Sat, 11 Nov 2000

Gus Dur officiates mosque, church in Surabaya

SURABAYA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid, known for his high religious tolerance, officiated the use of a new mosque and a new Catholic church in two subsequent ceremonies here on Friday, saying that the events could be cited as evidence of religious harmony.

When inaugurating the Al-Akbar Mosque located in the Pagesangan area in South Surabaya, the President said that a mosque must not function just as a place of worship but also as a place to educate and to make Muslims more mature.

The 12,000 square meter building stands on a 11.2 hectare plot. The mosque is designed to accommodate a congregation of 36,000. The Rp 60 billion mosque, construction of which started in 1996, is the second largest mosque in the country after Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque.

"As the majority, it is proper for Indonesian Muslims to improve their maturity from time to time and become patrons of other people of different religions," he said.

After the ceremony held in the yard of the new mosque, the President and his entourage said Friday noon prayer, which was followed by a dialog with the mosque's congregation. A habit he always keeps on Fridays.

Unlike previous Friday dialogs, the dialog at the Al-Akbar mosque did not involve many political issues.

The President then walked to the Sakramen Maha Kudus Catholic Church which is only some 200 meters away from the mosque.

"The two worship places are close to each other symbolizing religious harmony. I am very happy to learn that the development of religious life in Indonesia is getting better, despite the recent rifts. We are in the learning process and becoming more and more mature. The government is in charge of maintaining the process so that all religious communities feel protected," he said.

Surabaya Bishop Johanes Hadiwikarta expressed his happiness with the historical moment. "Maybe it is the first time for a President, who is also a kyai, to inaugurates two different places of worship consecutively. This event deserves to be included in the book of records."

On Thursday, the President gave a lecture to the students of the State Islamic Institute (IAIN) Surabaya at the Students Hall.

Some 100 students greeted the President with a demonstration, demanding that the President ensure that all the cronies of former president Soeharto be tried.

He also visited the Bhayangkara University before proceeding to the state-owned shipbuilding company PT PAL to attend the official handover of vessels to the Ministry of Defense and the National Police Force.

Gus Dur said in his address that PT PAL should not concentrate on the building of big vessels only. "PT PAL should also produce small ships for traditional fishermen. The company is part of the maritime industry which is expected to help the government boost the sea transportation system in the eastern part of the archipelago." (nur/sur)