Nov 4th, 2006, in News, Society, by

The government is considering making animism an official religion while some conservative Muslim clerics are unhappy about the prospect.

The Director General of the Demography section of the Department of Internal Affairs, A Rasyid Saleh, says the government will shortly complete the formation of a new law on demographic administration and it is planned that those who adhere to traditional, “ethnic”, or non-orthodox, forms of religion, “animism” for want of a better term, will receive formal recognition. Since the coming to power of Suharto in 1965-66 the state has only recognised five religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Then under the presidency of Gus Dur Confucianism was re-admitted to the list of official religions, a decision which only came into effect this year. Now animism, almost.

A number of Muslim clerics in the East Java town of Jember are put on record by Tempo as being fiercely opposed to the plan however. tempo Two senior clerics, Abdul Muchid Muzadi and Washil Syarbini, claim that the recognition of animism will cause conflict and division in society and that it is better that animism be simply regarded as a part of traditional culture but not as a religion. Washil says:

On what basis is animism going to be considered a religion? If it’s just for the purposes of national identity cards then don’t do it, religious life could become messed up.
(Kalau sekarang pemerintah mau mengakui sebagai agama dasarnya apa? Jangan hanya sekedar untuk kepentingan KTP saja, kehidupan umat beragama jadi kacau.)

Muchid meanwhile saw the dark forces of liberalism at work. It was enough that animists were not persecuted and were free to practise and teach their faith, he said, formal recognition of them was not necessary.

Both men advised the government to give some serious re-thought to the matter. Basing the decision on questions of human rights and anti-discrimination was not adequate, the reality of the situation on the ground, that is the potential for social conflict, had to be taken into account. They employed a slippery slope argument, saying that if one form of animism were allowed then the followers of all the other types of non-formal religions would be clamouring for recognition as well.

The recently deceased Clifford Geertz claimed that on Java, especially Central Java, about 30% of the population practised some form of non-orthodox religion. These people, abangan, were nominally Muslim, but their religion was based on a mixture of animism, mysticism, Javanese Hinduism and Javanese Buddhism, as well as Islam. However since the rise of Suharto such people have been forced to acknowledge themselves as Muslim, officially, and in any case, generally, the trend is towards Islamicisation. Those most likely to benefit from any change in the law will be explicitly non-Islamic spiritual movements such as the kebatinan kejawen, and, especially off Java, there are many peoples, such as the Dayaks of Kalimantan, who have resisted both Islamicisation and Christianisation.

March 11th 2007. Sulistyo Tirtokusumo, from the Department of Culture and Tourism said in Surabaya on the 11th that the government will shortly issue regulations allowing followers of informal religions to have their marriages recognised by the state.

Djoko Sumono, the head of an animist association, was happy to hear the news and claimed that presently only two civil registrars in the entire country recognise animist marriages, they being at Kebumen and Purworejo, both in Central Java. He said animists faced the same difficulties as followers of Konghucu, or Confucianism, did up until recently. In order to get their marriages registered animists had to claim membership of a recognised religion, like Islam, but without actually living according to that religion’s precepts.

Djoko claimed there were about 250 animist associations in the country with combined membership of nine million people. tempo

January 11th 2008. In Magelang district, Central Java, home to a large number of animists, the local government now allows marriages to be carried out and officially recorded according to local beliefs. Those carrying out such marriages must be licensed by the Animism section of the department of religion. suaramerdeka

18 Comments on “Animism”

  1. mrXgroovy says:

    Did such people as Muchid fear social conflict at the recognition of Confucianism? I guess he envisages conflict between abangan and others on Java.

  2. Doesn’t this just illustate the absurdity of the the fact that the state can decide which religions are officially recognised for identity cards? Just who is the state recognise what is a religion and what isn’t? We can only conclude that they have a higher authority than all the religions on the planet since they are able to deem what is an official religion and what isn’t…

  3. Munafikbangetloepade says:

    Muchid meanwhile saw the dark forces of liberalism at work. It was enough that animists were not persecuted and were free to practise and teach their faith, he said, formal recognition of them was not necessary.

