Islamic and nationalist protesters in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, demanded this week that the government destroy a 100-foot Chinese deity statue located in a temple complex in the city of Surabaya.
“After Muslims threatened to tear the colossus down amid mounting ethnic and religious tensions across the country,” temple officials, under pressure from the Indonesian government, used an enormous sheet to cover the sculpture, considered to be the tallest representation of the the Chinese god in the region, reports the New York Times (NYT).
“The Islamist campaign against the statue, a depiction of the third-century general Guan Yu, who is worshiped as a god in several Chinese religions, began online and soon spread to the gates of a Chinese Confucian temple in Tuban, near the Java Sea coast, where the figure was erected last month,” notes the newspaper.
“On social media, Muslims assailed the statue as an ‘uncivilized’ affront to Islam and the island’s ‘home people,’ and a mob gathered this week outside the East Java legislature in the city of Surabaya to demand its destruction,” it adds. “Statues deemed un-Islamic have been destroyed or vandalized around Indonesia in recent years, and several Chinese temples have been set on fire.”
Some of the demonstrators who gathered outside the Surabaya parliament were wearing paramilitary-style outfits and waving signs that read, “Demolish It” and “We are not worshippers of idols,” reports Reuters.
The office of Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged local officials not to give into the protestor’s demands of removing the statue.
“If they ask for the statue to be torn down, authorities cannot bow to such pressure,” Teten Masduki, chief of staff to President Widodo, told reporters.
The statue of Guan Yu was inaugurated in July.
It is “claimed to be Southeast Asia’s tallest such representation of the deity,” points out Reuters.
Indonesia is supposed to be a secular state whose constitution protects religious freedom and diversity, but Reuters reports that “rising intolerance threatens its reputation for moderate Islam.”
This year, the trial of Jakarta’s incumbent governor, a member of the so-called double minority — ethnic Chinese and Christian — accused of insulting the Quran after he made a joke has stoked soaring religious tension that has already fueled Islamist-led rallies in the country.
The CIA World Factbook reports that about 87 percent of the Indonesian population is Muslim, nine percent Christina, two percent Hindu, and the rest is Buddhist or other.