Thu, 03 Jul 2003

President calls for tolerance from Muslim majority

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri calls on the Muslim majority in the country to maintain their tolerance towards non-Muslims.

Addressing the opening ceremony of the national Koran Recital competition in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, on Wednesday, the President emphasized that as the majority group, Muslims should take the lead in helping to unite the country.

"Muslims as the majority of the country, showed tolerance during the establishment of the country and should continue to take the responsibility in maintaining national unity," the President remarked.

"Muslims in Indonesia have shown that they have never undermined the presence of minority groups in the country," she added.

Megawati added that Islam, as religion, always has valued solidarity with others and such an attitude was needed in maintaining a plural country, such as Indonesia.

The President was opening the 20th annual Koran Recital event, known as Musabaqoh Tilawatil Qur'an (MTQ), with participants from 22 provinces, as well as a team from neighboring Brunei Darussalam.

During former president Soeharto's regime, the one-week event used to be aired live by the state-owned TVRI television station throughout the nation.

All provinces were obligated to participate in the event and the winner would be invited as a Koran reciter at every state event related to Islam for the whole year.

Soeharto was suspected of using the event as a way to win the hearts and minds of the dominant religious group, by showing that he respected pious Muslims, while at the same time he repressed the group as part of the efforts to maintain his power.

However, since the fall of Soeharto's regime, the attention towards the event has decreased sharply.

This year's event will be enlivened by an exhibition of Islamic arts and culture from the participating provinces.

Minister for Religious Affairs Said Agil Husin Al Munawar said that next year, there would be a competition to recite the Koran in English.

"We hope that at the 21st competition, we will be able to do a competition of reciting the Koran in English," the minister said as quoted by Antara.

The minister also said that the winner of the national competition would represent Indonesia in an upcoming international contest, slated to be held in Indonesia on Oct. 4 this year.