MUI chief calls religious violence in Yogyakarta "saddening"

After extremists stone a church and attack Christians in Sleman regency, local cleric declares: "This is not what Islam teaches us".

By Maeswara Palupi in Yogyakarta for Khabar Southeast Asia

June 21, 2014
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Indonesia's most powerful Islamic clerical body is speaking out on violence against Christians in Sleman, Yogyakarta.

  • Christians walk during a December 2009 procession in Yogyakarta, where local Christians have been targeted in recent attacks. [Tarko Sudiarno/AFP]

    Christians walk during a December 2009 procession in Yogyakarta, where local Christians have been targeted in recent attacks. [Tarko Sudiarno/AFP]

"The attacks in Sleman are very saddening and concerning," Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) Chairman Din Syamsuddin told Khabar Southeast Asia.

"Our country has a long history of religious tolerance and we should continue this in Indonesia," he said during a June 2nd interview in his Jakarta office. "We hope our authorities will solve these problems immediately."

Two recent attacks in Sleman Regency targeted a Pentecostal church and a group of Catholics.

In the first incident on May 29th in Benteng, Sleman, at least a dozen people in gamis attacked a house owned by Catholic Julius Felicianus, director of Christian book publisher Galung Press as he and other Catholics prayed. Felicianus was badly hurt and three others slightly injured, the Jakarta Post reported.

In the second attack three days later, a mob reportedly including members of two hardline Muslim groups vandalised a vacated Pentecostal church in Pangukan, Sleman.

"The attack destroyed the Pentecostal church. There were approximately 20 people involved in the attacks." Sleman resident Muhammad Bambang Suryanto, who witnessed the June 1st attack, told Khabar. "They claimed to be residents and members of the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) and Islamic People's Forum (FUI).

"They came to the church demanding that the church stop holding services because it had not been granted permission to be used as a place of worship."

Latest developments

On June 9th– a week after Din spoke with Khabar– a mob sealed in the same Pangukan church after its congregation reopened the building for religious services, according to the Post.

Yogyakarta police told Khabar on Wednesday (June 18th) that four unnamed suspects were arrested in connection with the May 29th and June 1st incidents.

"We have arrested three people under the allegation of the attack at Julius Felicianus's house in Benteng, Sleman, and one suspect was arrested in the church attack," said Anny Pudjiastuti, Yogyakarta police spokeswoman.

Commenting on the attacks, Sleman cleric Muhammad Suprato said, "We should see this situation as a time for reflection. It appears that many in the region still lack tolerance and possess limited skills in addressing religious conflict."

"We should not be trying to solve problems through violence. It will not bring any good, just regret, and this is not what Islam teaches us," he told Khabar.

Aditya Surya in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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