UCA News
Contribute

Remembering an Indonesian Muslim's Christmas sacrifice

Honoring a young man for saving many Christians in a terror attack sends a strong message on the need to protect secularism
Remembering an Indonesian Muslim's Christmas sacrifice

A photo of Riyanto and his uniform are seen here at the Nahdlatul Ulama museum in Surabaya, East Java. (Photo: Petrus Riski)

Published: December 24, 2021 09:20 AM GMT
Updated: December 24, 2021 09:29 AM GMT

The death of a young Muslim man while guarding a church on Christmas Eve two decades ago has become a binding force that unites Indonesian Muslims and Christians, particularly during the yuletide season. 

Riyanto, a member of a youth movement affiliated with the country’s largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, was 25 when he was killed by a bomb blast meant for Christians. 

He and other members of his organization had been asked to help provide security at the Eben Haezer Church in East Java’s Mojokerto district on Christmas Eve in 2000. 

Things went wrong when two suspicious packages were spotted, one on a pew and another at the church’s entrance. 

Riyanto promptly removed one of the packages and attempted to give it to a policeman, who suspecting it was a bomb told everyone to run. 

However, Riyanto did not want it to explode near the congregation, so attempted to move it to a safe place. Unfortunately, it went off and killed him. 

Today, when Christmas comes, Christians and Muslims honor Riyanto for his heroic sacrifice by visiting his tomb and occasionally holding interfaith discussions to praise him

Muslims helping guard churches and Christians guarding mosques during religious events is common in Indonesia. 

In the case of Riyanto’s group, thousands of its members often work with police or military in maintaining security at events at various locations, including houses of worship during Christmas and other religious festivals.

Today, when Christmas comes, Christians and Muslims honor Riyanto for his heroic sacrifice by visiting his tomb and occasionally holding interfaith discussions to praise him. 

The Reverand Rudi Sanusi Wijaya, the pastor at Eben Haezer Church, says his congregation remembers Riyanto's sacrifice, which saved many lives, by offering support to his family. 

For Muslims, particularly those in the Ansor Youth Movement, Riyanto is an inspiration and a role model.

Many Indonesians attach a great deal of importance to Riyanto’s sacrifice, mainly for two reasons. 

First, in a country with many religious backgrounds where intolerant acts are still common, people are hungry for unifying symbols. Remembering his death sends a strong message that everyone is called to be peacemakers, not troublemakers.  It also tells people that Christmas is a celebration of peace. 

Second, commemorating his death also aims to bring people together in the fight against extremism and terrorism.

The Eben Haezer Church bombing was one of many that the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group committed against churches in Java, Sumatra and Lombok that Christmas Eve. St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral Church in Jakarta was also among them.

They were the precursor of a surge in terrorism in Indonesia. 

The Christmas Eve attacks were the brainchild of Malaysia-born Dr. Azahari Husin and Nurdin Muhammad Top and several local Jemaah Islamiyah leaders including Umar Patek, a bomb expert trained in Afghanistan. Later they were joined by Imam Samudra and Ali Gufron, who orchestrated the 2002 Bali bombings.

Other groups such as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah and the East Indonesia Mujahideen sprang up later and started to attack Christians.

Radicalism and terrorism today have taken on a new dimension with a shift to infiltrating the very fabric of government in Indonesia. This was evidenced in the arrest of Faridh Okbah, the founder of the Indonesian People's Da'wah Party, in November.

The police claimed the party is the political wing of Jemaah Islamiyah, once Southeast Asia’s most feared terror group. Party officials denied the accusations.

However, the police claim was not far-fetched. Experts warned earlier that Jemaah Islamiyah jihadists were changing tactics from committing deadly violence to wielding political influence. 

Police suspect the group is mobilizing to try and exert more political influence ahead of national elections in 2024

In a 2017 report, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said the change started when Para Wijayanto was appointed the group’s leader in 2008. Under his leadership, the group has taken a non-violent path and now pursues political activism to attract Muslims into their fold.

The report also suggested that he was behind the massive demonstration on Dec. 12, 2016, against the then Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama that kickstarted efforts to prevent the Christian politician from being re-elected and which led to him eventually being tried and jailed for blasphemy. 

Unceasing efforts to revive the 212 Alumni Brotherhood, a hardline group named after the protest date, has turned political and saw police banning its members from taking to the streets last week.

Police suspect the group is mobilizing to try and exert more political influence ahead of national elections in 2024.

It should be clear that the goal of jihadist groups adopting the mainstream political path is to destroy Indonesia's secular ideology from within and eventually replace democracy with an oppressive caliphate.

In light of this, marking Riyanto’s death is more than just remembering a hero. It also reminds us of the importance of democracy, how secularism binds this nation together and the threat posed by radical ideologies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia