freedoms are also being trampled upon. Meiliana, as per Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy chairperson of democracy fostering SETARA Institute, was a scapegoat due to political pressure. Naipospos said that her case cannot be classified as blasphemy by the extent of the law. Naipospos said that it is important that Jakarta revise such laws. Not doing so will result in many such cases in the future.
The concern is real as the last few years have witnessed an upstart in hardline and conservative strains of Islam in Indonesia. There are now fears that the secular fabric of the country is under threat, with the slow erosion of diversity and tolerance which was once the South East Asian country's hallmark.