Almost 90% of the population of Indonesia is Muslim, gaining the archipelago the title of largest Muslim population in a country. However, Sharia law, the Islamic law, isn’t implemented in all of Indonesia where there are 6 official religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism.
Originally, the religion in Indonesia was animism. Over time, cultural beliefs mixed with religions and nowadays Balinese Hinduism doesn’t have much in common with traditional Hinduism as it is still practised in India for example. Perhaps it is this syncretism of religions that has encouraged the great tolerance and the peaceful coexistence of religions in Indonesia. The most important religious heritages in Indonesia are the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan near Yogyakarta in Java.
While today there are various religions practised in Indonesia, there is nevertheless a state philosophy called Pancasila (literally panca : five, sila: precept) which is directly derived from the five precepts of Buddhism:
Now, let’s learn more about the main religions in Indonesia.
In every travel guide, you will read about the importance of religion in Indonesia and how this country is a land of spirituality. Islam is one of the six religions officially recognized by the State. In the last to the date census carried out in 2010, 87.2% of the 250 million citizens declared themselves Muslim. This makes Indonesia the largest Muslim community in the world. The first historical reference to Islam dates back to the 11th Century AD. It has always coexisted with original practices and beliefs. The religion slowly spread over the archipelago through trading networks and the conversion of the country’s sovereigns. Today, most of the muslin community lives in Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan
Before the rise of monotheistic religions, Indonesia was considered a Hindo-Buddhist country. Hinduism was the main religion in Indonesia, brought to the archipelago by Indian Brahmins during the 11th Century BC. Various symbols, names, rites or temples show us this cultural heritage. However, today only 2% of the population of Indonesia declare themselves Hindus, most of them living in Bali. On a trip to Bali you will very easily spot the numerous temples and colourful offerings as well as the traditional ceremonies that bring together Balinese people. Bali follows the caste system inherited from India but Balinese Hinduism also has its specificities and is very unique.
Christians make up about 10% of the Indonesian population today. Catholicism was brought toIndonesia by the Portuguese in the beginning of 16th Century AD. Protestantism was later brought by the Dutch. By the 1980s and 1990s Evangelical churches started appeared in the archipelago. They are now very popular amongst the Sino-Indonesian community. The largest Christian communities tend to be found in New Guinea, Sulawesi or Flores for example.
Before the rise of monotheistic religions, Buddhism, as well as Buddhism, was widely spread over the archipelago and coexisted in various kingdoms. Today, Buddhism is one of the six official religions in Indonesia but according to the 2010 census than 1% of the country’s population declare themselves Buddhist. Buddhists are usually part of the Chinese community of Indonesia. One of the must-see Buddhist monuments is the temple of Borobudur on the island of Java but you can also discover the bronze statue of Buddha in Sulawesi or the remains of the province of Riau in Sumatra.
Animism isn’t strictly speaking a religion but it is certainly part of Indonesians’ daily life. During your trip around the archipelago you will understand that very often religious practices match traditional animism. Spirits, demons, supernatural forces, sacred mountains, haunted caves… Animism consists in the belief that objects as well as places are endowed with a form of life. What might appear to us in Europe as superstitions is taken very seriously by Indonesians. So keep an open mind when traveling through the archipelago and listen to the wonderful stories locals will tell you.