Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, the newly appointed religious affairs minister, has promised to uphold the rights of the Shia and Ahmadiyah minority religious groups and to work to prevent their persecution.
"I don't want members of Shia and Ahmadiyah displaced from their homes because of their beliefs. They are citizens [whose rights] must be protected," Yaqut said on Thursday as reported by Tempo.co.
For years, authorities and communities in Indonesia have discriminated against followers of Ahmadiyah and Shia. Members of the religious groups have, in some instances, been prohibited from constructing places of worship and driven out of their homes.
Yaqut promised to facilitate dialogue among various religious groups.
“The Religious Ministry will facilitate a more intensive dialogue to bridge differences,” he said.
The new minister was appointed by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Wednesday to replace retired military general Fachrul Razi in a Cabinet reshuffle.
Yaqut is the chairman of GP Anshor, the youth wing of the country's largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). He is also the nephew of noted NU cleric Mustofa Bisri.
His remarks came in response to a request made by Azyumardi Azra, a professor from the Jakarta State Islamic University and a noted Muslim scholar.
Azyumardi urged the government to uphold the rights or minority religious groups and grant them stronger official recognition.
He said religious minorities in Indonesia faced a number of difficulties in practicing their beliefs.
He cited Shia refugees in Sidoarjo, East Java, and Ahmadiyah communities in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, who were persecuted and expelled from their homes by hardline groups several years ago.
"However, such [intolerance] does not only occur among Muslim communities but also in other religious communities as well," Azyumardi said.
"In a Protestant-majority community, it’s difficult for Catholics to build churches, while in Catholic-majority community, it would be very hard for Protestants to build churches," he added.