Tolerant religion minister wanted

Many have called on president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to retain the current minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, due to his progressive stance on many issues, especially religious minority rights.

Margareth S. Aritonang, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Mon, September 22 2014, 7:36 AM

As the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Development Party (PPP), both of which are Islamic-based parties, vie to place one of their members in the post of religious affairs minister in the new Cabinet, many have called on president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to retain the current minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, due to his progressive stance on many issues, especially religious minority rights.

Lukman, who was installed in June this year to replace Suryadharma Ali, whom the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named as a graft suspect, has been praised by members of the country’s religious minorities as well as supporters of religious tolerance for his “commitment to upholding the Constitution that protects religious freedom in the country”, according to Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute.

Soon after his appointment by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Lukman convened a meeting attended by representatives from several minority religious groups, such as the Ahmadiyah, Shia, Bahai, Sunda Wiwitan (he native faith of the Sundanese) and Parmalim) the native faith of the Batak) communities. The meeting was part of Lukman’s effort to reach out to minority groups who continue to experience discrimination.

Lukman has also won plaudits for his firm statements regarding radicalism, including his condemnation of the growing support for the Islamic State (IS) and his urging of Indonesians not to join the group.

Currently, the Religious Affairs Ministry conducts focus-group discussions that bring together minority religious groups with civil society organizations promoting interfaith dialogue. It is hoped that the meetings can produce a road map for combating religious intolerance in the country, a radical departure from the policies of Suryadharma.

Support growing for Lukman Hakim Saifuddin to stay on as religious affairs minister

He has been praised for his defense of religious minorities

“He is so much better than his predecessor, Pak Suryadharma Ali, who instead of working to solve the problem of religious discrimination in this country became a part of the problem with his hate speech,” Hendardi said on Sunday.

Hendardi said that Suryadharma pales in comparison to Lukman due to his many controversial statements, one of which was his claim that Shia Islam was heretical because it deviated from mainstream Islamic teachings.

Suryadharma also came under fire last year for allegedly supporting the forced conversion of Shia followers in Sampang, East Java, in an initiative the government called a reconciliation program to end a conflict between the two Islamic denominations in the region, the Shia and the majority Sunni.

“I personally support appointing Pak Lukman to lead the [Religious Affairs] Ministry in the new government because we have yet to see any other candidates who have proven to support [religious] minorities,” Hendardi said.

Activist Bona Sigalingging, a member of the embattled GKI Yasmin Christian congregation in Bogor, West Java, also praised what Lukman had done in recent months.

GKI Yasmin has remained sealed for more than 10 years despite a ruling by the Supreme Court, the country’s highest legal institution, stipulating its legitimacy.

“Unlike Pak Suryadharma who has promised to reopen our church since 2011, Pak Lukman did not make any promises that he could not keep during his meeting with us. But we are convinced that things will be better under his leadership. He is open-minded and a supporter of religious diversity,” Bona said.

Despite the growing support for Lukman, his permanent position in the Cabinet will depend on what the PPP decides in the coming weeks — whether the party will switch sides to join the Gotong Royong Coalition led by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) or remain with the Gerindra Party-led Red-and-White Coalition.

The presence of PPP executives at PDI-P’s national assembly in Semarang, Central Java, over the weekend seemed to suggest the former’s decision to jump ship.

If the PPP does officially switch sides the party would still have to compete with the PKB — which has been a part of the Gotong Royong Coalition since its formation — for the next religious affairs minister post, which has traditionally been awarded to a member of the country’s largest Islamic group, Nahdatul Ulama (NU).

Reports have indicated that the PKB has already nominated its candidates for the position and submitted names to Jokowi.

“The competition is inevitable. The PPP and the PKB will undoubtedly fight each other for the post due to its strategic position. However, the post is better given to a non-partisan figure from the NU to avoid potentially conflicting political interest, in order to embrace all interests,” analyst Arief Aulia Rahman from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) said.