Jakarta’s “blasphemous” Christian governor kicks up a storm
by Mathias Hariyadi

The politician said that the Qur’an should not be used for non-religious purposes. Indonesia’s main Islamic groups accuse him of defaming Islam. The campaign to discredit him continues ahead of the upcoming election.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian Islamic parties are divided over Basuki Purnama Tjahaja, the governor of Jakarta who is caught up in a blasphemy scandal.

Also known as ‘Ahok’, the Sino-Indonesian Christian has been criticised by Muslims after he cited the 51st Surah (Al Maidah) in the fifth chapter of the Qur'an, which some used against his re-election bid next elections.

Ahok said that religion should not be used for political purposes, but many Muslims took umbrage to this and saw it as an insult to their faith.

Yesterday, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) filed a complaint with the police in Jakarta against Ahok for defaming the Qur'an. The youth wing of Muhammadiyah, a moderate Islamic movement, called for the politician to be condemned for blasphemy.

Today the situation has cooled after MUI accepted the governor’s apologies. Ahok said that he had not intended in any way to offend Islam. However, pressures from other Islamic groups continue.

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saiffudin said that the dispute can be settled legally. Today he met MUI leaders. "We appreciate very much the ulemas’ decision to forgive Ahok and we encourage all the parties to submit their requests for a legal agreement," the minister said.

Indonesia is a constitutional state, Saiffudin added. “Let the police resolve the matter in a civilised manner, without Muslims being provoked and aggravated".

Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama is one of the few Indonesian political leaders fighting for freedom of conscience. Last June he came out against imposing the Islamic veil on female students in Jakarta. In July 2015, he defended the civil rights of the Ahmadi minority, which is considered heretical by majority Sunni Muslims.

The governor’s faux pas has alarmed the coalition that backs his re-election in February 2017. At a press conference, Megawati Soekarnoputri, head of Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), the country’s second largest party, encouraged Ahok not to talk when surrounded by reporters.

According to Polltracking Indonesia, a Jakarta-based institute, the governor’s approval rating is way down, from 70 per cent in March to 50 per cent. Until recently, he was seen as the favourite in the race.

Indonesian Islamic leaders have not targeted Ahok alone; they have also gone after other non-Muslim politicians and officials. Today, scores of ulemas have rejected the appointment of a non-Muslim to the post of chief of police in Banten Regency (East Java).