Islamic Schools in A Bind for Waving Away Flag Decree
Candra Malik& Hangga Brata
A Central Java official has threatened to shut down two Islamic schools where the principals refuse to hold flag-raising ceremonies, saying the practice conflicts with their faith.
Karanganyar district chief Rina Iriani accused Al Irshad Al Islamiyyah junior high and Al Bani primary school of violating a ministerial decree that required students to salute the flag and sing the national anthem.
“I will give them until the end of June,” Rina said on Tuesday. “If they fail to follow the regulation, I will order the shutdown of these schools.”
She said officials had been monitoring the schools since February to ensure that they complied with a 2008 decree from the Education Ministry requiring schools to hold flag-raising ceremonies on Mondays and national holidays.
Rina said the officials had forced the schools to comply for several weeks, but the schools stopped raising the flag when they went unsupervised.
The district chief said she was worried that the students in these schools were not being taught Pancasila, the state ideology promoting national unity.
By not learning to sing “Indonesia Raya” (“Great Indonesia”), the national anthem, she said the children would grow up without learning to love their country.
But Sutardi, the principal of Al Irshad in Tawangmangu subdistrict, insisted that saluting the flag was against his Islamic beliefs.
“I do not want to be punished by God and be considered an idolator,” he said, adding that he respected the flag despite his stance.
“Aside from being deemed a heretic act, this was never done by the Prophet Muhammad,” Sutardi added.
“Saluting the flag is shirking one’s duties to God.
“Doing it could sully my status as a Muslim,” the principal said.
Sutardi also said salutations to the flag were similar to i’tidal , a practice in which Muslims stand upright while praying — but he argued that only Allah deserved such homage.
“That’s why teachers [at Al Irshad] do not teach [salutes to the flag] to students,” the principal said. “We teach students not to give love, loyalty and respect to inanimate objects.”
Heru Ichwanuddin, the head of Al Bani primary school in Matesih subdistrict, said forcing students to respect the flag constituted a violation of the freedom of expression and religion.
“Respecting the flag is an individual right. It should not and cannot be forced by the state,” he said on Tuesday.
“As an institution, we adhere to government regulations. However, we are concerned that this goes against human rights. We will not impose on others to respect the flag,” he added.
However, Rina, the district head, criticized both schoolmasters for allegedly teaching their students to “dishonor their country and its ideals.”
“We will not tolerate such efforts to defy the rules of this country,” she said. “If these two schools cannot be reformed, then they will be closed and teachers will be blacklisted.”
“Since [both schools] have not shown good faith in following the rules, I have instructed officers from the subdistrict office, district police and the military command to monitor these two schools and work toward getting them to hold regular flag-raising ceremonies,” Rina added.
Juhdi Amin, head of Karanganyar’s religious affairs office, said he would enlist the help of the country’s top clerical body, Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), to correct the principals’ “wrong notions.”
Juhdi said clerics could teach students that honoring the flag and singing the anthem would not violate Islamic teachings or human rights.