Jokowi appoints special envoy for religious harmony amid rising intolerance

President Joko Widodo, with state secretary Pratikno (left) and former Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin (right), during a press conference at the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta on Oct 23, 2017. PHOTO: JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has appointed religious scholar Muhammad Sirajuddin "Din" Syamsuddin, former chairman of Indonesia's second largest Islamic organisation Muhammadiyah, as a special envoy for religious harmony.

Speaking at the State Palace in Jakarta on Monday (Oct 23), Jokowi said Din would work to improve religious harmony in Indonesia through inter-religious dialogues and joint works, and share the invaluable lesson of Indonesia's religious harmony in countries and at events abroad.

"Today, I have appointed Pak Din as a special Presidential envoy for inter-religious dialogues and works. He will develop religious harmony in Indonesia and promote it abroad," he said.

Din, who also headed the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), or council of Muslim scholars, said he would perform the task as a service to the country because currently Indonesia was suffering from many inter-religious conflicts.

Indonesia's reputation for religious tolerance has come under scrutiny due to the rising clout of Islamists in a nation with large Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities, with groups like the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) agitating for a more "Islamic lifestyle".

Din promised on Monday to prioritise dialogue and compromise between religious followers.

"Actually, I had asked President Jokowi to appoint someone else but he said he needed me. I have done similar tasks previously and in my current position, I hope I can have a stronger positive effect," he said.

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