Religious Beliefs In Indonesia

A Hindu temple in Bali, Indonesia
A Hindu temple in Bali, Indonesia

Sunni Islam

Islam is thought to have entered Indonesia at some point in the early 700's via Arab traders. By the 1400's, Islam spread at a rapid pace due to the growth in the number of Islamic preachers, the faster development of trade with the Arabs, and the conversion of Indonesian royals and Islamic conquest. The Demak Sultanate (1475-1554) was the first Muslim state in Indonesia, which was followed by various other kingdoms and Sultanates that dominated most of Indonesia outside of Hindu-Buddhist controlled Bali and remote eastern islands. The Mataram Sultanate (1587-1755) was one of the last major independent kingdoms before Indonesia came under Dutch control.

Indonesia was a Dutch colony from 1603 until 1949 until Indonesia finally gained its Independence. Upon independence, Indonesia adopted the principles of Pancasila in their Constitution, which recognized officials religions, with Islam being one of them. Since 1998 political parties in Indonesia have been allowed to have a guiding ideology other then Pancasila, and there was no longer only one government supervised Islamic party. This rule has caused some Islamic parties to have their ideology be based on Shariah law to ensure the dominance of Islam, though these parties have not had much significant success. Currently, Indonesia is the largest Muslim populated country on Earth, and nearly all of the country's Muslims follow Sunni Islam.

Protestant Christianity

Protestant Christianity, also known as Protestantism, first arrived in Indonesia with the establishment of the first Dutch outpost in the country by the Dutch East India Company in 1603. In 1800, the Dutch East India Company collapsed and shortly after Indonesia was colonized by the French and then the English. In 1815, the Dutch were back in control of Indonesia. From here, the Dutch East Indies were a Dutch colony, until Indonesian independence in 1949. In 1817, the Dutch had all of the Protestant denominations come into a union under the Protestantsche Kerk and by 1835, King William I declared that all Protestant denominations in the Dutch colony of Indonesia would fuse into a one church council to oversee all Protestants in the colony. Today the regency of Tana Toraja has a significant Protestant population of about 17%, while the provinces of North Sulawesi and Papua have majority Protestant population. Protestant Christianity is one of the five official religions of Indonesia.

Roman Catholic Christianity

Roman Catholic Christianity, also known as Catholicism, first arrived in Indonesia in the 14th century when the Italian Franciscan monk Odorico Mattiussi led a Roman Catholic mission to the country but did not gain a foothold in Indonesia until the Portuguese arrived in 1511 and conquered Malacca. Portuguese missionaries soon followed in the coming decades by starting in the 1590s the Portuguese were mostly driven out of Indonesia by the Dutch. Under the rule of the Dutch East India Company (1603-1800) it was policy to man Catholicism due to Dutch hostility towards the religion. After the Dutch East India Company became bankrupt and the Dutch East Indies became a colony run by the Dutch government, freedom of religion was granted legalizing all religions, including Catholicism. Roman Catholic Christianity is one of the five official religions of Indonesia and in 1967 Justinus Darmojuwono was the first ever Indonesian archbishop was made a cardinal by the church. Most Catholics in Indonesia live in the provinces of Papua, East Nusa Tenggara, and West Kalimantan.


Hinduism probably arrived in Indonesia at some point in the 1st century AD, but the evidence is unclear as to an exact date or how the religion arrived from India, though there are a few major theories on the latter. Hinduism was the first outside religion to come to Indonesia. There were several notable Indonesian Hindu-Buddhist Kingdoms like the Medang Kingdom (732-1006). The Majapahti Empire (1293-1527) was the largest of the Hindu-Buddhist Javanese empires, and it reached its peak, along with Hindu-Buddhist ideas during the 14th century.

Starting in the 13th century Islam arrived and by the 15th century, Muslim Sultans lead a campaign against the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms in Indonesia, taking over most of the country and declared Islam as the state religion. It was at this point that Islam became the dominant religion in Indonesia, over Hinduism and Buddhism, which had been the dominant religions for centuries. Non-Muslims either agreed to pay the Jizya tax, converted to Islam or fled to other islands in Indonesia so that they could escape from Muslim rule.

After Indonesia gained its independence, it only recognized monotheistic religions and one had to have a religion to gain full citizenship, meaning that Hinduism, a polytheistic religion, was not recognized as a state religion. This led Bali, a Hindu-dominated region, to declare its self as an autonomous religious area in 1952 and seek help and support from India and the Netherlands. By 1962, Hinduism finally became one of the five recognized religions in the countries after years of turmoil in political and religious affairs in the country. Currently, the province of Bali is the Hindu stronghold in Indonesia with about 83% of the country's Hindu population living there. No other province in the country is over 4% Hindu.


