The 6 Main Religions in Indonesia
There are 6 main or official religions in Indonesia (recognized by the government). Many people know that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, but there are 5 other religions that minority populations believe in. We will take a look at a brief overview of each one.
How did Indonesia become the largest Muslim country in the world? As Islam began to spread throughout the Middle East, Muslim missionaries took the role as merchants to bring Islam to Asia in the 8th century. Many Indonesian rulers and royalty converted and subsequently their subjects mirrored their conversion. Muslim conquest throughout the islands was another factor for many Indonesians converting to Islam from Hinduism and Buddhism. Now more than 220 million Indonesians are Muslim, about 87% of the population.
Christians make up 8% of the population and mostly live in the major cities and the eastern islands of Indonesia. Christianity was brought to Indonesia by the Portuguese Maritime Trading empire in the 16th century. Many Christians are Chinese Indonesians. During the 20th century Chinese religion was forbidden in Indonesia and so as a result many became Christian.
Despite being a recognized religion, Christians are persecuted in Indonesia, especially ones who were previously Muslim. The most persecuted area is Aceh, the northwestern tip of the island of Sumatra. Aceh is an autonomous land governed by Shariah law.
Catholicism entered Indonesia with the Portuguese spice traders as well as Catholic missionaries in the 16th century. When the Portuguese were forced out of Indonesia, many Catholics had to convert to Islam or be killed. Today the islands in Indonesia that are majority Catholic are Ambon, Flores and Timor and make up around 3% of the population.
Hinduism is the oldest religion in Indonesia, brought by traders from India in the first century. It was adopted by the ancient empires and was the predominant religion in Indonesia during that time. Now Hinduism makes up less than 2% of the population.
There are a few small pockets of Hindus in Indonesia. The main Hindu population is in Bali. When you visit Bali you will see Hindu temples through out the island as well as daily offerings (Canang Sari) in front of most buildings and houses.
Buddhism came to Indonesia a few hundred years after Hinduism. Around the 7th century it became the largest Buddhist Kingdom in Southeast Asia. One of the largest Buddhist temples in the world is the Borobudur temple on the island of Java. When Islam came to Indonesia, Buddhism started to decrease substantially. Buddhists now make up less than 1% of the population in Indonesia.
Confucianism is Indonesia’s smallest religion. Only 180,000 (0.05%) of Indonesians are Confucians. The Chinese came to Indonesia and brought Confucianism as values and moral principles. This belief system recently became a recognized religion in Indonesia in 1965. Interestingly, Confucianism is only seen as a tradition and not a religion in other countries with large ethnic Chinese populations.