Expansion of Christianity in Indonesia Draws Concerns

There are general concerns over the issue of conversion in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation

There are general concerns over the issue of conversion in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, delegates said at a meeting of the nation's top Islamic clerical group.

During a July 28 plenary meeting in Jakarta by delegates to the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) Congress, the clerics reported that Christians were expanding their presence in the provinces, and in the capital itself. According to the Jakarta Post, the July 28-30 meeting was attended by over 380 MUI executives and provincial representatives from across the country.

"The percentage of Muslims in Jakarta has declined from 90 percent to 87 percent," the Jakarta delegation said in its report, according to the Jakarta Post. "This is because of the large influx of migrants from non-Muslim areas."

Currently, Muslims comprise about 85 percent of the 220 million people in Indonesia – the world's fourth most populous nation. In some eastern parts, however, Christian and Muslim populations are about equal in size.

The delegation from Jambi province reported Christian preachers were active in the province on central Sumatra Island and converting Muslims at an alarming rate, despite a ban on proselytization in the country.

"The phenomenon of the construction of churches in the province is most disturbing," the Jakarta Post quoted the Jambi delegation report as saying.

In contrast, the delegation from Banten in eastern Java said there was not a single church in Cilegon, a regency in the area.

"We are proud to report that there is not one single church in Cilegon to this day," the report said. "And this is how we intend to keep it."

Although Indonesia has long enjoyed a reputation for religious tolerance and freedom, persecution watchdog groups such as UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide report that more extremist factions have continued to increase in influence in the political, military, legislative and religious fields in the last few years, thus leading to more restrictions of religious freedom.

Also, while most Indonesian Muslims are considered moderate, there is an increasing hard-line minority who advocate violence against Western targets.

In recent years, there have been a series of attacks blamed on Islamic militants, including the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

While a significant number of terrorist attacks have been carried out by those who call themselves “holy warriors of Allah,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told the group of leading Islamic clerics earlier in the week that Muslims have been mistreated and improperly linked to terrorism.