Interfaith leaders and youth in Indonesia have joined efforts to promote secularism as fears grow over a rise of religious extremism in the country. Representing Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism as well as several traditional beliefs, they used National Santri Day to take part in cultural art performances highlighting national unity on Oct. 29 in Jakarta. National Santri Day commemorates the issuance in October 1945 of the Jihad Resolution by Muhammad Hasyim Asy'ari, a respected Muslim cleric and founder of Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, to defend Indonesian independence. The aim was to prevent the return of Dutch colonialists after Indonesia declared its independence on Aug. 17, 1945. Through the culture program, "we wanted to strengthen interfaith brotherhood and promote mutual acceptance and mutual respect," Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, former executive secretary of the bishops' Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told ucanews.com. "Religious extremism is on the rise. A report says that 15.5 percent of young professionals including civil servants see Islam as the most suitable ideology [in Indonesia]," he said, referring to a survey released last week by the Alvara Research Center and the Mata Air Foundation. Father Susetyo, who is also secretary of the Setara Institute for Democracy and, said the cultural program involved young people "because we need to protect them from religious extremism and to build a spirit of nationhood among them." Ulil Abshar Abdalla, a Muslim scholar, said religious extremism is a serious issue in the predominantly Muslim country. "Certain groups are trying to fight this by bringing religions face-to-face by evoking the spirit of nationalism," he said, adding that he believed the cultural program served as a good way of fighting against hard-line attitudes.
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