Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The powerful Indonesian
Ulema Council (MUI) has come out against Catholic schools in Tegal District, Central
Java province, issuing a "controversial" a fatwa that has sparked
reactions and protests.
For MUI leaders, such schools are "haram",
"morally unsound" for young Muslim pupils despite the fact that they score
high for the quality of the education they provide and have as a consequence attracted
a large number of non-Christians.
In so doing, they have opened up a new fault
line after their recent attack against Miss World Contest; this in the world's most populous Muslim
nation, where Catholics are a small but significant presence.
For the schools, the fatwa is a great blow,
coming in the wake of attacks from Muslim extremists and local governments that
included threats of closure that were however eventually dropped.
The Ulema Council has often intervened to
enforce orthodox views about Muslim precepts, such as how to butcher animals or
uphold Islamic mores. However, in this case the motivation behind MUI's stance
is "political" in nature. It follows appeals by local authorities to force
Catholic schools to teach the Muslim religion to its non-Christian pupils.
Harun Abdi Manaf, MUI leader in Tegal, said that the council went through "lengthy
discussions" and that a "decision was taken in April" to issue "a fatwa
destined for the parents" of Muslim pupils, telling them not to send their children
to Catholic schools. He explicitly referred to Catholic schools in Tegal and
Pemalang, which have been under the threat of closure because they opposed a
government order that requires them to reach Islam.
In addition to Mgr Julianus Sunarko, bishop of
Purwokerto, many Muslim families have come to the defence of the two schools, claiming
their right to a quality education. In fact, many schools run by nuns, priests
and lay Catholics offer such excellence in education that they are sought after
However, government authorities have tried too
often to exert some form of control (however small) over these schools. The
demand to have Islam included in the curriculum has thus become a rallying
point to gain Islamist political and electoral support.
Indeed, Indonesian authorities in recent years have
repeatedly given in to MUI's pressures. For example in Aceh, a province run by
Islamic radicals, women are not allowed to wear tight pants or skirts.
In March 2011, MUI also lashed out at the flag
raising "because Mohammed never did it". Before that, it had launched
anathemas against Facebook for its
"amoral" nature, as well as yoga, smoking and voting rights, in
particular for women.