    Who the f does he think he is to decide what others need and don’t…???


    Out of topic:

    Sambut Bush, Ba’syir Siap Debat Terbuka

    That ugly Ba’syir challenges Bush for a public debate….

    A … ha … ha … ha … ha …

    Trees and stones — I’m an animist, out of the closet, thanks to upcoming recognition from the government of Indonesia — please make that happen.

    I’d like to see basyir dropping his pants (or sarong) in the public even more…. *)
    We need quality entertainment of that kind on television…, not the idol shows and celebrity gossips.

    *) Not that I want to see his “titit”. YUCK YUCK YUCK…. No.

  4. Andrew says:

    Ba’asyir wants a public debate with Bush.

    I just saw a pig fly across my window.

    It ain’t gonna happen, baby. Who is this guy Ba’asyir, again?


    Now I want to race against Michael Schumacher.

  5. Laura says:

    I would like to know more about this. What benefit’s are given to people whose religion is officially acknowledged? Does this give say, police protection from religious persecution? If one’s religion is on their identification card, then are there rules about changing one’s religion? On a practical side, given the amount of Moslem violence going on world wide right now, if nominally Moslem people officially chose to be called ‘animists’ will their safety be put at risk?

  6. Munafikbangetloepade says:

    Ugh…. bad idea….

    I hope the government would cancel that plan.

    It’s gonna mislead animists like me because then the fanatico musulmanes will be able to easily identify us…, and turn us into roasted suckling human.

    I guess I’d prefer to go back in to my closet now….

  7. Karlira Kanakhuko says:

    Those Muslim clerics, like Muchid fear towards animism as only offficial region or state religion in whole Indonesia because they are fear that their Islamic-Arab imperialism will completely perish/eradicated forever. Indonesia is not right to be an Islamic country nor even a Muslim country. In fact, Indonesia is a Pancasila country only.

  8. Hassan says:

    the well known fact is : monotheists do have a tendency not to accept the practices of paganism, or animism for this matter. come to think of it animism does contradicts our own pancasila, “Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa”. so what’s the polemic is all about?

  9. Tomaculum says:

    Before you people discuss about animism and religion, try first to find out the correct meaning/definition of those words? (look at Wikipedia, but not at Wikipedia Indonesia, there you will find a poor explanation!).

    does Hinduism with its tousands of gods and deities also contradictiv to “Ketuhanan yang maha esa”?

    In the so called animistic religion (these description was first used by ylor in his book of 1871: “primitive culture”). Tylor was a Christian anthropologist, then a pagan. And you accept the words of a pagan criticless? And he talked about primitive ethnic groups in this context (primitiv with negative taste). Primitive means ordinary or basic or plain.

    1. What is a primitive ethnic group? To my opinion there is no primitiv culture or ethnic group. Each culture/ethnic group has very complex systems of their belives and social structure. It needs surely a long and intensive study to understand such “primitive” cultures. To characterise them as a plain sytem show either an arrogance or ignorance or lack of understanding.

    2. To my opinion each culture and each religion incline to personalise things or powers which believed to have influence in their life and comunity. We call it Allah or God and it’s angels. The Hindus call theirs Wishnu, Shiva, Brahma and the others. And the so called animistic religion try to explain this influence with the souls of their ancestors or term those powers as god of the trees, stones etc. Some other adore the sun , the moon or even a stone. But in most of such believes there is always one who has the almighty power and can decide things going on. If not, there are sometimes two opponents, which represent the dark (bad) and the light (good). Like in our faiths, isn’t it?

    So where is the problem with Ketuhanan yang maha esa?

    Why do some Moslems “run scared” because of this? Do they have not enough faith?

