With roughly 90 percent of the country’s 175 million people adhering to the Islamic faith, Indonesia has numerically the largest Moslem
population in the world. Yet, it is not in the formal sense a Moslem state. Indonesia has no state religion and the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship for all. Religious strife is unknown in Indonesia, despite the fact that all the great religions are represented, albeit often strongly tinged by local beliefs and traditions.
Apart from the five major religions recognized by the state — Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism
there are a number of mystic-religious sects collectively referred to as kepercayaan. The slate acknowledges their right of existence as long as they do not upset the public order or offend the sensitivities of the followers of the major religions.
Official statistics put the number of Prot estants at 5 percent of the population, Catholics at 2 percent, and Hindus and Budd hists together at 3 percent, while 1 percent of the people are adherents of “other creeds”, presumably followers of the much older local animist and ancestral cults.
There is some disagreement as to how and when Islam first came to Indonesia. Some scholars, basing their opinion on findings by Indonesian historians, believe that Islam was introduced between the seventh and eight cent unes of the Christian Era, when merchants from Arabia first came to visit the Indonesian ports along the northern coasts of Sumatra. From there, the faith spread to other parts of western Indonesia. An older school of thought, expounded mostly by Western scholars, hold that Islam was brought to these islands in the 13th century A.D. by traders from Oujarat in southern India. From the coastal regions of northern Sumatra, the faith eventually reache d the other parts of Indonesia.
From accounts given by the Venetian exp lorer Marco Polo at the end of the 13th cent ury A.D. and by the Arab navigator lbn Batt utah in the 14th, it can be deducted that at that time Islam had already gained a solid foothold, both on Sumatra’s northeastern coast — where the first Islamic states in Indonesia, Perlak (Peureulak) and Pasai were established — and along the north and east coasts of Java, where the advent of Islam eventually led to the col
lapse of the mighty Hindu-Javanese empire of majapahit.
The man credited with having introduced Islam to Java is Maulana Malik (brahim, who was a great Moslem scholar as well as a merc hant, and is believed to have come from southern India. His grave near Gresik in East Java — he died in 1419 A.D. — is today an object of veneration. Eight other pious leaders, known as wall, carried on his work and event ually spread the faith across the entire length and breadth of Java. One of them, Sunan Kalij ogo, is said to have built the famous grand mosque of demak in a single night.
Since Indonesia acquired its independence in August 1945, there has been a significant surge in the nation’s religious life, with the government actively supporting the activities of all the recognized religions. One edifice att esting to such an official support is the Istiq ial Mosque in Jakarta — reputedly Southeast Asia’s biggest — which was built under government supervision and is at present one of the important centers of Islamic studies as well as of worship in Indonesia.
Category: Discover Indonesia