Muslim preacher insults the cross, outraging even Muslims

Abdul Somad’s sermon goes viral online. He later claimed that “The Quran reciting session was held in a closed Mosque”, “for Muslims” only. Christians are urged not let emotions prevail. Extremists are increasingly resorting to hoaxes, fake news and controversy over religion to feed divisions.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A notorious Muslim preacher, Abdul Somad (pictured), has come in for strong criticism, after a video went viral on social media, showing one of his sermons in which he describes the cross as "an element of the devil".

Despite Somad’s claim that he had no intention of promoting religious intolerance, such remarks have sparked outrage among Indonesians, including Muslims.

In a statement, Muhammadiyah, one of the country’s oldest and most popular Islamic organisations, said such words could be seen as blasphemy. Others accuse the preacher of fostering anti-Christian sentiments.

The incriminating sermon was delivered last Saturday at a mosque in Simpang Kelayang, a village in Riau province (Sumatra Island).

The impact of Somad’s statement in social media prompted the 42-year-old preacher to release another video the following day.

“The Quran reciting session was held in a closed Mosque, not at a stadium, a football field, nor aired on television,” he says. “It was for Muslims internally. I was answering a question about statues and the position of the Prophet Isa (Jesus) relative to Muslims.”

Not many were satisfied with his explanation, especially Christians.

East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) is the Indonesian province with the largest concentration of Christians. About 61 per cent of the population is Catholic whilst Protestants represent 28 per cent.

Yesterday, the Indonesian Catholic Students Association (PMKRI) in the NTT capital of Kupang called on Somad to issue a public apology, accusing the preacher of jeopardising peaceful inter-faith relations.

PMKRI also called on Indonesians to take a firm stand against any form of intolerance and asked the National Police (Polri) to investigate the incident and question Somad.

In Maumere, on the "Catholic" island of Flores, a group of university students protested at the local police station to demand his arrest.

Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, former governor of Jakarta, also spoke about the controversy. An ethnic Chinese Protestant, he has been the victim of attacks by Islamist groups and movements throughout his career. On 9 May 2017, he was convicted of defaming Islam at the end of a controversial trial.

Yesterday, after giving a speech at a national seminar in Petra Christian University, Surabaya, he said: “For us, the cross is a symbol of Allah’s (God’s) glory.” But “if the cross is mocked by people who don’t understand it, there is no problem for us”.

Faced with the clamour provoked by Somad's statements, interfaith dialogue activists urged Christians not let their emotions prevail to the point of undermining the sense of national unity.

Increasingly, extremists are resorting to hoaxes, fake news and controversy to fuel divisions in Indonesian society, first of all by exploiting religious feelings.