Indonesian VP tells peace forum country 'most religion tolerant'

(Photo: REUTERS/Beawiharta)Women members of the hardline Islamic group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), shout slogans as they reject Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok as their governor in Jakarta, December 1, 2014. Ahok, Jakarta's first Christian governor in nearly 50 years was sworn in two weeks ago, despite protests from religious hardliners opposing a non-Muslim taking over one of Indonesia's most powerful political jobs.

A high-ranking Jakarta government official says that Indonesia could be considered as the most religiously-tolerant country in the world, shown by how it values holy days of the six recognized religious groups there.

Opening the Asian Conference of Religions for Peace in Bandung, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said Muslim Indonesia celebrates Vesek Day as a national holiday, despite the fact that Buddhists makes up a negligible portion of their population.

"Tell me which country is more democratic than Indonesia," the vice president said on June 3 the Jakarta Globe reported. "Even the United States, the largest democracy, doesn't have [an Islamic day as a national holiday]."

Compared with its Southeast Asian neighbor the Philippines, Kalla said Indonesia, the country with the world's biggest Muslim population, exerts more effort in terms of religious tolerance.

Open Democracy says outsiders have long viewed Indonesia as a bulwark of moderate Islam, but this image is under threat.

It says in November 2010, for example, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Jakarta and mentioned "the spirit of religious tolerance that is enshrined in Indonesia's constitution, and that remains one of this country's defining and inspiring characteristics."

Open Democracy says Sunni Muslim militants are seeking confrontation with Buddhist, Catholic and Shia Muslim communities. In many instances, moreover, the Indonesian government and Muslim mass organizations are not doing enough to help.

For his part the Indonesian vice-president explained that the Philippine -government had designated Idul Adha - the Islamic feast of sacrifice - a national holiday only last year.

A predominantly Christian country, Philippine authorities had, however, designated Idul Fitri - the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month - a national holiday in 2002. Muslims make up about between five and 10 percent of the Philippines' 107 million population.

Indonesia recognizes six religious groups: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Each has been granted national holidays.

Of the estimated 253 million population more than 87 percent of Indonesians identify themselves as Muslims, and a large part of the majority subscribe to the Sunni interpretation.

Talking about religious tolerance, Kalla said the government should continue to push for its implementation in different communities.

"Sometimes, there are differences in terms of belief in God, but it has the same objective, and it must be implemented instead of only being discussed," noted the vice president.

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