#BandungIntoleran: Islamic hardliners force closure of Christmas service in Bandung

Many have worried that allowing hardline Islamic groups in Indonesia such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) to show their strength in the protests against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for his alleged blasphemy would embolden other extremists to promote intolerance throughout our largely peaceful country.

We are now seeing extremely worrying signs that point to that outcome. Yesterday, a hardline Islamic mass organization called the Pembela Ahlus Sunnah (PAS) in Bandung forced the closure of a Christmas service that was being carried out at the Sasana Budaya Ganesha (Sabuga), a multi-purpose venue owned by Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB).

The incident popularized the hashtag #BandungIntoleran (Bandung is intolerant) on Twitter today. Among the most tweeted posts on the topic are video footage of PAS members entering the venue and shouting for the congregation’s singing to stop and telling them to stop the service altogether.

The congregation reportedly ended their service early and left the venue at around 8:30 pm.

PAS leader Muhammad Roin confirmed that his group forced the closure of the Christmas service, which was led by Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia head Stephen Tong. However, Roin denied that it was an act fueled by religious intolerance, saying that it was merely a permit issue.

According to Roin, the congregation had a permit to hold a service at Sabuga from 1-3pm, but did not have the permit to hold another session at 6pm.

“They agreed that [the service at] 6 pm wasn’t going to be held. We advised them to perform their worship in the appropriate place (a church) as regulated by the country’s laws,” Roin said, as quoted by Kompas.

But when asked what permit the congregation breached, Roin said he did not know.

“It’s just a matter of permit. As to what permit I don’t recall. The city administration should know. We only got a recommendation from the police,” Roin said.

Bandung Police Chief Winarto was present last night as police officers were deployed to prevent an escalation of the tense situation. He said that it was indeed a permit issue and things were worked out between all parties in the end.

“For religious activities, there needs to be some notification. This event was not forbidden. The organizers [of the service] will discuss the matter with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the MUI (Indonesian Ulema Council), as well as the Bandung city administration,” Winarto said, as quoted by Detik.

Winarto also did not go into specifics as to what permit the congregation may have breached.

The organizers of the service have not commented on the incident.

The incident drew the ire of many netizens in Indonesia.

If our prophet Muhammad taught us to be tolerant towards people of other faiths, then what Islamic belief do you hold?

When people abroad are trying to figure out ways to holiday on the moon, Indonesians are stuck meddling with other people’s religion.

Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil apologized for the incident and said he would find out what caused it. He also gave assurances that religious rights are protected in his city.

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