Pancasila Can be an Alternative Solution to Combat Religious Extremism

By Eva Kusuma Sundari

MP, Indonesia

INDONESIA — While attending the conference, “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Gender Equality Seminar: Positive Synergies,” organized by the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion and Belief (IPPFoRB) in New York on September 19-22, I was asked an interesting question related to Pancasila: How can Pancasila overcome the global threat of religious extremism?

The gentleman from Germany who asked me this question was curious about the role of Pancasila in helping Indonesia, a Muslim majority nation, avoid getting trapped in religious conflicts, like those plaguing the Middle East. Indonesia’s constitutionalist strategy is unique especially, and the ideology of Pancasila defines that uniqueness.


The question itself reflects the old debate that continues to reappear at the UN, as representatives and member states search for responses to the global trend of religious extremism. UN officials, along with activists, are beginning to realize that a purely secular approach, which ignores religious groups, is no longer relevant to the current situation.

In its 72nd year of existence, the UN faces the fact that 79 percent of the world’s population is confronted with the threat of violence due to religious extremism (Pew, 2016). This threat is not restricted to the Middle East, but extends across the world, including to the ASEAN region, where the threat of Buddhist extremism in Myanmar has endangered the lives of ethnic Rohingya Muslims.

In Indonesia, past religious conflicts have contributed to still unsolved problems of internally displaced people adhering to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam in West Nusa Tenggara and West Java, as well as Shi’a Muslims in Sidoarjo. The Sunda Wiwitan and Ahmadiyah groups in Kuningan are also still fighting for the fulfilment of their civil rights due to intolerant groups who pressured local rulers against granting them their rights.

In a secular country that ignores religious identity, extremist groups seize the empty space of religious meaning and monopolize it with the discourse of an exclusive religion. The superiority of a particular religion is highlighted so that it often raises an intolerant, anti-diversity attitude and does not hesitate to promote violence and discrimination against religious and racial minorities.

Single-faith states that discriminate against minority religions face similar situation. Groups that monopolize ownership of “true” interpretations of religion often end up triggering religious extremism by promoting hatred and violence to preserve their dominance.

States that embrace strict secularism or religious monopolism fail to cope with extremism because both approaches deny the important role of religious minorities in society. Both approaches have proven unable to create societies that are tolerant and respectful of diversity.

The world needs an alternative political system that recognizes the importance of an inclusive religious identity. In such a system, tolerance would be institutionalized so that diversity and mutual respect can be taught in the education system and disseminated to society systematically.

Religion in a cultural manner

In Indonesia, Sukarno proved to be a visionary. His ideas from 1945 provide important answers to the needs of the world today. At that time, he rejected both Turkish-style secularism and the Islamic republican state of Pakistan, even though Indonesia shares the characteristic with both those nations of a Muslim-majority population. He proposed the Foundation of the Pancasila State based on the One Godhead.

This principle accommodates the need for the recognition of an inclusive religious identity, so there is vast space for freedom of religion or belief. “I want a state which believes in one God, where everyone is free to practice his religion or belief,” Sukarno said on June 1, 1945.

Sukarno explained that religious freedom requires us to be cultivated in a manner that is not selfish or insulting other religions or other religious streams or schools. Sukarno reminded us of the dangers of individuals like Islam Sontoloyo, who mislead their fellow Muslims and divide the nation.

Affirmation of the guarantee on freedom of religion or belief can be seen in Article 29 of the Indonesian Constitution. There it mandates that the cabinet minister of religion must be a minister for all religions, with the primary duty of ensuring that every citizen can possess, change, and practice the religion or beliefs of his or her choosing.

Not only does the Constitution respect the religious identity of individuals, but also the religious identity of groups (Article 28 E). In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of religious organizations registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as with the Directorate General of Culture, in addition to thousands more unregistered religious organizations.

For Indonesia, religious freedom and tolerance has become a tangible benefit for society, rather than just a conceptual ideal. The motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), taken from the Sotasoma Book of Mpu Tantular from the 14th Century, represents the institutionalization of religious tolerance between Hinduism and Buddhism.

Therefore, the recent rise in intolerant attitudes does not reflect the true character and the soul of the Indonesian nation. Reinforcement of Pancasila and its emphasis on inclusion is urgently required in order to reaffirm the soul and unique characteristics of indigenous Indonesian religious nationalism.

Gotong-royong tackles religious extremism

Pancasila demonstrates its supernatural powers because human beings work to defend the concepts, principles, and values contained within it, namely belief in the Almighty, humanity, nationalism, democracy, and social justice. These principles cannot be separated, and together they represent the antitheses of the values promoted by religious extremists globally.

Sukarno stated that Pancasila can be squeezed into three precepts. First, the belief in God that guarantees respect for diverse religious identities, requiring all people to be tolerant. It is proven to fail to be created by both the secular state and the mono-religious state.

Second, the principle of socio-nationalism (the combination of the principles of humanity and nationalism) to oppose the transnational ideological extremism. Third, the principle of socio-democracy principle (the combination of the principles of democracy and social justice) is democratic politics that fulfill the goal of democratic economics.

When these three precepts of Pancasila are further merged, they become a sila that is gotong-royong, or collaboration. In collaboration or gotong-royong, there is a different but complementary division of labor to achieve one shared goal to eliminate religious extremism.

The description of Pancasila has already been Sukarno’s speech at the UN General Assembly to the XV (30/9/1960) as an alternative ideology of the United Nations to build a fairer world for ensuring equality. Seventy years later, Pancasila has begun to be sought out by others, after observing Indonesia’s success in institutionalizing religious tolerance to ensure the sustainability of economic progress.

Eva Kusuma Sundari is a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia and a Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

Source: APHR

Mohammad Mujeeb