Remember the Indonesian businessman who stood up for his daughter’s right to not wear a headscarf at school? He convinced the government but lost his home and his business.
In January 2021, Elianu Hia, a Christian from West Sumatra, had a meeting with the vice-principal of his daughter’s school in the province’s capital of Padang. He wanted to discuss and protest the school’s requirement that students were to wear a “jilbab” (headscarf) as part of their school uniform.
“If I [force] my daughter to wear the headscarf, I will be lying about my daughter’s identity,” Hia told the BBC. “Where are my religious rights? This is a public school after all,” he said.
A recording of the conversation he posted online went viral, and the incident led the government to issue a decree banning discriminatory dress codes on the basis that students and teachers may choose what to wear in school, with or without religious attributes.However, the victory was short-lived, as five months later, Indonesia’s Supreme Court cancelled the government regulation on procedural grounds.
Also, Hia started receiving hundreds of threatening messages on Facebook and WhatsApp. “I lost count,” he told Human Rights Watch. In some messages, he was told to leave West Sumatra, and in others, he was accused of showing disregard for Islamic culture. Soon he started losing customers and was forced to close his business. In the end, Hia and his wife had to sell their house too. “I cannot earn enough money now. We have to move out of West Sumatra,” he said.
“This is a harsh reminder of the long-term consequences that anti-Christian pressure can have,” said Thomas Muller, persecution analyst with Open Doors’ World Watch Research. “Where Indonesian society rejects fair legal decisions, Christians can be forced to pay a high price”.
A 2021 report by HRW details how Christian and other non-Muslim girls often feel forced into wearing “the jilbab uniform even though they did not want to wear it on faith grounds”. However, clothing is only one issue that students belonging to minority faith groups are struggling with. Accusations of carrying out “missionary activities” and the topic of conversion are particularly controversial.
While multiculturalism is part of Indonesia’s foundation and its guiding Pancasila ideology, “the situation for Christians has been deteriorating in recent years, with Indonesian society taking on a more conservative Islamic character,” according to an Open Doors country report on Indonesia.
Click here to see how you can pray for Christian children and their families in Indonesia, #33 on the 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.