AHEAD of Wednesday’s runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inaugurated the first city-owned grand mosque in West Jakarta over the weekend.
Speaking during the opening ceremony on Saturday, Jokowi said the mosque was “evidence of the commitment of Indonesia and Jakarta’s governments to ensuring Muslims’ right to praying, which is a pillar of the Indonesian nation.”
The Hasyim Ashari Grand Mosque, which is named after the founder of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), can accommodate more than 12,000 people and is built in Jakarta’s native Betawi architectural style.
“I fully support the Jakarta governor in building places of worship like this,” Jokowi said.
While the timing of the inauguration is conveniently close to the conclusion of an election campaign that has been deeply divisive along sectarian lines, Jokowi and now-governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama ordered the construction of the mosque back in 2013.
“The government fully supports freedom of religion and worship for its citizens,” he said, emphasising he hoped it would become a symbol of moderate, tolerant Islam in Indonesia.
“Indonesia is a pluralistic and religiously diverse country,” he said.
Hasyim Ashari’s NU – which is the largest Islamic group on the planet and claims some 40 million members across Indonesia – promotes Islam Nusantara or “Islam of the archipelago,” emphasising Indonesia’s historically tolerant and culturally-embedded practice of the faith.
It has been particularly vocal in promoting Islam Nusantara in recent years with the rise of Islamic State and hardline Islamist sentiment, which has driven sectarianism and the persecution of minorities.
The president was recently accused of “promoting secularism” by the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) after comments he made regarding the need to separate politics and religion during the inauguration of an Islamic site in North Sumatra.
The MUI is a conservative, quasi-governmental Islamic institution, which has consistently opposed Ahok – Jokowi’s former deputy – including issuing a fatwa regarding the incumbent’s alleged blasphemy after comments he made regarding the Quran.
At the Saturday ceremony, Jokowi was accompanied by acting Jakarta governor Soemarsono rather than Ahok.
The president’s office reportedly moved the inauguration from April 16 to suit Jokowi’s schedule. However, it seems likely inaugurating the mosque on Easter Sunday by Jakarta’s besieged Christian governor may have been potentially seen as spurring further religious tension in the capital.
Ahok, who had temporarily stepped down as required by law while campaigning for April 19’s election, returned to office on Sunday.
On Monday, religious leaders from Indonesia’s six official faiths – Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism – all urged for a peaceful Jakarta election without intimidation and the politicisation of religion.