12/21/2012, 00.00
INDONESIA

Islamists against Catholics in Central Java, Christmas celebrations in jeopardy

by Mathias Hariyadi
Islamic Defence Front leaders threaten to stop celebrations. A big prayer meeting is planned for Christmas Eve. Islamist reaction is due to a planned Mass in a square across from a mosque. Police and local authorities say Christian celebrations have all the right permits, warn they would use all means at their disposal, including force to stop the extremists.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - For Catholics in Ungaran (Central Java), Christmas is in jeopardy because of threats from the extremist Islamic Defence Front (FPI). Since the local grand mosque is located on the centrally located Sidomulyo Square, where Christians are preparing to celebrate Christmas with Masses and prayers, Muslims fundamentalists have threatened to stop all celebrations. A big meeting in front of the mosque has already been announced for the afternoon of Christmas Eve.

Central Java FPI leader Jindan Bahrul warned Christians that an open-air Mass in front of the mosque would "not be a good example of [interfaith] tolerance" before Christmas. "Other possible locations exist," he said, adding that Christians "should go elsewhere". Indeed, Christmas Eve's big prayer meeting in front of Ungaran's Grand Mosque should be reason enough for Christians to pause.

However, regency police said that they would stop the Islamists if they acted, by force if necessary. Although no public official personally made the announcement to avoid retaliation, the statement does indicate the authorities' intention to stand their ground even against a leading mosque leader in Ungaran.

For its part, the local administration noted that the Catholic community had applied and obtained the necessary permits for Christmas celebrations within the required timespan. "We gave the request due attention," said Abdullah Maskur, a local top official, "and decided to issue the necessary permits after consulting all parties."

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Whilst its constitution recognises the principle of religious freedom, attacks and violence against minorities, be they Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or members of other religions, have become very frequent.

In Aceh Province, Sharia is in place, the only jurisdiction in the entire nation to have done so. Under Islamist influence, a more radical and extremist vision of the faith is being imposed on residents in many areas.

Increasingly, laws, rules and regulations like building permits are being used selectively to prevent the construction of Christian places of worship or prevent Christians from using those they already have. This has been done in Bogor Regency (West Java) against members of the Yasmin Church.

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