In Defense of Pancasila

Gde Dwitya Arief | CRCS

Upancasilapon reading an opinion piece about strategy to disseminate the idea of peaceful coexistence between religious groups and the role of Pancasila in it, I could not help but stricken by the pessimism toward the benefit of teaching Pancasila. The opinion piece rightfully pointed out to our need of better religious studies classes but perhaps it has mistaken the vital role of Pancasila education in our nation building process for merely teaching of irrelevant ‘lofty ideals’.

If our problem is the current model of Pancasila education then we have to reform our way of teaching Pancasila to our students. We should not, by whatever means, undermine the historical fact that Pancasila is a foundation on which our founding fathers build our multicultural nation while fighting narrow religious idea of conceptualising state ideology.

In our current national situation where extreme ideological threat of NII and its idea of Islamic state is proliferating, Pancasila could not be more important .

Perhaps we should take some time to look back at how Pancasila was conceptualized and why it was dubbed as  principles that makes Indonesia a model for the future Islamic civilization by religious scholar Bassam Tibi.

Soekarno and the Idea of Deconfessionalized State

When Indonesia’s constitution was worded there was a heated debate in  the Investigatory Committee for the Efforts for the Preparation of Indonesian Independence (BPUPKI) between the supporters of what we know as ‘Jakarta Charter’ and proponents of Pancasila. The first group was in favor of Islam as a the state’s legal-formal base, represented by Natsir and Agus Salim while the other group strongly advocated the idea of separation between religion and the state represented by Soekarno and Hatta.

The problem of proposing Jakarta Charter is that eventhough the majority of Indonesians are Moslems we have also to recognize other religious minority groups. Therefore, the idea of Islam as legal-formal base for the new nation will create uneasiness among these minorities. Soekarno and Hatta, as both nationalist, prefer a form of deconfessionalized state that does not have to resort to religion as its legal-formal base.

Soekarno clearly wrote in his book ’Di Bawah Bendera Revolusi’ : “the principle of the unity of state and religion for a country which its inhabitant is not 100% Moslem could not be in line with democracy. In such a country, there are only two alternatives; there are only two choices: the unity of state religion, but without democracy, or democracy, but the state is separated from religion”.

Why the unity of state and religion could not be in line with democracy? Apologetic reasoning for advocating Islam as the state’s legal-formal base is that the state will give the minorities special status of ‘dhimmies’ or protected ones. However ‘dhimmies’ are not of equal status with Moslems, they are subdued. In the past it was in the form of different taxes. This idea of course is not in line with the idea of equal citizenship in modern democracy.

For that reason, Pancasila which includes monotheism, humanism, national unity, democracy and justice was given birth by our founding fathers as a smart solution. Pancasila promoted values that we all shared without referring specifically to any religious teachings and it stands above any religious ideologies. Thus make it acceptable for every members of the new nation.

The fact that Pancasila was born in Indonesia, a Moslem country, and proposed by our majority Moslem founding fathers makes it of Islamic model for managing interreligious relationship within a democratic state. As the renowned religious scholar Bassam Tibi once praised, Pancasila makes other religious groups of equal status with Islam in a largely democratic Moslem country. It proposes a future model for promoting domestic peace in the Moslem world which has significant minorities. To some degree it also proves that democracy works in a culturally Islamic environment which means interrupting Samuel Huntington’s thesis that Islam is not compatible with democracy.

A New Model for Teaching Pancasila

We have to admit that the current method of teaching Pancasila is not the best yet that we have. Many have mentioned that it is indeed perceived as a boring subject by most of the students. It means there is an urgent call to reform our current way of disseminating this critical understanding of Pancasila’s role in our nation-building process to our youth.

We need a new model of teaching Pancasila which underlines its historical conceptualization and vital significance to our nation building process. We also have to get rid all the myths that surround it including the abuse of it as ideological empty slogan during the New Order era.

This is the task we are now facing. The call can not be more urgent since recent development of insurgent separatist groups like NII and its activism has penetrated deep to our society. It is no surprise if their target are college students. This is actually the critical segment within our society to which we will hand on the future of our nation building process.

Gde Dwitya Arief Gde

is a master student at Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies,

Gadjah Mada University and an editor at



  1. Asher Tauran

    24 November 2017

    Dear Sir


    “……To some degree it also proves that democracy works in a culturally Islamic environment which means interrupting Samuel Huntington’s thesis that Islam is not compatible with democracy…..”


    I wonder what “to some degree means”. I wonder what strain of Islam you and Mr. Huntington had in mind. Furthermore Muslims in Indonesia as you know are hardly monolithic in beliefs and practice. Abangans and traditionalist and modern Santi’s are pretty diverse and, as far as abangans is concerned, hardly proficient in the mainstream teachings of Islam being syncretic. To paint the “Indonesian Muslims” with the same brush does not reflect this diversity.

    Furthermore the idea of pancasila’s first pillar being an expression of monotheism is debatable and maybe even disputable. If it were, then we would have problems with non theistic religions. It is rather contradictory to claim pancasila as monotheistic and yet our homegrown religions including animism will be considered non compatible with our state ideology. Quite a number of Indonesians will fall in this categorical religious and as a consequence, legal limbo.

    And last but unfortunately not least. In a perfect pancasila world there would be no room for religious discrimination in our country. the following proofs it wrong:

    1969 building requirements of a house of worship, the 1974 Marriage Law regarding mixed marriages, the 1965 Blasphemy law about defaming religion, ministerial decrees 70 and 78 of 1978 concerning the Guideline for Evangelism and Foreign Aid to religious Institutions, joint ministerial decision No. 1, 1979, Law No 8, 1984 failing to differentiate religious organisations from social mass organisations and Law No 7, 1989 dealing with the position of religious courts that effectively are creating an irrational country where Indonesian people are judged based on different laws

    Personally I belief all pillars of pancasila are laudable and universal except for the first pillar. The belief in one Lordship has been interpreted in so many ways during the last 72 years and it is a matter of fierce debate uptil today. It is still debatable what exactly is meant when the late Soekarno launched his vision. This has caused the most unsatisfying and unstable political, social, and legal situation in this country and will continue to do so for as long as religion obsessively is being pursued to find an institutionalised basis in Indonesia.


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