Female pupils wearing the niqab

As national education policy is an essential part of Indonesians’ lives, many expect religion to play an important and stated role in its development. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais / AFP)

Pancasila and the “Missing Word”

Published

Islamic political voices, include Vice-President Ma’ruf, force the word religion into the draft 2035 national education roadmap.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) recently came under sustained political fire. A Peta Jalan Pendidikan Nasional 2020-2035 (Roadmap to National Education 2035) draft did not include the word “agama” (religion) in the vision statement. The draft only states “membangun rakyat Indonesia untuk menjadi pembelajar seumur hidup yang unggul, terus berkembang, sejahtera, dan berakhlak mulia dengan menumbukan nilai-nilai budaya Indonesia dan Pancasila,” which effectively means “to encourage Indonesians to be eminent lifelong learners, to continuously develop as welfare-oriented individuals, and to possess noble values in line with Indonesian culture and Pancasila.” 

The country’s three most prominent Muslim organisations, Muhammadiyah, Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), quickly voiced their unhappiness over the “missing word” in MOEC’s roadmap draft:

  • Haedar Nashir, General Chairman of Muhammadiyah, questioned whether the absence of the word “religion” was done on purpose. Nashir stated that the absence of the word from the vision statement contravened the Constitution and Law No. 20/2003 on National Education System;
  • Anwar Abbas, MUI Vice Chairman, argued that the Constitution mandates that all aspects of life, when addressed by the Indonesian state, should have an explicit relation with religion. He contended that mentioning the word religion in the draft vision statement would uphold Article 29, paragraph 1 of the Constitution, “The State shall be based upon the belief in the One and Only God.”;
  • Cholil Nafis, Chairman of the MUI Dakwah Commission, focused his disagreement on the draft roadmap vision statement’s usage of the words culture and ethics instead of religion; and
  • Helmy Faishal Zaini, General Secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama (Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation and a key support base for President Jokowi) joined in by saying the absence of the word “religion” in the MOEC’s vision would stimulate public controversy. Zaini agreed that Indonesia is not a theocratic country. However, he asserted that it is important to include the word religion in public statements such as the MOEC roadmap’s vision statement as he believes that religion governs much of people’s behaviour.

The Islamic groups’ protests against the “missing word” reflect the essential role religion plays in the daily lives of Indonesians and the foundational tensions between Islamic politics and a secular state in Indonesia. State bureaucrats constantly face pressure from society and politicians to factor in religion in their work. As national education policy is an essential part of Indonesians’ lives, many expect religion to play an important and stated role in its development.

Unfortunately, those critical of the roadmap’s “missing word” understand religion normatively rather than in the substantive form used by the vision statement’s drafters. The drafters’ saw no issue with the “missing word” as the meaning behind the draft vision statement is related to religion through the mention of Pancasila. The drafters assumed that mentioning Pancasila was sufficient because Pancasila, the national inclusive ideology at the core of the Constitution, itself underlines the significance of religion in Indonesia. 

Along with Pancasila, the draft vision statement includes other religious references. It states, in line with various religious teachings, that education aids in promoting life-long learners and developing prosperous and eminent Indonesian citizen. The concept akhlak unggul (prime ethics) mentioned in the draft vision statement comes from Islam. 

This begs the question of why is there still a need to explicitly use the word “religion” when the essence of religion is already mentioned in the draft vision statement. The controversy shows that the Indonesians protesting are more concerned with labels than the essence of religion. How the essence of Islam can be implemented in daily life in Indonesia is not their priority.

The drafters assumed that mentioning Pancasila was sufficient because Pancasila, the national inclusive ideology at the core of the Constitution, itself underlines the significance of religion in Indonesia.

These protests were successful. Despite having prepared a religion-friendly draft, MOEC felt the need to accommodate the protestors’ concerns. Helping this decision, Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin asked the Minister of Education and Culture to include the word “religion” in the draft vision statement to address criticism that the Indonesian education system could be perceived as a secular system.

The decision to add the “missing word” indicates that policymaking in Indonesia remains very vulnerable to “religious-heavy” intervention and that the control of religion over state regulation and policy is likely to increase in Jokowi’s second term. This is a serious challenge for Indonesia’s Pancasila ideology. As a Pancasila state, the role of religion should be implemented in moderation instead of being emphasised in national educational policy. 

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