Muslim Group Forces Christians to End Christmas Church Service Preparation in Indonesia

Indonesian Christians sing during a Christmas mass prayer session at Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta on Dec. 13, 2014.Reuters

Minority Christians in Indonesia may have to celebrate Christmas quietly this year since Muslim hard-liners in the predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian country remain intolerant of such a celebration.

Last week, a Muslim group forced a church to end their preparation for their Christmas service, the Jakarta Globe reported. Members of a group called Defenders of Ahlus Sunnah (PAS) barged into a building serving as a church in Bandung, West Java on Tuesday last week. They found the members of the church choir practicing their Christmas carols and ordered them to stop singing and leave the building immediately.

The Muslim hard-liners also told the pastor to stop holding religious service inside the facility, saying it's a public building, not a church.

The members of the church reportedly sang "Oh Holy Night" and prayed before leaving the premises.

A church source said the members of the church acceded to the demand of the Muslim group to avoid trouble despite the fact that they have all the required legal permits to hold services in the building.

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Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil learned about the incident and apologised to the church on Instagram, pledging to protect their state-mandated religious rights.

Meanwhile in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, the trial of its Christian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as "Ahok," began last week.

The governor cried as he denied allegations that he insulted Islam, the BBC reported.

Purnama, the first non-Muslim governor of Indonesia's capital in 50 years, is accused of having insulted Islam by misusing a Quranic verse which suggests Muslims should not be ruled by non-Muslims, to boost public support ahead of February's governorship election.

The case is being seen as a test of religious tolerance in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world—some 202.9 million, constituting 87.2 percent of the country's population in 2011.

Defending himself, Purnama said his videotaped comments were aimed at politicians "incorrectly" using a Quranic verse against him, not at the verse itself.

If convicted, he faces a maximum five years in jail. The trial was adjourned until Tuesday, Dec. 20.

In the streets outside court, hundreds of protesters chanted, "Jail Governor Ahok now," shouting, "We must defend Islam from those who insult the holy book."

A smaller group of the governor's supporters were also there. One of them told the BBC that she believes the trial is an attack against all Christians, saying that the country's founding principles of unity and diversity were being tested.

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