Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims, but that number may be lower than we once thought because some locals are hiding their atheism out of fear of reprisal.
Living a double life isn’t all that uncommon in Indonesia, where atheists live in fear of being sent to jail (or worse) thanks to fundamentalist religious groups. AFP profiled one of these atheists, identified only as “Luna Atmowijoyo,” about her de-conversion from Islam years ago.
Atmowijoyo, who lives with her parents, still wears an Islamic headscarf to escape the wrath of an abusive father who knows nothing of his daughter’s change of heart, which started when she was told to avoid friendships with non-Muslims.
“A lot of simple things started to bother me,” said the 30-year-old, who asked AFP not to use her real name.
“Like I couldn’t say Merry Christmas or Happy Waisak to people of other religions,” she added, referring to a Buddhist holiday also known as Vesak or Buddha’s Birthday in other parts of Asia.
Treating gay people as abnormal was another problem and it soon became impossible for Atmowijoyo — once a conservative Islamic party member — to square the Koran’s teachings with science.
Then the unthinkable crept into her mind: God does not exist.
Most of us had this same realization at some point in our lives. Many of us have thought about how the LGBTQ community has been marginalized by followers of the Abrahamic religions. And nearly all of us (at least readers of this site) have thought to ourselves, Wow, God doesn’t exist.
But for most of us, going public with that idea will lead to a loss of family or friends. It’s not a death sentence. In Indonesia, atheists who speak out about their beliefs risk their lives and freedom.
The legal landscape in Indonesia doesn’t necessarily help. The law supposedly guarantees freedom of expression, but if you talk openly about not believing in god(s), you still run the risk of being arrested by authorities (or killed by more fundamentalist citizens).
The sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago is officially pluralist with six major religions recognised, including Hinduism, Christianity and Buddhism, while freedom of expression is supposed to be guaranteed by law.
But criticising religion — particularly Islam, which is followed by nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 260 million citizens — can land you in jail.
This year, a university student was charged for a Facebook post that compared Allah to the Greek gods and said the Koran was no more scientific than the Lord of the Rings. He faces up to five years in prison.
Alexander Aan was jailed for 30 months in 2012 for posting explicit material about the Prophet Mohammed online and declaring himself an atheist.
The worst part of this is that the government itself won’t acknowledge its hypocrisy. Officials still claim that being an atheist is completely legal… as long as you keep it to yourself.
Authorities, however, insist atheist beliefs are not illegal — as long as they’re not aired in public.
“Once somebody disseminates that idea, or the concept of atheism, that will be problematic,” said Abdurrahman Mas’ud, head of the research and development agency at the Ministry of Religion.
Blasphemy laws are always going to be blasphemy laws. Nobody is falling for this “atheism is legal” nonsense, and there’s a good reason some atheists are hiding their lack of faith from everyone in Indonesia. Without reforming the culture and the laws — with the help of believers who truly believe in free speech — nothing will get better in this area.
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