Muslim hardliners attend a rally in Jakarta where they called for former Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama to be jailed, in this March 31 photo. (ucanews.com photo)
The Jakarta city government is working with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, to train and educate Islamic preachers to spread messages of unity and peace in a bid to combat a rise in extremism and religious intolerance.
The Islamic organization will train up to 1,000 preachers in a program starting in November.
New Jakarta governor, Djarot Saiful Hidayat, said authorities want to educate preachers "to preach proper Islamic teachings … and a tolerant Islam."
He said he does not want extremism and intolerance to gain a foothold in the city.
According to Maksum Machfiedz, the deputy head of NU's central executive board, the training program, to be funded by city authorities will focus on how to make Islam Nusantara (Islam of the Archipelago) a central practice among Muslims in Indonesia.
Islam Nusantara is a concept developed by the NU, based on cultural and pluralist approaches, to propagate peaceful Islam throughout the world.
Activists have welcomed the move, calling it an urgently needed response to the growing threat of extremism, which is increasingly being promoted in places of worship.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace told ucanews.com on Sept. 14 that intolerant and extremist groups target mosques, especially those in housing areas and near offices to spread their views.
"They try to become the preachers during prayers, especially Friday prayers," he said.
Naipospos said this was clearly seen during this year's Jakarta gubernatorial election, where mosques were used by intolerant groups to attack the incumbent Chinese Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was later convicted of blasphemy for having complained that voters were being falsely told that voting for non-Muslims was against the Quran.
Naipospos said the joint effort between the Jakarta authorities and the NU needs to be a model that can be applied in other cities.
"We need further efforts to save houses of worship from intolerant groups," he said.
Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, an activist, said the training initiative was a step forward for people to understand religion in its entirety so as not to be fooled that it is something to be used for political purposes.
"Religion is often used as political tool for the manipulation of truth and to justify violence," he said.
"We also hope that the cooperation [between the city and NU] will restore the true function of a house of worship as a place of encounter with a merciful God," he said.