Cross-shaped road mosaic, decorations cause stir among Muslim groups in Indonesian city

An aerial view of the mosaic street art in front of Surakarta's City Hall. Some have said the design resembles a Christian cross. PHOTO: SURAKARTA COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION AGENCY

SURAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Mosaic art surrounding a statue on a major road in Surakarta, Central Java, has drawn ire from conservative Muslim groups, which have said that an aerial view of the art showed that the design resembled a Christian cross.

Surakarta's Muslim Troops (LUIS) has questioned the design and demanded that the city administration review it.

"We've asked the Surakarta administration to evaluate and replace the cross-like mosaic with other motifs so as not to cause controversy and sectarian disputes," LUIS spokesman Endro Sudarsono said.

An aerial photo of the mosaic on Jalan Sudirman also went viral and caused controversy among Internet users.

Surakarta mayor FX Hadi Rudyatmo dismissed the opinions, saying that the administration never planned for the road mosaic, which is located in front of City Hall, to resemble a cross. He also said that he was not involved in the creation of the design.

"If I (had planned) a cross on a road, I would have blasphemed my own religion. A cross is very much respected by Christians. No cross is placed down below. All are placed up above," said Mr Hadi, who is a Catholic.

He further elaborated that in Catholicism, a cross had specific requirements, such as in terms of size, and that it must also have a figure of Jesus on it.

Mr Hadi said the design had been prepared by the Surakarta Public Works and Housing Agency. He said the administration would keep the art despite the controversy on social media.

"Going viral is normal," he said.

Separately, the public works agency's secretary, Mr Taufan Basuki, said the mosaic design had been integrated with the Pemandengan Statue, Gladag traffic circle and the Kasunanan Surakarta Palace hall, all located in the area.

"The design has to be seen as one, starting from the Pemandengan Statue until the Gladag traffic circle. Not separately," Mr Taufan told a press briefing at City Hall.

He also explained that the mosaic was designed based on the eight directions of a compass with the Pemandengan Statue as the centre point. The eight directions are shown with the yellow lines of the mosaic.

Surakarta Police chief Ribut Hari Wibowo called on people to be level-headed. Senior Commissioner Ribut said that after hearing explanations and opinions from a number of institutions and experts, the police had concluded that there were no sectarian elements in the design.

"People have to be wiser and look at things with a clear perspective. Don't waste your energy by relating things to sectarian sentiments," Mr Ribut said.

Mr Sobari, the head of the Surakarta chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council, also dismissed the negative sentiments surrounding the mosaic design.

He echoed the police's statements, saying that the complaint about the design was a one-sided perspective.

"Don't skew reality with a one-sided perspective," he said.

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