• Tatiana Putra

Cultural & Religious Diversity

Updated: Apr 2, 2019

Hi friends!

Welcome back to the blog. We’re still trucking through the series of What Makes Jakarta, Jakarta (to me) and today we are talking about CULTURAL DIVERSITY.

Let me let you in on how much I knew about Indonesia before I met my husband:

(the above space is intentionally left blank to be a sort of metaphor to mean “nothing”….)

I remember this very tan and super cute Indonesian guy I was crushing on FINALLY asking me on out on a date and after going on said date having to google Indonesia, because I knew absolutely nothing about his home country... and, duh, ya girl didn't wanna seem too dumb… but I couldn’t even place it on a map.

Maybe I can blame the US school system and the lack of world history and/or geography lessons? Also, back in the day when I was in school, the internet wasn’t what it was today. Back when I was kid, if you wanted to look up a country you took down a heavy Encyclopedia Brittanica from the shelf. Though maybe I shouldn’t blame the US school system too much because I do remember doing a report on Morocco. I digress... ALLLLLL that to say, wikipedia was basically the first place I experienced Indonesia…when I googled it… as a 23 year old.

After googling it I remember one fact sticking out from my quick “research” and that was the fact that Indonesia was the largest Muslim country. This is actually a fact that most people know when I say I’m living in Indonesia rather than the fact that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world (This is behind China, India, and the US... but stop for a minute and think about how big those countries are compared to tiny little Indonesia. If its any indication the US is five times bigger).

These are two striking characteristics about a teeny tiny little island and that’s a lot of people!

So let’s talk cultural diversity and with that let’s also talk religion because that is such a big part of the culture here. (Though some may shy away from putting religion under the umbrella of culture I think it’s a disservice to not include it in this posting, hopefully you can eventually see why.)

In fact, in Indonesia, it’s actually against the law to NOT identify with one of the six recognized religions here. Yes that’s right, you read that correctly. In Indonesia you have to put a religion down on your identity card because there isn't an option not to!

Belief in God is a “Foundational philosophical theory of the Indonesian state”, called the Pancasila (translated to the Five Principles).

These are principles that every Indonesian should have memorized (similar to how as Americans we usually have to memorize the preamble to the constitution-“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”)

Tezar told me every Monday, at his school, they would have a flag raising ceremony. This is pretty typical of every Indonesian school and after singing the Indonesian Independence song they would recite the Five principles which I’ve listed below.

(Side note my three year old daughter already has memorized the Indonesian national anthem because her school has a similar flag ceremony every Monday and I’m going to be honest here: the Indonesian national anthem is SO MUCH cooler than the Star Spangled banner, it’s like a University fight song and the United State’s national anthem, sadly, doesn’t hold a candle to it or appeal in the same way to a three year old…check it out yourself and imagine, right after singing that amazing fight song going: Ok now this one: “oooohhhh say can you seeeee?” Sadly, the excitement just dissipates)

OK so back to the Pancasila, aka 5 Foundational Indonesian Principles:

1. Belief in the One and Only God

2. A just and civilized humanity

3. A unified Indonesia

4. Democracy, led by the wisdom of the representatives of the People

5. Social justice for all Indonesians

As you can see, the number one foundational principle has to do with the belief in God, however Indonesia does not make it explicit about which religion's God thus taking a more tolerant/pluralistic stance on religion.

In 1945, during the formation of Pancasila, there was much debate between nationalists who called for a pluralistic state and Islamists who wanted a religious state ruled by Islamic law or sharia. The nation's founders chose religious tolerance. Pancasila encourages its proponent to practice moderation and toleration, thus radicalism and extremism are discouraged. In order to live harmoniously in a plural society, one's membership to a religious, ethnic or social group does not mean that they could dominate, discriminate or be prejudiced in their relations with other groups.”

So after reading all that about Indonesia are you a bit surprised about the Indonesian government’s acknowledgment of other religions and its tolerance?

You may be if you were anything like me and this is one of the reasons why I want to write this blog, for people like me who just didn’t know much about Indonesia and who didn’t take the Encyclopedia Brittanica down the shelf to look it up.

So an example of this religious tolerance is the fact that not only does Starbucks have Christmas cups… but they also have Ramadan cups! (My US friends may understand this implication a bit more. You can read about the controversy here)

Speaking of Christmas and Ramadan. Since Indonesia recognizes six religions their are a lot of public holidays between all six religions! (called “red days” here because they are red on the calendar and taken off work)

15 to be exact! As opposed to around 7-10 holidays in the US. I'm not going to lie, this is a major perk when living in Indonesia!

I write all this to say that although Indonesia is the “world largest Muslim country” it is in fact fairly tolerant of all the six religions it recognizes. Now no place is perfect and there was recently the jailing of the governor of Jakarta who was Christian and disturbed the peace when he spoke about the Quran… but Christmas IS a recognized holiday here in the largest populated Muslim country- so there’s that.

The six other religions that Indonesia recognizes are:

1- Islam (World largest Muslim population- as stated previously- so no surprise here!)

Photo from Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.

2- Protestantism (This is actually the second largest religion with a rapidly growing charismatic movement)

3- Roman Catholicism (I was a bit surprised that this was not under the Christian category but there is more of a felt distinction here than in the US)

4- Confucism (which was recently re-recognized as a religion in 2006 because of previous clashes between the ethnically Chinese population and native Indonesians) Maybe I’ll write a future blog post on this issue. But it is a very sensitive topic considering it was illegal for a while to celebrate any Chinese traditions or even teach Mandarin.

5-)Buddism (Did you know that Indonesia houses one the world's largest Buddhist temple: Borobudur- picured below which I visited when Elena was a tiny baby and traveling was easy)

6-Hinduism (Which is the predominant religion of Bali…a place I am sure many people have heard of- yup that’s a part of Indonesia!)

So there you have it. Indonesia is a very culturally diverse place and religion does play a key role in the culture, which is why I have included it in my top ten list of what makes Jakarta, Jakarta to me. Hope this was as informative and as fascinating to you as it is to me!

Stay tuned for the next installment where I will talk about expat community life. Something I obviously never experienced (or even heard about) until moving to Jakarta.

Thanks for visiting!

Much love,



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