    The so called animism religions exist already in Indonesia since a very. very long time. It was always a culture of giving and receiving in Indonesia. Everybody learns from anybody.

    Why not?

  10. Hassan says:

    Tomaculum: why not? for one thing we must change our constitution first, and change the Pancasila’s “Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa”. the thing is, if that were done, then Muslims will also have a case to want to change the Pancasila into Sharia, would you want that? I guess not.

    i never said some Muslims “run scared” because of this. I said “monotheists do have a tendency not to accept the practices of paganism, or animism for this matter”. I meant monotheists at large, not just Muslims. as for your statement that some Muslims “run scared” because of this, well did you know that they are “scared” for sure? maybe they are just worried that there will be an outbreak of anismism.

    well lets be fair, among the hundreds of million of Indonesian Muslims not all were strong in faith, some of them are weak. the ones with the strong faith are maybe afraid that the weak will fall for this animism. shouldn’t the strong worry for and take care of the weak?? or should we just let them be astray? what kind of brothers are we then?

  11. Tomaculum says:

    read again my comment, please.
    My intention wasn’t to discuss about changing the 1st sentence of Panca Sila, but to review our sight and understanding about the so called animism/animism religions.

    “Run scared” means to panic and I mean in this case as an ironic flavour, sorry if you misunderstand this.
    Why outbreak of animism (sounds like outbreak of a disease, hm?)??
    Animism exists since thousands of years in Indonesia and it is still prevalent. If we want to use such terms, I would rather say: it is still endemic.
    For me is the main importance the behaviour and the character of my neighbours, not their religion. For me individually I don’t care if my friends adore Allah, Christian God, Shiva, Brahma, Mannitou, Odin, the Sun or Moon God.

  12. David says:

    Jakarta Post, 8th November by M. Taufiqurrahman:

    Native faiths fight for official recognition

    A coalition representing followers of indigenous faiths is pressing the government to recognize their beliefs in a new civil registration law.

    Saying that their civil rights have been violated for decades, the group has said that the first step toward rectifying the problem would allowing people to list their true religion on ID cards and other civil documents.

    For decades, the government recognized only five religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Protestantism and Catholicism. Confucianism was officially recognized only late last year.

    “The denial of the presence of our faiths has led to much discrimination,” said Dewi Kanti, a spokeswoman for the coalition.

    She said followers of un-official faiths had difficulties recording their marriages at civil registration offices, were obliged to send their children to classes teaching the beliefs of the “official” religions and had problems at job interviews and bank transactions because of their ID cards.

    “But the worst of all is the consequence that has to be shouldered by our children, who are mocked for being born ‘out of wedlock’,” said Dewi, a follower of Sunda Wiwitan, a Sundanese religion.

    A large part of Indonesia’s cultural diversity comes from its many indigenous belief systems, most of which were in practice before the five official religions arrived here. Indigenous believers are forced to nominally follow one of the five, however, in order deal with the official bureaucracy.

    In Central Java, enclaves of people who believe in the syncretic faith Kejawen live next to a predominantly Muslim community. In Kalimantan, a substantial portion of the indigenous population adheres to the animist Kaharingan religion.

    Attempts to get local faiths recognized, however, have so far been unsuccessful. The House of Representatives special committee on civil registration has refused to meet with representatives of the indigenous faiths coalition.

    The National Commission on Human Rights has issued a statement criticizing the special committee for discussing the new civil registration law behind closed doors.

    It has been suggested that the committee is under pressure to finish the bill in time for it to be endorsed before the end of the year.

    Ary Mashuri, the chairman of the Indonesian Movement Against Discrimination, said that accommodating believers of non-official faiths would be in the interest of the government and legislators.

    “The reason why it took the government so long to recognize Confucianism was because of concerns over protests from majority groups but we saw that no objections arose. The government should do the same for these people or it will lose support from them,” he said.

