Jokowi visits China’s oldest mosque amid ethnic, religious tension in Indonesia
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Jokowi visits China’s oldest mosque amid ethnic, religious tension in Indonesia

INDONESIA’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo became the country’s second head of state to visit China’s oldest and largest mosque during a state visit to Beijing on Sunday.

At a time where ethnic and religious tension is again running high in Indonesia, the visit incidentally coincided with the nineteenth anniversary of anti-Chinese riots in Jakarta that led to the deaths of around 1,000 people, the rape of 186 women and the subsequent fall of the Suharto regime.

Meeting with the Chairman of the Chinese Islamic Association and the Imam of the Niujie Mosque, Jokowi spoke of the friendship established between the two countries during the fifteenth century, when Chinese Muslims came and traded in Indonesia’s Lasem and Palembang.

According to a press release from the Indonesian Cabinet’s office, Jokowi also expressed surprise at there being some 23 million Chinese Muslims and that he was pleased to see Muslims were “strongly supported” and allowed space to worship by the government.

There are around 70 other mosques in Beijing and 23,000 mosques across the country.

SEE ALSO: China: Govt bans ‘overly religious’ Muslim names in Xinjiang – report

Jokowi was in Beijing at the weekend to attend a summit on China’s new Silk Road plan for trade and infrastructure, where Indonesia hopes to attract investment in its national infrastructure.

The visit to Niujie Mosque follows Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, who attended the mosque in 2000 when he was president, reported Tempo.

Gus Dur was an Islamic scholar who became Indonesia’s first elected president after the fall of Suharto. He was of Chinese-Indonesian heritage and was known for his leadership of the world’s largest Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and preaching tolerant Islam.

The Suharto regime had encouraged discrimination against Indonesia’s ethnic Chinese minority through outlawing Chinese-language education, newspapers and cultural events, as well as banning them from working in the civil service, whilst providing corrupt economic advantages to a handful of prominent Chinese businessmen.

The jailing of Jakarta’s ethnically Chinese, Christian governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama last week for blasphemy against Islam has raised concerns of growing religious conservatism and persecution of minorities in the country.

Hardline Islamic groups have rallied against Ahok on the basis of his faith and ethnicity since 2012, but were catapulted into the mainstream after he made controversial comments regarding the Quran last September.

SEE ALSO: Indonesian diaspora rallies around jailed Jakarta governor Ahok

Speaking on Sunday, Indonesia’s ambassador to China Soegeng Rahardjo said, “Indonesia as the worlds tolerant, friendly, and moderate Muslim-majority country can inspire Muslims in China … to help explain that Islam [is a] blessing for the entire world.”

Jokowi wrote in an Instagram post: “marvel at the beauty of Niujie Mosque in Beijing. This is a symbol of the presence of Islam as a friendly, tolerant and peaceful religion.”

“Friendship between Muslims in Indonesia and China will continue,” said Jokowi. “May Muslim Indonesia and China move forward.”