Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, has spoken to 1700 principals of the metropolis, announcing students are free choose what clothes to wear: "Muslims cannot force everyone else to follow their precepts".
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Students cannot be forced to wear the Islamic veil, Indonesia respects all religions and is not obliged to follow the letter of the Koran, says Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama. He was addressing 1700 principals from the city’s schools who, under pressure from Muslim fundamentalist groups, want to make the use of hijab mandatory in the school facilities.
The governor, Christian and ethnic Chinese, explained that he took the same position when he was head of East Belitung district (province of Bangka-Belitung): "That district is predominantly Muslim, about 93%. When there was a mass request to force female students to wear the hijab, I opposed it". Ahok explained that "if you (as a Muslim) believe that this special garment represents your faith, then you are free to wear it. But you cannot demand everyone wear it if they do not want to".
Speaking to the media, the governor asked them not to make an issue over the matter, ensuring that he respects the Islamic faith: "I will not argue theology with all the factions, but your children have to agree with you if encouraged to study the Koran by heart since childhood". He added that the hijab is not a garment to be associated automatically with Islam either: "The Jews and some Christian communities in the Middle East wear the same garment."
The issue of forcing girls to wear the hijab has been a contentious issue for over a decade. The first to criticize the practice was former education minister Daud Joesoef. When Muslim communities began to press for even Catholic institutions to make it mandatory, the politician rejected the demands saying that schools should choose their own uniforms.
In March 2015, the extremist Islamic front applauded the police chief's decision to allow female officers to wear the hijab.
Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama is one of the few Indonesian political leaders to publically defend freedom of conscience. Last July the Jakarta governor promoted a fight for civil rights of the Ahmadi minority, considered heretical by the majority Sunni Muslims.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation (over 200 million) but has a secular constitution that protects all faiths.