Mon, 22 Aug 1994

Religious differences must not disturb unity: Soeharto

JAKARTA (JP): President Soeharto has reminded Indonesians that conflicts among followers of the same religion can often be more serious than inter-religious disputes.

Speaking at the commemoration of Prophet Muhammad's birthday at the State Palace Friday evening, the President said that he once again called on the nation to live in harmony.

Soeharto said that Indonesia's diversity is reflected in the reality that there are various religious creeds here and different contingencies within each given religion.

"Differences in religious belief and in the way one understands religious teachings should not push us into antagonism," he said.

The President said that religion is a question of personal beliefs and the relationship between an individual and God. "Therefore, as I have said repeatedly there is no way the government will intervene in the internal affairs of a religion."

Soeharto said that Islam respects freedom of worship while the Koran, the Moslem holy book, teaches that coercion plays no role in religious belief.

He also reminded that the Prophet Muhammad taught that difference of opinion among his followers was a blessing.

"It is surely a blessing if we are wise enough in handling the differences."

The President also said that in commemorating Muhammad's birthday, Moslems should ask themselves how serious they have tried to follow in the footsteps of God's messenger.

"There is no journey's end in the effort to take lessons from the Prophet's philosophy on life, especially the aspects of his modesty. We can also learn from his virtue of patience," he said.

The Prophet's birthday is commemorated annually at the State Palace and other Islamic holidays at the Istiqlal grand mosque. Friday's celebration was also attended by Vice President Try Sutrisno, cabinet ministers and diplomats from Moslem countries. (tis)