Indonesia: Religious Leaders Denounce Killings, Attacks on Churches

Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Indonesia have condemned a recent attack on Christian churches and other property in East Java and urged authorities to seek the root of the problem.

Public buildings as well as 25 Christian churches were torched and a Christian family burnt alive by a mob angered by a sentence given to a Muslim youth accused of insulting Muslim religious leaders.

In separate statements, religious leaders denounced the mob violence that began on 10 October in the East Java town of Situbondo, 800 km east of Jakarta, and spread to neighbouring towns. The Situbondo incident "raises the question about the role of religion in shaping good morality," the Konperensi Waligereja Indonesia (KWI - Bishops' Conference of Indonesia) said in a statement issued on 14 October.

Signed by the KWI chairman and secretary general, Jesuit Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta and Capuchin Bishop Martinus Dogma Situmorang of Padang, the statement called on all parties to renounce violence. "We are all concerned that dissatisfaction and anger over certain issues could lead people to loot, ransack, or torch other people's property including worship houses and also take human life," the bishops said. "We hope this (incident) is the last violence, because we should be aware that, unless we are careful, we could be easily dragged into violence," the Catholic bishops said. The KWI said that, although laws and justice should be enforced to maintain harmony, genuine human solidarity should take its inspiration from faith and cultural values as the basis or morality.

Meanwhile, Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid, head of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU - Awakening of Islamic Scholars), the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia with a strong base in East Java, apologised on 13 October for the incident. "To Almighty God, I beg forgiveness for those who have done it without knowing the serious impact on society and the nation," said his statement. "In bearing the moral responsibility, I bow my head to beg forgiveness for all casualties suffered.. and I express my condolence for those killed and injured," he said. Mr. Wahid said he made the statement because he was convinced that most of the rioters were NU members.

Another Islamic leader also denounced the incident, saying that the Situbondo Muslim rioters had violated the teachings of Islam. "The prophet Mohammed taught Muslims not to commit violence, or kill monks, women, children, or burn worship houses, even during war," said Hasan Basri, chairman of Majlis Ulama Indonesia (Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars). Basri speculated that the incident had been instigated to "create hostility between Muslims and non- Muslims, Muslims and Muslims, and Muslims and the government."

The 10 October incident, dubbed by local media as "Gray Thursday," began when a mob demanding the death sentence for Saleh, the leader of an Islamic sect, and became angry after the local court sentenced him to a five-year prison term. Dissatisfied with the sentence, the mob began torching the court house, public buildings and churches.

On the Catholic side, Bishop Johannes Hadiwikarta of Surabaya, East Java, said on 14 October that one Catholic church, five chapels, the house of a community of nuns and three school buildings were destroyed in the incident.

Source: The Catholic News, 14 November 1996

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