Indonesian President Pledges to Protect Religious Freedom of All Citizens
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged his governments commitment to protect the religious freedom of all citizens, local news agencies reported Sunday. He also called on the community to help prevent violence against any faith.
The state guarantees the freedom of its citizens to practice their religion and also guarantees that they can conduct religious rituals,” presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng quoted the president as saying in a statement.
According to the Jakarta Post, the president also warned organizations and members of the community not to take the law into their own hands, either in regard to their own religion or to that of others.
The presidents statement on Sunday emerged after reports of forced closures of dozens of Christian churches in the Muslim provinces of West Java and Banten in recent months.
According to an Aug. 17 report by the World Evangelical Alliances Religious Liberty Commission (RLC), thirty-five churches had been closed in West Java since the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI discussed the problem of Christian expansion in Indonesia at a four- day national congress in the last week of July.
The Jakarta Post, which reported on the gathering, said the clerical delegation from Jambi province, central Sumatra , had reported that Christian preachers were converting Muslims at an alarming rate. They were most disturbed by the phenomenon of the construction of churches in the province.
Various delegates lamented lack of funds to counter conversions, the Jakarta Post report added, while some complained that non-Muslims were being elected to positions of local authority. Other delegates voiced their determination to ensure their district remained church-free.
To solve the problem, the congress released an 11-point fatwa (edict) denouncing liberal interpretations of Islam, secularism and pluralism as un-Islamic. According to the RLC, the fatwa also promoted a hard-line, intolerant orthodox Islam that denies equality to women and non-Muslims.
As Indonesia ‘s highest Islamic authority, the MUI is responsible for Muslim doctrine in the country. According to Jubilee Campaign the MUI receives some 5 billion Rupees (nearly US$600,000) of government funding annually. Former president Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) is one of many influential figures who publicly rejected the fatwa.
Fueled mainly by the MUI, the drive for Islamization has increased in recent years, as has a growing concern over Muslim apostasy (leaving Islam), the RLC reported. This is evidenced in the Education Bill, the push for Sharia Law and the escalation in church closures, which are all part of an aggressive counter-measure to halt or reverse the spread of Christianity.
The Jubilee Campaign reported that on Sunday, Aug. 14, Islamic militants from the Front for the Defense of Islam (FDI), an arm of the MUI, barged into eight churches in Cimahi, West Java , during worship services. Accompanied by police, the militants then marched to the front, forced the pastor to sign a statement that he would close the church, and ordered the congregation to leave. The churches affected were Anglican, Presbyterian, Adventist, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal and three other Protestant congregations. The militants targeted eight churches in Cileunyi the previous Sunday.
On Saturday, thousands of Christians and a number of leading Muslim figures, including former president Abdurrahman Wahid, rallied to protest the recent rise in church closures.
And now that Indonesias president has also expressed concern over the problem, the National Police chief has been instructed to enforce the law against those responsible for the closures of the churches, including those who took part in them.
Currently, around 90 percent of the 240 million Indonesian population follows Islam, making Indonesia the worlds largest Muslim-populated nation. Despite the constitution guarantees equal status to all state-recognized religions, the country has been stricken by the growing tension between Christians and Muslims.