Buddhism was the second religion to come to in Indonesia from abroad. Buddhism first arrived in Indonesia in the 1st century via trade. As described with Hinduism above, Buddhism followed a direct path it terms of its rise and influence over the great kingdoms and then its rapid fall and decline once Islam took over most of Indonesia. Over the next few centuries, Buddhism declined with most practitioners of the religion being Chinese immigrants who came in the 17th century. Like with Hinduism, at first, Buddhism was not an official state religion until 1962 during the New Order era under President Suharto. Most Buddhists today in Indonesia are concentrated in Jakarta and a few other regions.

Shia Islam

The history of Shia Islam coming to Indonesia and its rise and spread is similar to Sunni Islam, albeit on a much smaller scale since Sunni Islam is by far the majority religion in the country. Shia Islam did come to Indonesia about a century later, first coming to Indonesia in the 800's. Currently, only about one million people in the country follow Shia Islam, with most of them located in the capital of Jakarta.

Ahmadi Islam

The first time that Ahmadi Islam came to Indonesia was in 1925 when missionary Rahmat Ali came to Indonesia and established the religion in the city of Tapaktuan on Sumatra. By 1935, there were branches of the religion all over Indonesia and the organizational structure of the community, now called Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia, had been set up. Ahmadi Islam has had a major influence on the country with their discussions, debates, literature and lectures but it recent years had been confronting a rising tide of intolerance from other religious establishments in the country, as well as attacks from radical Islamic groups. Currently, there are 542 branches in Indonesia.


Confucianism is believed to have been brought to Indonesia by merchants from China at some point in the early 3rd century AD. In Indonesia, over the coming centuries, the religion evolved into a variety of loose individual practices and a general belief in a code of conduct, instead of a well-organized group with a strict religious doctrine. In was not until the 1900's that an organization of Confucianists was formed, called the Tiong Hoa Hwee Koan in Jakarta. In 1961 the Confucianist group, the Association of Khung Chiao Hui Indonesia, declared that Confucianism is a religion, which became important when in 1965 President Sukarno issued Presidential Decree No. 1/Pn.Ps/1965, which recognized that six religions are embraced by the Indonesian people, which included Confucianism.

This did not last long as in 1697, President Suharto issued Presidential Instruction No. 14/1967, which banned Chinese culture in the country, including Confucianism, in reaction to the 30 September Movement coup attempt by the Indonesian Communist Party, which was thought to have been backed by the Chinese. In 1696 Statute No. 5/1969 was passed, which restored Confucianism as an official religion, but this was not put into practice as in the following decades it was reinforced that Confucianism was not a religion. In 1998 new President Abdurrahman Wahid officially recognized Confucianism as a religion once again but in 2014 provinces and regions in the country were allowed to control their own administrative procedures which have caused some areas to only allow five religious affiliations on a person's national identity card, excluding Confucianism.


Kebatinan is a polytheistic Javanese belief that is a mixture of Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs. The religion was legitimized in the 1945 Indonesian Constitution. The religion is loosely organized with no prophet, holy book, rituals or festivals, instead, it focusses more on each person's internal vision and belief in their relationships with others and the supreme being.


Subud began in Indonesia in the 1920s as a spiritual movement started by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo. The basis of the religion is a spiritual exercise that is called latihan. The religion was legally registered in Indonesia in the 1940s and only has about 10,000 members in the world.


Animism is the oldest and the original religion that was practiced by people in Indonesia. Animism still exists in certain areas of the country and is not accepted as an official religion since Animists do not believe in any particular god. This has caused practitioners of the various animistic religions to mostly affiliate themselves with Hinduism, to avoid being pressured to convert to a different religion. Other animists have converted to different religions to gain full citizenship but still practice and perform animism.


The first Jews are thought to have been Dutch Jews who came to Indonesia in the early 17th century. During the Japanese Occupation of Indonesia Jews were sent to concentration camps, while others converted to Christianity to avoid this situation. There are an estimated 100 to 500 Jews in the country, with most living in Jakarta and Surabaya. Currently, there is only one synagogue in the country in the city of Tondano, though, in 2015, Beit Torat Chaim, the first official Jewish center in the country was opened by the Indonesian Religious Affairs Ministry.


No one knows exactly how many atheists are there in Indonesia as they are not officially counted in the census and mostly communicate with either through atheist organizations on the internet. Atheism is not technically illegal in Indonesia, but it is not tolerated as it violates the principles of Pancasila in the Indonesian Constitution and the sharia law. Atheists have been prosecuted in Indonesia under Islamic blasphemy laws but never under secular laws. There is no tolerance or mutual acceptance of anyone who is non-religious.

Religious Beliefs In Indonesia

RankBelief SystemShare of Indonesian Population
1Sunni Islam86.5%
2Protestant Christianity7.0%
3Roman Catholic Christianity2.9%
6Shia Islam0.4%
7Ahmadi Islam0.2%

Other Beliefs

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