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ndonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, took steps in 2019 to combat the rise in recent years of hard-line Islamic ideology. In many parts of the sprawling south-east Asian archipelago Christians, comprising more than 15% of the population, face discrimination and violence. Only a generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals in accordance with the state-promoted philosophy “Pancasila”.

In November 2019, authorities launched a website for members of the public to report posts by civil servants containing elements of “hate, misleading information, intolerance or anti-Indonesian sentiment”. A survey revealed that 19% of civil servants, 18% of private employees and 3% of military personnel favour establishing an Islamic state i.e. ruled by sharia (Islamic law).

The entrance to one of three churches targeted by Islamic bombers on the island of Java in May 2018

The Ministry of Religious Affairs also announced in 2019 that it would replace 167 school textbooks considered to contain radical or intolerant material in order to “make students more tolerant”.

In June 2019, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (previously called “Ahok”), the Christian former governor of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, was released early from a two-year jail term for blasphemy.

Another groundbreaking development in 2019 was the decision of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) – the Indonesian political party and claiming to be the world’s largest moderate Muslim movement – to break with classical Islamic teaching by abolishing the legal category of “infidel” (kafir) for non-Muslims.

The threat from Islamist extremism, pressure from authorities and hostility from the Muslim community varies greatly in intensity across the country. In May 2018, a family of Islamic State suicide bombers targeted morning worship at three churches in Surabaya, on the island of Java, killing 13 people.

Pastors report that churches are increasingly being closed. In August 2019, police forcibly shut a church building in Sumatra and even stopped the congregation from continuing to worship in a tent.

Prayer

Give thanks that the Indonesian authorities and the NU have taken action to combat the advance of Islamic extremism. Pray that this will encourage the Muslim majority to live in harmony with their Christian neighbours, treating them equally.