Conservative West Java Muslims seek interfaith festival ban

Secularists accuse opponents of Bandung event of trying to undermine foundations of Indonesian society
Conservative West Java Muslims seek interfaith festival ban

Indonesians of various religions take part in an interfaith march to mark the anniversary of Jakarta Archdiocese in 2017. (Photo: Konradus Epa/UCA News)

Conservative Muslims in Indonesia’s West Java province are calling on provincial authorities to scrap interfaith festivals due to take place in the cities of Bandung and Cirebon on Feb. 15.

Thousands of Buddhists, Catholics, Confucians, Hindus, Muslims and Protestants are expected to take part in the festivals, which organizers say are to boost tourism and promote diversity.

However, hundreds of Muslims, under the umbrella group Islamic Organization Forum (Formasi) in West Java, gathered outside the offices of the Bandung mayor and the provincial governor on Feb. 3.

They also met deputy provincial governor Uu Ruzhanul Ulum to demand the festivals, which they said were against Islamic values, be canceled.

"We oppose it because there is an element of polytheism here that runs contrary to the Islamic religion," news portal Republica.co.id quoted Formasi coordinator Iwan Daryana as saying.

He threatened to intensify protests if the demand was not met. “If the local government tries to go ahead with these activities, Islamic organizations in West Java will take matters into their own hands,” he said.

During the Feb. 3 protest, Muslims also voiced opposition to the building of a large church on the outskirts of Bandung.

West Java is Indonesia’s most populated province with 48 million people and is regarded as the most intolerant and a hotbed of radical and extremist groups.

According to local authorities, the interfaith and intercultural festival called “Bandung City is a Shared House, Ours Together” is an attempt to unite all elements in society, particularly in the provincial capital, and make it a place for all religions and ethnic groups.

Bambang Sukardi, head of Bandung’s People and Society Welfare Bureau, said the event will include a parade involving government and religious leaders, cultural performances and a showcase of different religions. “We want to make it a religious tourism activity,” said Sukardi.

Ahmad Suaedy of the Wahid Institute, a Jakarta-based group that campaigns for tolerance and pluralism, told UCA News that interreligious events were vital if the country is to combat bigotry and intolerance. “Such activities should be organized across Indonesia,” he said.

He urged local authorities not to give in to pressure from radical groups and demanded the police take action against those who oppose efforts for peace and tolerance.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said opponents of such events are those who seek to undermine the social foundations Indonesia is built on.

“That’s why they say pluralism is a real danger for Islamic teaching,” Naipospos told UCA News on Feb. 5.

He accused the government of being too lenient towards radical groups. “The government must be firm and enforce the law if it doesn’t want to lose against a small group of people,” he said.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, said interfaith activities are necessary to prevent misunderstanding.

“Such interfaith events help eliminate inter-community suspicions,” he said, adding that communication is important in the Bandung case between organizers and local people to prevent opposition.

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