Jakarta. Abdul Somad, a popular Islamic cleric, is facing a series of blasphemy charges after a video went viral showing him telling a crowd that the Christian crucifix is the dwelling place for an "infidel jinn."
Blasphemy accusations on a preacher of Islam, the religion of over 80 percent of Indonesians, has put a new spin on the country's problematic blasphemy law, which in the past has mostly been used to prosecute members of religious minorities.
The video, which was uploaded on Saturday, showed the cleric talking about the figure of Jesus on the cross to a rapt audience.
"A woman asked me once, 'Why do I get the chills whenever I think about a crucifix?' Because there is an infidel jinn in the crucifix, because of the statue [of Christ] on it [...]. We should never worship a statue," Somad said in the video.
"If we [Muslims] had to stay in a hospital and we see a crucifix there, cover it up, or we will die as an infidel. We should not let ourselves be transported in an ambulance with a crucifix on it, or let people sing 'Hallelujah' to us. God forbid, we would die as an infidel," he said in the video.
The video has sparked an angry reaction from Christians across Indonesia. Several organizations have already filed blasphemy charges to the police against the cleric.
Somad, having been made aware of the viral video and the charges to the police, has already issued a clarification.
"I was answering a question [from the audience]. I did not make my comments to strain relations [between different religions]," Somad said at the At-Taqwa Mosque in Riau on Sunday.
He also said he gave the talk in a mosque and intended it only for a Muslim audience.
"I was answering a question about what Islam thinks of worshipping statues and the Prophet Isa [Jesus], according to the Quran and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad,” Somad said.
According to Somad, his comments were made over three years ago at the An-Nur Mosque in Pekanbaru, Riau.
"Why has it gone viral only now? Why am I being charged with blasphemy now? I will not run away. I am not afraid because I know I'm not guilty," the cleric said.
The Meo Brigade, a Christian organization based in East Nusa Tenggara, reported Somad to the police on Monday.
"We've pressed blasphemy charges against Ustadz Abdul Somad for dishonoring a religious symbol," Yacoba Siubelan, the organization's lawyer, said on Monday.
The Indonesian Christian Student Movement (GMKI) said they have also pressed the same charges against Somad with the police's Criminal Investigation Agency in Jakarta.
"Yes, we've reported the video to the police, because Somad had insulted the symbol of the cross," GMKI chairman Korneles Jalanjinjina said on Monday.
The organization wants the police to summon the cleric immediately to explain himself.
A member of the Batak-Christian organization, Horas Bangso Batak, Netty Farida Silalahi, also reported Somad to the police.
"His statement that demons and jinns hide in the Christian crucifix is simply not true," Erwin Situmorang, an attorney for the organization, said on Monday as reported by CNN Indonesia.
The charges laid against Somad are based on article 156 of the Criminal Code, better known as the blasphemy law, the same article used to charge former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian ethnic Chinese, with blasphemy when he criticized politicians who manipulated Quranic verses to deceive voters.
Meliana, a Buddhist Chinese-Indonesian woman from Tanjung Balai in North Sumatra, was also jailed last year after hardline Islamic groups pressed blasphemy charges against her for complaining about loud calls to prayer from a mosque.
Call for Restraint
Meanwhile, an organization called the Young Indonesian Christian Movement (Gamki) said they have already forgiven Somad.
"We've already forgiven him. Even though his words were hurtful, we believe that Jesus, who died on the cross, does not need us to defend Him," its secretary general Sahat Sinurat said in Jakarta on Sunday.
Sahat said Somad's comments do not represent the feelings of all Muslims in Indonesia.
"We feel sorry that this happened, especially since Abdul Somad is a popular cleric and educator who has shown he is capable of leading young people into a place of kindness and peace," he said.
According to him, the issue should not be used to create hatred and division among people.
"Religious communities should convey messages of peace, not hate, in a situation like this," Sahat said.
Ulema Council's Response
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has also waded in with a response, claiming that the preacher never meant to insult other religions and that religious preachers – of any denomination – often tailor their speeches for a specific audience, in the case of Somad a crowd of Muslims in a mosque.
"Pressing charges against religious figures for preaching to the choir, inside a house of worship, is not the right thing to do," MUI deputy Fahmi Salim said on Monday, as reported by CNN Indonesia.
"The comments were not made to hurt social harmony. They were part of his rhetoric," Fahmi said.
Meanwhile, Zainut Tauhid Saadi, another ulema from the council, urged a peaceful resolution to the issue.
"Everyone should exercise restraint, don't be provoked by people trying to create a conflict out of nothing," he said.