About 87% of the population is Muslim, and in some areas this figure is as high as 95%, although not all of them share the same ideologies. The further east in Indonesia you travel, the larger the population of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Animists becomes. Of the Lesser Sunda Islands, Lombok and Sumbawa are predominantly Muslim, although Flores has a Christian majority.
The adat plays a large role in all of these religions in Indonesia. Religious beliefs and customs are greatly influenced by local traditions which are passed down through the generations. A follower of Islam in Indonesia usually adheres also to other traditions, such as the burning of incense and the offering of small sacrifices to local spirits. Many followers of Islam combine Muslim rituals with a deep rooted mysticism which dates back to the pre-Islamic period in Indonesia. Only a small percentage is orthodox, and these Muslims live mostly in Aceh, on North Sumatra, South Kalimantan and Madura. Indonesian Muslims are Sunnis. Compared with Malaysia and the Middle East, the Islamic practises in Indonesia are generally much more moderate, although this has begun to change in recent years. Only a small population of the women wear veils and alcohol consumption is quite widespread. Indonesia is currently the largest Islamic community in the world.
Islam: The Arabic word ‘Islam’ means ‘submission to God’. The basis of Islam is the belief in the one indivisible god, Allah. Mohammed is his prophet. Through the archangel Gabriel, Allah revealed His word to Mohammed in the 7th century, and this was written down to form the Koran, the Muslim holy book. The sharia, the holy Islamic law based on the Koran, dominated education and justice for centuries. There are five duties that all Muslims must fulfil, known as the five pillars of Islam. These are:
- Shahada: The declaration that there is no god other than Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.
- Salat: Prayer, which every Muslim must recite five times a day in the direction of Mecca. Before prayer, face, hands and feet must be washed. The verses and bodily positions/movements are fixed. Men are obliged to say their Friday afternoon prayer in a mosque. Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets, which are spread throughout the country.
- Zakat: The giving of alms to the poor. This is generally not observed as strictly as in earlier times.
- Sawm: Fasting during the month of Ramadan, in which time people may not eat, drink, smoke or have sexual relations in the period from sunrise to sunset.
- Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim must make this pilgrimage once in their lives, as long as health and finances permit.
Balinese Hinduism: Most Balinese follow a form of Hinduism that they call Agama Hindu Dharma. It is a unique combination of Hindu and Buddhist ideals developed on top of native, pre-Hindu religious practises. The three main ideas of Hinduism are knowledge of the epic verses (the Mahabharata and the Ramayana), knowledge of philosophy and theology and ritual worship (puya), characterised by bakti (religious devotion) and sacrifice (banten). Typical ceremonies are held to honour the gods, the dead, ancestors, births, the onset of puberty, exorcistic rituals, ritual sacrifice and numerous purification rituals. Altogether, the Balinese take part in hundreds upon hundreds of rituals and will devote much time and money to them.
Animism: Animists believe that all matter has an intrinsic soul and spirits inhabit every man, animal and object. Many hundreds of ghosts inhabit forests, rivers and hills. Satisfying these spirits is the integral purpose of Animism. Tattoos and enchanted amulets are reputed to bring luck and protect against the influence of evil spirits. Anyone possessed by the devil or evil spirits must go to the shaman, medicine man or exorcist. Many peoples combine Animism with the practise of ancestor worship, a custom that honours dead family members and forefathers.