MUI fatwa on national health insurance scheme sparks debate

An edict by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) that the national health insurance scheme does not follow Islamic principles has reignited debate on whether commercial insurance is compatible with sharia.

According to the MUI, the scheme known as Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional  (JKN) involves usury, gambling and manipulation.

“We recommend the government reform the current system to make it in line with Islamic principles,” said Amidhan Shaberah, an MUI deputy chairman.

Amidhan said the edict was made during a meeting of the MUI’s fatwa commission in Central Java last month.

The JKN was launched in January 2014 by the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with the aim of achieving universal healthcare coverage. The policy was continued under President Joko Widodo.

Among its criticisms, the council said that a fine of two per cent of the monthly premium imposed on insurance participants if they failed to pay for three months was usurious.

MUI said the current scheme should be allowed to continue until a new system that is in line with sharia is established.

The council is a semi-official body funded by the government, but its edicts are non-binding.

Some Islamic scholars believe that conventional insurance resembles gambling because they believe it involves uncertainty.

Other Muslim scholars disagreed with MUI.

“Insurance is a fairly new service and it is not regulated in traditional Islamic jurisprudence,” said Ulil Abshar Abdalla, the founder of the Liberal Islamic Network.

“Why some Muslim scholars consider insurance haram? Because when one buys an insurance policy from a provider, the two sides are gambling,” he said.

“But such principle can’t be applied in a modern economic system that is very complex. The only way to get around it is by re-contextualizing Islamic jurisprudence to answer modern problems.”

Indonesia aims to have every citizen covered by health insurance by 2020. As part of the scheme, the government pays premiums for 86.4 million people considered poor or near poor.

More than 142 million Indonesians, or just over half of the country’s 250 million people, are registered as participants as of this year.

The insurance operator, BPJS Kesehatan, expects the number to reach 168 million by the end of the year.

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