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Islamic body accuses Jokowi of promoting secularism

JAKARTA — Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is facing a backlash following his call last week to Indonesians not to mix religion and politics. In response, critics, including the country’s influential Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), have dismissed Mr Widodo’s remarks as promoting Western values that they consider anathema to the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

JAKARTA — Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is facing a backlash following his call last week to Indonesians not to mix religion and politics. In response, critics, including the country’s influential Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), have dismissed Mr Widodo’s remarks as promoting Western values that they consider anathema to the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Mr Widodo had warned on Friday in the light of rising sectarian tensions during the Jakarta gubernatorial election that politics and religion should be “well separated so that people could differentiate between political and religious matters”.

“There should be no friction (between people of different races and religions). Don’t insult others with racial and religious abuse,” he added.

In response, the MUI said that the president was promoting Western values that were incompatible with Indonesia.

“That’s secularism. We haven’t yet convened a meeting to respond to it, but I am sure (all MUI members) will oppose and criticise it,” MUI’s deputy secretary-general Tengku Zulkarnain was quoted by The Jakarta Post as saying.

The MUI is Indonesia’s top Islamic authority, and it comprises all Islamic groups in the country.

In 2005, the MUI issued an edict against liberalism, secularism and pluralism in Indonesia as these were considered Western ideals that had no place in Indonesian society.

And last year, MUI issued an edict stating that Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama had committed blasphemy when he said in a speech that his rivals were tricking people into voting against him using a Quranic verse, which some interpret as meaning Muslims should only choose Muslim leaders.

Mr Purnama’s case is a high-profile example of the religious intolerance that has become more common in Indonesia, where 90 per cent of its 255 million inhabitants are Muslim.

Mr Sohibul Iman, the chairman of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), toed the MUI line when he said that Mr Widodo’s statement last week was made without considering Indonesia’s history and Islamic nature, the Post reported.

Mr Iman stressed that Indonesia’s road to independence from Dutch rule was guided by religion and that it was Islamic values underpinning the country.

“I suspect the statement reflects his incomprehension and his inability to manage diversity in this country,” the PKS chairman observed, adding that Mr Widodo’s call not to mix politics and religion could actually raise sectarian tensions in the country.

The Islamist PKS backs Mr Purnama’s rival, Mr Anies Baswedan, in the capital’s gubernatorial election.

Indonesia expert Ulla Fionna told TODAY that the response by Islamist outfits to Mr Widodo’s statement was not unexpected.

“The push-back is not entirely surprising as the conservatives have been gaining support and momentum lately, while the influence of the more mainstream organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama have eroded lately,” said the fellow with the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

This was what emboldened the Islamists to claim that Indonesia is not a secular state even though it is, constitutionally, she added. AGENCIES WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BEN HO

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