Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Christian, Buddhists and Muslim leaders met with Islamic extremists to in an attempt to restore tolerance and religious freedom to Indonesia. Activists for inter-religious dialogue organized a meeting between Kiai Hajj Hasyim Muzadi, former head of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest moderate Muslim organization in the country, and Habib Rizieq, leader of the Islamic Defender Front (FPI ) Islamic extremist group in Jakarta yesterday.
Over the past two months religious intolerance in Indonesia has increased. Especially in Bekasi and Bogor, where two Christian communities (and Yasmin Hkbp Church) have been repeatedly attacked, their places of worship closed and the functions disrupted by crowds of Muslim radicals.
Catholic bishops are also seeking the restoration of a climate of religious freedom. In a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono they have asked him to show courage and to impose respect for freedom of worship.
During the meeting between religious leaders and FPI, Muzadi told the leader of the extremists: "All Indonesians must restore the spirit of tolerance to strengthen pluralism in this country. The spirit of tolerance should not be destroyed by anyone”.
Pastor Andreas Yewangoe, president of the Synod of Protestant Churches in Indonesia, instead pointed out the ease with which permits to build beauty centres are handed out and the difficulty of erecting places of worship. The Protestant Church of Batak (Hkbp) in Bekasi, for example, is forced to hold its services in a field, often interrupted by crazed FPI extremists, because its church was closed after the Government withdrew legal permission to have a place of worship.Habib Rizieq however rejected the accusations of intolerance, saying that the FPI will not prevent Christians from professing their faith. "What happened to the faithful of Hkbp Bekasi – he said - does not affect the right to practice [the faith], but legal problems: they lack the legal permission to build a church".