A survey by US-based polling body, Gallup, several years ago found that the poorer the country, the more the population find religion important. On the contrary, the richer the country, the less important religion is in their lives.

The survey was conducted in 40 countries with 1,000 respondents in each country. According to the survey, poor countries are those with income per capita below US$2,000, while rich countries have income per capita above $25,000.

The question is, why do countries with less religious populations have low corruption rate? Take Denmark, where only 19 percent of the people considers religion important. The country is the least corrupt country in the world. Compare that to our country, where the majority of people are Muslims and certainly think highly of religion, but the rate of corruption is alarming. Indonesia ranks 90 among 174 countries in terms of corruption rate.

So, what is the role of religion in eradicating corruption? Because fundamentally, all religions preach for moral excellence, and none of them teach people to cheat, harm others or take what is not rightfully theirs.

I notice the fallacy from the general public in seeing or understanding piety. Piety is seen as an individual act. If someone appears to be devout, religious or teaching others to recite the holy verses, for example, people perceive him to be a good man. A pious person.
In person, these people are devout, but that is not enough. Religious piety must be reflected in social setting, as an expression of our faith. Religiosity is not enough to only be affirmed by our heart (tashdiq bil qalbi). It must also be professed with our tongue (iqrar bil lisan), and acted out with our limbs (amal bil arkan).

The last one is reflected through good deeds. The personal ones for example are avoiding premarital/extramarital sex, not consuming alcohol, not gambling, and helping others. But it should not stop there. Religiosity also means restraining ourselves from things that inflict losses to many people, like harming others, stealing or corruption.

Religious teaching should not only emphasize on personal ritual, but also social piety. Both aspects must be balanced. It is also incorrect to consider not praying as long as we are not corrupt.

Building a community with integrity cannot be done overnight. It cannot be realized in an instance, or abruptly. The values must be instilled since early on.

Children should be told that “when you throw garbage carelessly, you are not a faithful person. If you hurt your friend, you are not a faithful person.” Explain the impacts for other people. These things must be taught since early on. Teachers should be people who have integrity and sensitivity toward issues like corruption. They must be trained and given new insights that will be passed on to the students.

Teachers play very important role and they determine the outcome. There may be a case where the curriculum or teaching materials are excellent, but if the teachers have no competence, it will be useless. If the curriculum is not sufficient but the teachers have integrity and knowledge, things can still be reprieved.

However, this issue is not only the responsibility of teachers or parents, but also the responsibility of every party. Teachers in this sense are people that have the capacity to convey religious message, like ulema, religious teachers, priests, and so on. They are in the position that can shape the characters of their students, the congregations, and the society. If these people are spiritually enlightened, in the sense that they can balance the private and social aspects of religion, they are what we really need right now.

There is an interesting story. When officials from countries like Finland or Denmark, which have low corruption index, are asked, “What makes a country like yours, where religious ritual is not common and law enforcement is so-so, able to fight corruption? What gives?” They would answer: “Since we are a little, issues that are private and public have been taught and emphasized upon us. That’s all.” When they grow up, they become aware of what are allowed and what are not.

Therefore, within Nahdlatul Ulema (NU), we also include public issues in religious education. Because religion must have a role in these issues. Otherwise, religion will be alienated from real issues faced daily by society.

Dr. Rumadi, Head of Nahdlatul Ulema Institute for Human Resources Research and Development

The articles published in Public Voice are personal opinion and analysis of the writers, and do not represent the view of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK)