Persistent Islamisation In Papua

By James.B


Christian children in Indonesia's most easterly province are bearing the brunt of a multi-faceted Islamisation programme that is changing the character of the formerly Christian-majority region.  Papuan children are being trafficked to Islamic boarding schools in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, forming part of a growing trend of Islamisation in this politically-disputed region. Government-sponsored transmigration has also diluted the indigenous Christian population so that census figures now reveal they no longer constitute a majority.


Impoverished children are enticed away from their families with the promise of a good education, impossible to refuse. Unaware that the educational institutions in which they are placed focus mainly on learning from the Quran, children (possibly thousands) have left Papua over the past decade or so, according to reports.

But these re-educated children are not the only tactic adopted to Islamise the region that the Indonesian military occupied in 1963. Indonesiahas the world's largest Muslim population in the world, although the Papua province was mainly Christian until recent years. Through the government's long-term transmigration programme, millions of Indonesians have moved from Islamic regions of the country, such as Java and South Sulawesi to reside in Papua, finding employment in the lucrative oil, metal and forestry industries there.

Papua is rich in oil, copper and gold, but poverty and undernourishment plague the region, with 32% of the population living below the poverty line, compared with the national average of 12.5%. The illiteracy rate for women is high, at 64%. The indigenous Melanesian population is mostly Christian, and live in remote and inaccessible parts of the province. By contrast, most of the businesses are Islamic and almost all government officials, including the police and army, are also Muslim.

Government medical care is largely neglected, with no government doctors in Wamena or Sorong, even though Sorong is the region's second largest city. Instead, large numbers of the local population are converting to Islam because of the food and medical care offered by Islamic charities. The provision of aid, jobs, schooling, food and housing has encouraged many local Papuans to convert to Islam. Islam's tolerance of polygamy has also made the religion attractive to Papuans. Although polygamy is widely practised in Papuan culture, Papuan churches strongly advocate against it.

The growing Islamic influence has become particularly noticeable in the last few years.  The loudspeakers of mosques are in action almost every hour throughout the day and night, instead of just calling Muslims to prayer five times a day. A recent visitor to Sorong described how the mosques took turns to broadcast, so that there was barely a few minutes of silence in 24 hours.

Missionaries who work in the area have witnessed a remarkable spread of Islam in recent years. A Barnabas Aid partner reports that there is little or no missionary or NGO activity in Raja Ampat, West Papua, and the local church is struggling. The 2010 census showed that Papuans now form a minority, at 49% of the total Papua population. Unofficial estimates claim that Muslim migrants now constitute up to 60% of the population, with the mainly Christian indigenous Papuans now making up only 40% of the total population.Papua province comprises of Papua and West Papua and make up the western part of the island of New Guinea, formally annexed to Indonesia in 1969. Previously known as Irian Barat and then Irian Jaya, Papua province was split into West Irian Jaya and Papua in 2003, and West Irian Jaya became West Papua in 2007.

Ever since the Dutch colonial rulers ceded the territory to Indonesia, there has been strong opposition to Indonesian rule and many Papuans want independence. Some reports say that up to 500,000 Papuans have been killed in their struggle for self-determination, and many have joined the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM). West Papua is the most heavily militarised region in the country.

Although indigenous Papuans have Melanesian roots, sharing many cultural and ethnic aspects of the indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea, the eastern half of the island, the two halves of the island had different colonial rulers and this, analysts say, together with other factors has set the Indonesian Papuans apart from their ancient neighbours.  

originally posted at Barnabas Aid
used by permission: © Barnabas Aid 1997 - 2014 All rights reserved.  


Islamisation program in Indonesia, christian melanesian population, growing islamic inluence in Papu