Controversy Surrounds Bible App in Indonesia

By ICC’s Indonesia Correspondent

08/07/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)“Adat basandi syarak,syarak syarak basandi kitabullah.” This is a philosophy based on the customs and culture of the Minangkabau people in Indonesia, which means: “Custom is based on Shari’a (Islamic law), Sharia is based on the Book of Allah (Qur’an).”

Minangkabu, or abbreviated as the Minang Tribe, were once Buddhists, before their conversion to Islam. Minangkabau society is generally open-minded. Many important figures and the founding fathers of the Republic of Indonesia came from Minang, one of whom was Mohammad Hatta, the first Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia.

Last June, a letter written by the Governor of West Sumatra Irwan Prayitno to Information Minister of Indonesia Johnny G Plate, dated 5/28/2020, stirred up a debate in various media outlets, as it asked the ministry to remove the Minang language Bible application on the Google Play Store, for it is considered contrary to the customs and culture of the Minang people.

Christians and Muslims alike expressed their views on this complaint. Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, an Indonesian politician and Muslim scholar, who also served as the Minister of Religious Affairs under President Yudhoyono, wrote on Twitter, “Translating scriptures into regional languages is not only permissible, it is even highly recommended that more local residents understand the contents of their religious scriptures. The more sacred books are understood, the more virtues are spread among us”.

Another Muslim politician and young intellectual from Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Guntur Romli, also expressed that Irwan Prayitno’s letter has the potential to undermine tolerance and religious harmony in Indonesia. Even worse, it can be used as a propaganda tool for political purposes by meddling the issue of SARA (Tribe, Religion, and Race). Guntur Romli said on June 5, “For me, Irwan Prayitno’s steps are SARA’s political steps in the context of the elections. Because if we reflect on Minang’s history and society, which are full of confidence and openness, Irwan Prayitno’s actions do not find their relevance.”

Irwan Prayitno is a politician from one of the Indonesian Islamic parties, PKS (Prosperous Justice Party). His region West Sumatra will soon hold a Governor election. Guntur Romli added the Minang people are open-minded because for Minang’s people to close themselves, they would be considered inferior. Quoting the words of his friend, Guntur Romli gave his satire, “Minangkabau once controlled by the Dutch gave birth to smart people, now controlled by PKS gave birth to a figure like Irwan Prayitno”.

Speaking to BBC Indonesia, the Alliance of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) considers the West Sumatra Provincial Government’s rejection of the Bible application in Minang language a limitation on religious freedom.

“The Governor of West Sumatra should understand that a language can be used by all religious communities. It cannot be claimed as belonging to a particular religious community,” said PGI Chairman Rev. Gomar Gultom.

In an online discussion on the removal of the Bible app, a Christian participant named Joachim said that if the governor successfully takes the Bible off of the Google Play Store in Indonesia, “All Muslims in Indonesia should not use the Internet, for ‘infidels’ made it.”

Christians in West Sumatra have long endured persecution in many forms. Even after receiving the building permit, many churches still cannot be built because the Muslim majority government prevents workers from starting.  If the governor were to ask the Google Play Sore to remove the Qur’an from stores, there would be an uproar, Joachim stated. The discrimination and persecution against Christians should never be encouraged.

In addition, there is no legal basis to support the actions of Irwan Prayitno, since the constitution in Indonesia provides space for every citizen of the Republic of Indonesia the freedom of speech and religious liberty. The basis of the Republic of Indonesia is Pancasila, which is famous for its motto ‘Bhineka Tunggal Ika’ which means Unity in Diversity.

Although as a civil servant, any governor or head of an area in Indonesia would swear to protect the foundation of the Republic of Indonesia— Pancasila, which contains the noble values of the Indonesian people to recognize the diversity that exists without distinguishing each citizen from his or her ethnicity and religion, the reality is, today, the Minang language Bible Application can no longer be found on the Google Play Store.

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