11/11/2013, 00.00
INDONESIA

Indonesian ulema again demand Catholic schools teach Islam

by Mathias Hariyadi
In Klanten, Central Java, the MUI reignites the controversy over the fact that Islam is not taught in Catholic schools, a serious violation for the local head of the Islamist organisation. Last year, the same dispute broke out in Blitar and Tegal, subsiding eventually after Muslim parents defended the schools their children attended because of the quality of their teaching.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has once again stirred up controversy over the fact that Islam is not taught in the country's Catholic schools. The latest case involves a Catholic school of Klanten in Central Java. Last year, the same thing was front-page news for weeks in Blitar (East Java Regency) and Tegal until Muslim parents came out in defence of the Catholic schools where their children study, emphasising their high level of education.

Hartoyo, the MUI leader in Klanten, urged all private schools, including Catholic ones, to hire qualified staff to teach the Islamic religion to Muslim students. In his view, the absence of Islamic religious teachers is a grave violation of the law because every student should be able to receive lessons in his or her religion.

The local association of private schools (BMPS) agrees. Slamming the lack of Muslim teachers, it demanded that a solution be found and the problem solved "in the best possible way."

In reality, following a decades-old practice, Indonesia's private Christian schools, including Catholic ones, are not required to offer courses on Islamic religion or time off to read the Quran, as is the case in state schools. They do however provide seminars and lectures on the Christian religion and catechism.

Muslim students who go to Catholic schools take instead Islamic religious courses sponsored by their own Islamic community.

It should also be noted that school administrators go out of their way to reassure Muslim parents that Catholic schools do not try to "convert" students and that Christian proselytising is banned.

For decades, the issue was never a problem, until last year that is, when MUI leaders stirred up a storm by demanding Islam be taught, something extensively covered by local media. However, for most people, the whole thing is political and not spiritual in nature.

In recent years, Indonesian authorities have repeatedly caved in to MUI pressures, an association that purports to monitors behaviour and morals, a practice that is commonplace in Aceh, a province ruled by Islamic radicals, where women cannot wear tight pants or skirts.

In March 2011, the MUI lashed at flag raising "because Muhammad never did it". Before that, it attacked the popular social networking service Facebook for being "amoral" as well as yoga, smoking, and the right to vote, particularly for women.

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