Tunnel connecting Jakarta’s main mosque to the cathedral to open in September
by Mathias Hariyadi

The announcement was made after Vice President Kiai Hajj Ma'ruf Amin visits the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption. The gesture is highly symbolic since Amin once led the Indonesian Council of Ulema. All this is part of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's plan to promote religious tolerance and marginalise extremist views.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – In September, the Great Istiqlal Mosque and the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption will be connected by an underground tunnel. The two places of worship are located next to each other in the Indonesian capital.

On Friday, Indonesian Vice President Kiai Hajj Ma'ruf Amin visited the tunnel and then entered the cathedral compound along with Archbishop Card Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta.

Minister of Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimulyono and Istiqlal Mosque Grand Imam Nasaruddin Umar were present at the event.

For Christian Indonesians, the vice president’s visit is more than a photo op or a technical inspection. Until 2017, Amin was president of the Council of Ulama of Indonesia and used its influence in political issues in the past.

For instance, he criticised and then had Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama dismissed for blasphemy.

Last Thursday’s visit is an example of Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo’s desire to promote religious tolerance and marginalise extremist views.

In 2017 his government dissolved and banned extremist Islamic groups, including the Islamic Defence Front and Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Liberation Party.

“This hub represents not only a symbol of good relations between different religious communities, but also promotes tolerance and peace among all Indonesians,” Amin said.

“Everything is indeed very symbolic,” said J. Kristiadi, a senior political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), speaking to AsiaNews.

“Amin's move to visit and enter the cathedral sends a strong message that tolerance should be defended by all parties in the country.”

The Istiqlal (independence) mosque dates back to the presidency of President Sukarno who announced a competition for its construction in 1955, eventually won architect Friedrich Silaban, a Christian.

Already at the time, the mosque symbolised not only the nation's newly found independence from foreign occupation, but also a spirit of tolerance.

For this reason, the authorities had it built it across from St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, consecrated in 1901 and renovated between 1988 and 2002.