First Christian Governor in Indonesia Suspected of Blasphemy

Uproar over alleged 'misuse' of Qur'an creates tense situation for pluralistic country

Ahok apologized for his words, saying he “never intended to insult Islam or the Qur‘an.” But thousands of hardline Muslims marched in protest anyway, eventually clashing with police and lighting vehicles on fire.

 

Thousands of Indonesians protested this week after police named the first Christian governor of the nation’s capital, Jakarta, as a suspect in a blasphemy investigation.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as “Ahok,” was appointed in 2014 after his ally and predecessor, Joko Widodo, was elected president. A key presidential ally, Ahok is running for re-election in February.

At issue is the way he used a verse in the Koran when speaking to a group of fishermen in September. “Do not believe everything that people say,” he is reported to have said, “because often you are deceived by using 51st of Surah Al Maidah (the fifth chapter of the Qur‘an).”

The verse warns Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as allies; some read it to mean that Muslims are not to vote for those of other faiths.

Buni Yuri, the man who uploaded part of the speech to his Facebook page where it went viral, did not include the word “using” in his transcript, which made the remarks more incendiary. (More than 100,000 people signed a petition calling for legal action against Yuri for stirring up public unrest.)

Ahok apologized for his words, saying he “never intended to insult Islam or the Qur‘an.” But thousands of hardline Muslims marched in protest anyway, eventually clashing with police and lighting vehicles on fire.

One of the groups that opposed his governorship—the radical Islamic Defenders Front—was also behind the protests, Reuters reported. Ahok, who is generally trusted and seen as one who fights corruption, is favored over his two rivals for office, though his numbers have slipped since the blasphemy case. He takes a hard line on religious freedom, previously stating that the city schools could not force female students to wear Islamic head scarves and standing up for Ahmadi Muslims that were attacked by Islamist fundamentalists.

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