JAKARTA • Indonesia's largest Muslim organisations have vowed to help protect Christians across the country ahead of Christmas, following an incident in Bandung where Muslim hardliners stormed into a church service in a public hall, forcing its cancellation.
The incident took place on Tuesday amid religious tensions caused by the recent mass street protests in Jakarta over the blasphemy case levelled against Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, the two biggest Muslim organisations in Indonesia, lambasted the raid that forced the Reformed Injili Indonesia Church to cancel its Christmas service at the Sasana Budaya Ganesha (Sabuga), a popular auditorium in Bandung.
The storming of the church service was carried out by men claiming to be from a group called Ahlu Sunnah Defenders, or PAS, with the protesters claiming the event was "illegal" as it was held in a public building.
NU lashed out at PAS for its brutal action and asked the government "to dissolve such an anti-pluralist organisation".
Banser members will be at the forefront of protecting Christian fellow citizens while conducting prayers and activities ahead of Christmas. This is in the name of tolerance.
NAHDLATUL ULAMA'S DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL IMAM PITUDUH, on how members of the group's youth wing will help ensure Christians can prepare for and celebrate Christmas peacefully.
NU said its youth wing Barisan Ansor Serbaguna, or Banser, across the country will help ensure Christians can peacefully prepare for and celebrate Christmas.
"Banser members will be at the forefront of protecting Christian fellow citizens while conducting prayers and activities ahead of Christmas. This is in the name of tolerance," NU deputy secretary-general Imam Pituduh told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
Muhammadiyah, the country's second-largest Islamic organisation, said it would intensify interfaith dialogue.
Muhammadiyah youth chairman Dahnil Simanjuntak said hardline groups were encouraged to participate in the discussions.
"They are just a few (groups). There are a lot more Muslims who are more tolerant out there," he said.
Indonesia's national police have said that 155,000 policemen will be deployed across the country from Dec 23 to Jan 2 next year as a security measure.
Bandung mayor Ridwan Kamil said that the disrupted Christmas service was legal.
"We deplore the intimidation by the organisation," he said. Think-tank Setara Institute chairman Hendardi said the recent large-scale anti-Ahok rallies could have emboldened intolerant groups.
He urged the authorities to bring the perpetrators of the incident to justice. "Otherwise, similar incidents could happen ahead of Christmas," he said.
A church committee that organised the Sabuga service said in a statement that it regretted the disruption "and that the police failed to protect the dignity of the state and the Constitution".
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK