Catholic students in Maumere, East Nusa Tenggara province, burn a tire during a protest on Aug. 19 in front of Sikka district police station to demand the arrest and prosecution of Abdul Somad for insulting Christians. (Photo by PMKRI Maumere)
A Muslim cleric at the center of a storm in Indonesia for comments deemed insulting by Christians has refused to apologize, despite being hauled before the country’s top Muslim clerical body to explain his actions.
An unrepentant Abdul Somad has denied accusations that he made derogatory comments about the cross during a filmed question-and-answer session at a mosque three years ago that went viral this week after being circulated online.
He claimed what he said about the cross was not meant to insult but explaining an Islamic view of the cross to a woman during a question-and-answer session following dawn prayers at a mosque in Pekanbaru, Sumatra.
In the video Somad said: “There is an infidel genie on the cross” which he called an “element of the devil.”
It triggered an angry response from Christians and calls for him to be charged with blasphemy.
Somad dismissed the uproar saying he was only explaining his Islamic faith to a Muslim community.
“Why do I have to apologize?” he told reporters after being summoned to explain the comments by the Indonesian Ulema Council in Jakarta on Aug. 21.
"I explained something to Muslims. Automatically outsiders who hear it are offended,” he said.
Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential task force involved in promoting national unity, said Christians should not over-react.
“Christians particularly Catholics should take a leaf out of Pope Francis’ message that when your religion is insulted, you don’t need to be angry.”
He said there is no need to seek Somad’s prosecution
“We can end this controversy with dialogue,” he told ucanews.com on Aug. 22.
Reverend Gomar Gultom, general secretary of Communion of Churches in Indonesia, echoed a similar view and said taking Somad to court would not change anything.
He even doubted whether a court would take up the case.
“What we need is a more ethical attitude, not legal action, in building a civilized and mutually respectful community,” he told ucanews.com.
Meanwhile, Zainut Tauhid Sa’adi, deputy chairman of Indonesian Ulema Council, called on all religious leaders, particularly Muslims, to take more care in conveying religious messages.
“Religious leaders must not insult or harass religious symbols of other religions,” he said, following Somad’s summons.
He said the council has urged police to investigate whoever uploaded the video and their motive for doing so.
However, Petrus Selestinus, coordinator of the Indonesian Democratic Defenders Team, a lawyers group, said Somad’s comments were blasphemous and violated Article 156a of the Indonesian Criminal Code.
The article states that everyone who intentionally expresses feelings that stoke hostility, abuse, or desecration to a religion in public will be sentenced to five years in prison.
“He [Somad] must be prosecuted because his actions could create divisions among people,” the Catholic lawyer told ucanews.com.
Indonesian police say they have established a team to investigate the case.