As time goes by, many people start to stray away from traditional beliefs and embrace larger religions of the world such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, or Shintoism.

Although people already adhere to these religions, many cannot release themselves from the old traditional beliefs fully. Surprisingly, many incorporate their religion with their ancestral beliefs. For instance, you can see this in our country, Indonesia. With our largest religion, Islam, followed by others, people still tend to hold the essence of local beliefs and even undergo ritual habits.

Beliefs held by indigenous people has an abstract generalization to which in compare with world religions. Indigenous peoples seem to inherit beliefs through oral passage according to ancestral visions and ceremonies. These beliefs are also grasped by tribes not large nations, meaning the beliefs are embedded within small numbers of individuals compared to other big religions. Moreover, we see many indigenous people seclude themselves with their own beliefs. Hence, in a sense, these beliefs are difficult to be categorized as official religions.

Nevertheless, local beliefs share common traits in the eyes of many.  They have their own deities to worship and offerings to give. They believe in animism where human beings and other living beings possess souls where human beings can transform into these living beings or communicate with them. These living beings are considered as deities too by traditional beliefs. You may also see markings or tattoos on their bodies and traditional accessories as symbols of spiritual power given to them by their deities.

Now you know some common knowledge about indigenous people’s beliefs. If we look at the present, countries around the world may acknowledge their traditional beliefs but the beliefs itself is not considered as an official religion.

Let us not look too far. In Indonesia, we have hundreds of local religions or beliefs. They are acknowledged by people, but not admitted as an official religion in Indonesia.

Sadly, our government does not align with its constitution. Indonesia has long suffered from the absence of rights to establish local beliefs into its system as official religions. People with local beliefs have gone through discrimination in getting proper help from the government.

With ID cards optioning citizens to choose only from the six official religions, many had to choose from one of them with no other choice even though it is not their religion. Other difficulties emerge starting from obtaining permits to conduct gathering places, marriage licenses, and getting access to public services like health care and education. It does not stop there, they are also complicated in the efforts of signing into military, police, or civil service jobs.

As Bivitri Susanti, head of the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Association of Constitutional Law Lecturers, said, “The court decision underlines that freedom of belief is a constitutional right, not a right that is given by the government.”

Why does this issue keep getting debated over years in Indonesia? According to Minister of Religion, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, many religious institutions in Indonesia do not agree with the establishment of local beliefs as official religions. The Ministry of Religion must weigh in various considerations before legitimizing the beliefs. Another concerning problem is how local beliefs are viewed as culture than religions.

The Ministry of Religion has conferred among themselves about this issue. They believe local beliefs do not meet the requirements needed to be an official religion. They stated local beliefs are religions in an essence, but local beliefs lack the sharia of a religion. There must standard rituals that are believed they said.

Besides that, a crucial issue about local beliefs are the absence of a common platform that local beliefs are jointly acknowledged as standard teaching. The reason is that they have no holy books. For other religions, we have acknowledged there are scriptures, guidelines, manual books, and guidelines.

Mr. Lukman Hakim said that the Ministry of Religion had also conducted a dialogue meeting with religious indigenous belief figures previously. As expected, Mr. Lukman said, the outcome varies from different opinions. As a result, the Ministry of Religion could not come into conclusion of one perspective.

It is advised to approach this matter more from the internal side rather than the external side said Mr. Lukman. If this matter is taken upon the external side, the debate will never end. From the internal point of view, we have a narrower scope in determining the true essential component, that is hakikat. All religions have the same hakikat which are upholding justice, equality before the law, fulfillment of basic rights, prohibition of killing, prohibition of stating, and being honest.

If we further investigate the Statue Law Number 1 PNPS/1965, it is stated that the six religions we have now in Indonesia are the most widely embraced by the community. The claim of these six religions is then implicit and that religions outside of those still have the same rights.

In conclusion, it should be possible to integrate other beliefs into Indonesia’s religion constitution. Like it has been explained above, difficulties arouse from the lack of self-religious identity in the ID card. And, forcing citizens to choose one of the large religions in Indonesia is not consistent with human rights. That is why as Mr. Lukman Hakim Saifuddin stated, people must look at religions not from the external side only but the internal side too.