10/08/2004, 00.00
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Christians and Muslims afraid that Sharia Law might be imposed

Religious minorities are concerned about the election of Muslim fundamentalist Hidayat Nurwahid to the presidency of the People's Consultative Assembly.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist and Hindu lawmakers have expressed concern over the election of Hidayat Nurwahid, president of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) to the presidency of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), Indonesia's highest legislative body which consists of the People's Representative Council and the Regional Representatives' Council. The MPR has the power to amend the constitution and impeach the president and the vice-president.

Saudi-educated, Nuwahid is a former lecturer at Jakarta-based Islamic Teaching Institute. He is widely known as a prominent Muslim intellectual leader. Lately, he has come out forcefully against the US occupation of Iraq.

Campaigning on a motto of clean, honest and caring Islamic values, the PKS and Hidayat Nurwahid won the support of many disaffected voters, especially in Jakarta, where it has become the city's main party.

Some Catholics are concerned that he might promote changes to the 1945 Constitution, especially amending Article 29 which explicitly defines Indonesia as a secular state based on the five principles of Pancasila*.

Nationalists from the Golkar party are afraid that Nurwahid might be able to get parliament to impose Sharia law on all Muslims (a possibility excluded from the times of the Suharto regime).

Whilst denying any intention of implementing Sharia law, Nurwahid has made it clear that he wants Muslims to follow a stricter and more fundamentalist version of their religion. In his opinion, the lack of religiosity leads to corruption and immorality.

Before his election, Hidayat Nurwahid was thought to be President-elect Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's candidate for the post of Minister of Education. For Catholics and Protestants such an appointment was fraught with risks that he might change the educational curriculum imposing Islamic teaching to Muslim students attending schools run by Catholic and other Christians.

This is a very sensitive issue since Christian schools do not have Islamic religious education as part of the curriculum of Muslim students. Most non Christian students are however unconcerned about requiring non Christian religious education in Christian schools. For most people the issue only serves the interests of extremist politicians.

In the first round of the presidential election Nurwahid backed radical politician Amien Rais. In the run-off election he moved to Yudhoyono. Their alliance could give the President-elect a majority in Parliament. (MH)

* In its preamble, Indonesia's 1945 constitution set forth the Pancasila as the embodiment of basic principles of an independent Indonesian state. They are:

1) Monotheism (Ketuhanan);

2) Humanism (Kemanusiaan);

3) National unity (Kebangsaan);

4) Democracy and representative government (Kerakyatan);

5) Social justice (Keadilan Sosial).

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