Opposition to Christian proselytisation in democratic Indonesia: legal disputes between Muslims and Christians in West Java (1998-2009)
AuthorCrouch, Melissa Amy
AffiliationMelbourne Law School
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsCrouch, M. A. (2011). Opposition to Christian proselytisation in democratic Indonesia: legal disputes between Muslims and Christians in West Java (1998-2009). PhD thesis, Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne.
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© 2011 Dr. Melissa Amy Crouch
Indonesia has a history of conflict between Muslims and Christians. Between 1998 and 2001, violence between these two communities increased across the archipelago. Some radical Islamists continue to wage sporadic campaigns against Christian religious activities. These campaigns are centred on the allegation that Christians are attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity, referred to as ‘Christianisation’. This thesis examines how and why Muslim opposition to Christian proselytisation, real and perceived, has intensified since 1998, and to what extent this has affected the resolution of disputes between Muslims and Christians through legal processes. This thesis argues that Muslims are opposing Christian efforts at proselytisation by using democratic state institutions and processes to legitimise violence, to establish laws that are based on Islam with little concern for religious minorities, and to publically condemn and punish converts from Islam to Christianity and those accused of insulting Islam. This opposition has increased since 1998 because of greater opportunities and freedom for all religious groups to practise and express their religion and beliefs. Free and fair elections, and the decentralisation of power to local governments, has created a more competitive political environment and contributed to the politicisation of religion at the local level. Radical Islamists have had a disproportionate voice in public debates on religion and law reform because of government ambivalence towards vigilante actions against minorities. This has affected the extent to which legal disputes between Muslims and Christians have been resolved, with local courts under pressure to issue decisions favourable to the religious majority. In response, Christians have exercised their democratic rights by appealing to independent human rights bodies and participating in the political process through debates, advocacy and political parties. Some churches have initiated judicial review of administrative decisions cancelling their building permits, while others have sought judicial review of laws and regulations that are perceived to discriminate against religious minorities. Through three case studies of litigation relating to religious education, church permits and blasphemy, this thesis demonstrates that Islamists are increasingly pressuring legislatures to pass laws, and the judiciary to make decisions, that discriminate against religious minorities, particularly Christians. This contest over Christian activities, intensified in an atmosphere of greater democratic freedoms, has placed increasing demands on the legal system and the courts to resolve disputes concerning religion. This is particularly problematic at the local level in an era of decentralisation, where the district courts remain weak, corrupt and easily intimidated by radical Islamic groups. This thesis argues that hostility towards Christian proselytisation, real or perceived, is partly responsible for many of the emerging legal disputes between Muslims and Christians in democratic Indonesia. It concludes that Muslim opposition to Christian proselytisation remains a key to understanding and addressing the escalation of legal disputes between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia.
Keywordslaw and religion; Indonesia; inter-religious relations
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