STRICT guidelines on Islamic educators and preachers will soon be implemented in Indonesia in a push by government to quash bigotry and maintain religious harmony in the country.
According to Jakarta Post, the Religious Affairs Ministry has announced policies that require all Islamic education teachers in public and private schools to have a Bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies, as well as for preachers to follow guidelines on what they are not allowed to say in Friday sermons.
The move comes after a number of studies showed that the majority of Islamic educators were themselves intolerant.
A 2016 study by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) (reported by the Jakarta Post) revealed that 87 percent of Islamic education teachers were opposed to the appointment of non-Muslims as school principals, and nearly 90 percent of them refused to vote for non-Muslims as mayors or regents.
A troubling 78 percent of Islamic education teachers also supported organisations that demanded the implementation of sharia law in the country.
The ministry’s Islamic education director-general Komaruddin Amin told Jakarta Post that the ministry plans to distribute circulars to regional administrations and schools, requesting they no longer employ people without the appropriate qualifications.
“All teachers with insufficient educational backgrounds must be replaced. To avoid [students] being misled, we must not entrust those who are lacking competence to teach religious education,” he said.
Indonesia is currently experiencing a shortage of Islamic education teachers with 230,000 schools in need of one, according to the ministry (as reported by Jakarta Post), but the Indonesian Islamic Education Teachers Association (AGPAII) believes this policy is important as several of their members do not have formal education in Islamic studies and they fear this may be why they have failed to understand the need of promoting tolerance.
Another target of the ministry’s strategy is religious sermons being delivered in mosques.
The ministry has stressed that it will not directly intervene as it is not their “domain” but will work with mainstream Muslim clerics to create guidelines to act as a reference point for preachers on what they can and cannot say.
The move comes after complaints from some Muslims surfaced expressing concern that Friday sermons in several mosques had been inaccurate and inflammatory.
There have been mixed responses from Muslim scholars, with some criticising the move saying the government should not be telling preachers what they can say. Many others, however, have come out in support believing that the government is only trying to ensure that preachers are competent.
This should be welcome news in a country in which underlying religious and ethnic tensions have been in the spotlight recently.
Concerns about rising hardline Islamic sentiment have grown since Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was accused of blasphemy by hardline Muslim groups back in November of last year.
He has since been charged and is undergoing trial despite maintaining his position as a candidate in the ongoing Jakarta gubernatorial race.
More than 150,000 Muslims took to the streets of Jakarta in protest of the governor despite reports that Ahok’s supposedly inflammatory comments were in fact edited out of context and no offence was intended.
Some analysts believe that the decision to pursue the case against Ahok was a blow to democracy and diversity, as well as a test to Indonesia’s secular foundations.