The Jakarta Post
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) on Thursday announced a plan to recruit 50,000 preachers and dispatch them across the country to promote moderate teachings of Islam.
MUI chairman Ma'ruf Amin said his organization, which is frequently criticized by human rights groups for its conservative views, decided to take that step in response to the country's 'rising number of cases of intolerance'.
'Hopefully, we can start the deployment of the preachers this year. They will be stationed at regional MUI branches across the country,' Ma'ruf told The Jakarta Post in an interview on Thursday.
Ma'ruf said the deployment of the moderate preachers demonstrated that the MUI was serious about promoting religious tolerance.
'The MUI is ready and serious about preaching Wasathiyah [moderate] Islam, which is not radical and violent. We want to see Islam as a religion of love,' Ma'ruf added.
In addition to the new program, the MUI would issue more edicts that could serve as guidelines for Muslims in the country to respond to current developments, Ma'ruf said.
'We have been conducting meaningful campaigns in the community, such as the halal food awareness campaign and the implementation of a sharia-based banking system,' Ma'ruf said.
Soon after being elected as MUI chairman, Ma'ruf, who previously chaired the organization's edict division, pledged to embrace beleaguered minority groups, including Ahmadiyah and Shia communities, which many Indonesian Muslims deem 'deviant' from mainstream Islam.
The MUI issued an edict stating that Ahmadis were 'deviant', because they believed that there was another prophet after Muhammad.
As for Shia Islam, some local branches of the MUI have issued an edict condemning it as 'heretic' for believing that the leadership of Islam should be kept in the hands of those descended directly from the Prophet Muhammad.
Ma'ruf said that although the MUI would not change its stance on the two minority groups, under his leadership the organization would encourage Muslims to embrace them to have a peaceful coexistence.
In 2012, the MUI renewed an edict forbidding Muslims from extending holiday greetings to Christians and said that then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhyono should not attend a national Christmas celebration to comply with the edict.
Muslim scholars have long debated the controversy of wishing Merry Christmas to Christians. Some said that Christmas was a religious festivity celebrating the birthday of Jesus, the son of God worshipped by Christians.
However, in 2014 under the tenure of Ma'ruf's predecessor Din Syamsuddin, who is a moderate Islamic scholar, the MUI softened its stance by saying that there was nothing wrong with Muslims giving a season's greeting.
Separately, the SETARA Institute, which campaigns on religious pluralism in the country, said it applauded the MUI's 'good intentions' in its plan to dispatch moderate Muslim preachers.
SETARA, however, expressed doubts about whether the MUI had a larger plan to foster religious pluralism in the country.
'Based on our data (on cases of intolerance), we can conclude that the MUI is apparently part of the problem now that this country is still dealing with intolerance,' SETARA chairman Hendardi told the Post on Thursday.
Hendardi said that the MUI's regional branches were mostly responsible for harming religious tolerance in the country.
'[The local MUI offices] is where people usually use MUI edicts to justify intolerant actions against minority groups,' Hendardi added.
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