  13. Oigal says:

    “Pancasila’s “Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa”. the thing is, if that were done, then Muslims will also have a case to want to change the Pancasila into Sharia, would you want that? I guess not.”

    Ah very good don’t debate threaten, what seems to escape Hassan that Indonesia is not a Muslim nation. Its collective of beliefs and cultures and a mature civilisation needs to cater for all her people and beliefs.

    Of course the other ugly option is for the non mulsim parts to pull away… What would Indonesian be without the wealth of Papua, Kalimantan those other non Muslim provinces..One thing is for sure, times would be tough in Java..

    Perhaps its time to grow and accept the principles of LIVING TOGETHER LIKE REASONABLE HUMAN BEINGS

  14. O. Bule says:

    Faith and relgion are personal things, and governemt should stay out of it entirely. The government of Indonesia has no business granting any “official status” to any religion.

    O. Bule

  15. Joseph Erwin says:

    Hello, my friends,

    Here is the voice of one person, one citizen of Dunia, one who was born in America, and one who wishes for us all to live in peace with each other. I think it is always best for there to be a separation of religion from government. Religion is such a personal matter, and it is so often based on very authoritative assertions, that people can accept as traditional patterns, but when people from different traditions interact, these traditions sometimes generate and even promote conflict and violence–to the extent that they claim to have unique access to ultimate truth and view all others as enemies. Most of my ancestors came to North America 250-400 years ago. A few of my ancestors were native indigenous people (Cherokee). Most of my European ancestors were potestants seeking freedom from religious persecution of one form or another. In some cases they were reacting against institutionalized Roman Catholic persecution. In other cases they were reacting against intolorance of other protestant faiths. Some of my ancestors were whipped nearly to death by protestant Christians. One of my ancestors was nearly killed as an accused “witch” in Salem, and two of her sisters were hanged to death–falsely accused. I am glad that others of my direct ancestors (for example, Roger Williams of Rhode Island) insisted on freedom of religion through separation of religion and government. Very often I read in American newspapers about “Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.” When I read this I try to impress on people to get it right. The Pancasila only states the ideal of belief in God, along with other goals, but it (brilliantly) does not try to establish any specific dogma as one that must be followed. How one believes or expresses that belief is left as a personal matter. Now, the requirement that people IDENTIFY which religion they choose, seems not helpful. It seems to me to restrict choice and not recognize that personal growth or change may occur. It seems to me to be a barrier to harmonious living. But it is really essential for there to be individual respect and tolerance, and it is terribly sad when evil is done in the name of goodness. Can’t we just all get along? The fundamental theme of most religions is the promotion of harmony. Let’s sing together and join in an international chorus devoted to constructive progress.

    Your friend,


  16. doctor82 says:

    I never knew about religion called animism. But when it comes to identifying a new religion there are no set of rules to follow. What can be the criteria to call it a religion vs cult / sect. It also reminds me of recent phenomenon of sphagetti and meatball religion in the US. Probably anyone can come up with a new religion unless there is no definite criteria.

  17. schmerly says:

    Why should anybody have their religion stamped on their ID cards, they don’t have it on their passports! surely it’s private matter what religion they choose to follow, it’s just another discriminatory act from the Indonesian government.

  18. Dom Dom says:

    The question is:
    will the kejawen abangan recognise themselves as
    part of this new animist religion?
    Will animism include merely Badui and Dayaks or will it include
    Maybe, they can be counted under Pancasila ideology by,
    Tomaculum is right, if Hinduism can be counted then so can Animism,
    the thing about Animism is it cannot be totally organised into a set of beliefs which the
    Indo government can see and say: this is what animism is…

    This reminds me of Bali’s goal to get Hinduism recognised and they had to heavily
    organise an un-orthodox sometimes pagan, sometimes Hindu religion.

    (I personally believe that the spiritual world exists but I’m fairly Taoist about it, not too fussed sometimes I believe in God sometimes I believe more in Tao)

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