Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesian civil society are concerned that the leadership of Yogyakarta - on the island of Java - intends to change the name of the city to the more Islamic flavoured Seramabi Madinah, or "Terrace of Medina". The controversy has caused confusion among the public, fearing the change will only cause "damage" to a pluralistic city, where hundreds of ethnicities peacefully coexist.
Yogyakarta is known as the symbol town of the " Indonesian struggle for independence”, home to thousands of university students who 'migrate' from all over the country to attend the academies of excellence. For this reason it is also known as Kota Pelajar, the "city of students."
The nation's capital between 1945 and 1949, during the years of revolution, Yogyakarta is divided into 14 districts, it has a population of more than 500 thousand inhabitants and is a very popular tourist destination for Indonesians and foreigners. Its inhabitants see their pluralism and openness as a source of pride. It is home to some of the most important cultural heritage sites in the country: the Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the Prambanan Hindu temple on the outskirts of the city.
Yogyakarta is also the home of the homonymous kingdom, linked to an Islamic dynasty, whose current monarch - the Sultan Hamengku Buwono X Hamengku - is also governor of the autonomous province. He is a leading member of the nationalist wing of the country and succeeded the Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, hero of the war of independence against the Dutch settlers.
The leadership's decision to rename the city of Yogyakarta "Terrace of Medina" has sparked harsh views expressed by columnists, activists, interfaith dialogue experts and members of civil society. The initiative came from Prince Joyokusumo (aka Gusti Joyo) younger brother of the governor. It is supported by the powerful Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and among the reasons cited is the fact that the old Medina – in the days of Prophet Muhammad - was famous for "hospitality and pluralism".