One of the largest protests in Indonesian history took place on Friday 4 November 2016. According to some, it was the largest protest in the post-Suharto era. Why did this protest take place and why did up to 2 million Muslims – according to some reports from the ground! – flock to the capital Jakarta to take part in this mass rally to speak against insults against the Qur’an?
In short, the protest called for Jakarta’s Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, to be prosecuted for blasphemy. According to Reuters, “the demonstration was triggered by accusations that Purnama insulted Islam by criticising opponents who used Quranic references to attack him ahead of an election in February.”
The background to this is that many Muslim groups have mobilised, using verses from Surah Ma’idah as references, against Ahok being Governor due to his being a non-Muslim. Ahok responded in a statement a few days ago along the lines that “If you cannot vote for me because you are cheated by Surah Al Maidah verse 51 and do not want to appoint me because you are afraid of hell, then (that’s up to you), but you are made to like a fool.”
Reuters further reports:
Ahead of the protest, Jakarta police claimed they would secure 26 sites across the capital and deploy 18,000 police and military personnel. Developments in the evening were stifled by the media, with police shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, injuring an unknown number of civilians and leaving one person dead from an asthma attack after exposure to the tear gas.
Purnama apologised for the remarks, but his opponents have built a groundswell of support calling for his arrest and incarceration under Indonesia’s tough blasphemy laws. Police are allegedly investigating the case.
As expected, police started shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd around ‘isha time. A number of people were injured and one died.
Mainstream media in Indonesia – either print or electronic media – are owned mainly by non-Muslims or liberals holding decidedly anti-Islamic views. Two examples of such media outlets are Kompas (which has the biggest newspaper circulation in Indonesia) and Metro TV, a news television channel.
Protestors refused the presence of these two media channels at the protest, asking them to leave the area. They regularly give airtime to liberals who write articles or talk about problems with and concerning Muslims on their TV shows.
While reports have varied, most people on the ground have said that there were between 1 and 2 million people present.
The protest was a show of unity by Muslims of various organisations and persuasions, and also demonstrates the concern Muslims have with the mocking of Allah’s word. May Allah reward all those who took part and strengthen Islam in Indonesia.
^ A peaceful crowd, awaiting the meeting of their delegation with state officials, moments before being attacked with tear gas.