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Indonesian Christians take swipe at Islamic textbooks

School books should promote a religion's moral values and not divisive dogma, ecumenical body tells govt

Indonesian Christians take swipe at Islamic textbooks

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia says religious textbooks used in schools should promote religious values and not be doctrinal in nature. (Photo: Unsplash)

Christians in Indonesia have called on the government to scrap or revise Islamic religious textbooks that allude to the Bible, saying religious studies in schools should not touch on doctrine but focus on moral values to avoid misunderstandings.

Reverend Gomar Gultom, chairman of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, said the national ecumenical body has written to the minister of religious affairs, as the person in charge of religious textbooks for junior and senior high schools, to work with the Ministry of Education and Culture, the publisher, to resolve the issue.

"Dogmatic religious lessons in the public sphere will only create segregation and can even create enmity. That is why religious education in the form of teachings should be carried out in a private space, such as among families and in houses of worship — not in schools,” Gultom said in a statement on March 1.

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In an Islamic textbook for senior high school students, it mentions the Bible having “undergone changes and revisions by human hands,” different from the original Gospel that was revealed by God to the Prophet Isa, the name for Jesus among Muslims.

"The original Bible contains true and real information, namely the commandments of God so that people can interpret and not associate him with anything,” it said.

The textbook is criticizing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, according to the ecumenical body, adding that it also mentions the Gospel of Barnabas.

Gultom said that although it is part of Islamic teachings, it should not be included in the religious education curriculum.

"When the state formulates a religious education curriculum by incorporating religious dogma or teachings, it is moving into theology, something that is very absurd," he told UCA News.

Amid efforts to build harmony, such religious subject matter becomes a serious obstacle, he added.

"In Christianity and Islam, there are points of convergence and differences, and if we are not careful in managing them, it could hinder efforts to achieve such harmony," he said.

Father Vinsensius Darmin Mbula, chairman of the National Council of Catholic Education, said religious textbooks should focus on universal values and be careful about things that can trigger conflict.

"Even if we talk about things which are considered to be related to other religions, the emphasis should be more on how to build bridges to create a spirit of peace and harmony," he told UCA News.

Religious Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas said he had formed a team to review that particular book.

Maman Fathurrahman, head of the Curriculum Center at the Ministry of Education and Culture, said his department tries to always uphold the spirit of unity and integrity as well as tolerance among religious believers.

"We welcome the input from Christians, including the hope that religious studies will prioritize the study of ethics and universal values of religion," he said.

However, Tengku Zulkarnain, a Muslim cleric and former deputy secretary-general of the Indonesian Ulema Council — the highest Muslim body in the country — warned the government not to rush into revising textbooks blindly and said it must consider any changes carefully.

He said in a tweet that differences in religious views were normal, including the way other Abrahamic religions like Judaism and Christianity view the Quran.

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