Former first lady Sinta Nuriyah, second from right, said she has spent 17 years traveling to various parts of Indonesia to perform sahur with interfaith groups and marginalized people. (Antara Photo/Wahdi Septiawan)

Former First Lady Sinta Nuriyah on Importance of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika


JUNE 23, 2017

Jakarta. Sinta Nuriyah, the widow of former President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, said she has spent 17 years traveling to various parts of Indonesia to perform sahur, or the Muslim predawn meal before fasting, with interfaith groups and marginalized people.

Sinta, whose late husband was the chairman of Nadlatul Ulama – one of the world's largest Muslim organizations – and a Muslim scholar who campaigned for a more liberal and pluralist interpretation of Islam, delivered the keynote speech during an iftar, or fast-breaking, event organized by Taruna Merah Putih (TMP), the youth wing of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on Thursday afternoon (22/06).

At least 250 people participated in the event, including representatives of Banser (the NU's paramilitary wing), the National Democratic Party (NasDem) and the People's Conscience Party (Hanura) – both allies of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and the ruling PDI-P.

Sinta entered the room on a wheelchair, assisted by several aides, with smile on her face despite visible fatigue. Also participating in the event were school children and residents from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

"Bhinneka Tunggal Ika [Unity in Diversity] must be upheld consistently by society, because our country is wobbling due to some people trying to shake it," said Sinta, whose husband served as president from 1999 to 2001.

She reminded citizens to adhere to the Pancasila state ideology, which promotes tolerance and acceptance of diversity in the nation.

Although she was not referring to any specific case, the nation has seen fierce political battles involving politicians using religion and ethnicity to defeat opponents and ride a wave of populism.

In Jakarta for example, the recent gubernatorial election is considered to have been the most divisive, marked by a polarizing campaign that employed identity politics to win over voters.

Some analysts say the defeat of Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese ethnicity currently in prison for blasphemy, has changed Indonesia's political landscape and forced politicians to rethink their strategies to gain support in a country where 87 percent of the people follow Islam.

Despite recent anti-Ahok rallies and isolated incidents of religious intolerance, most Muslims in Indonesia are still considered moderate, while the NU has been on the forefront to campaign for religious tolerance.

Jombang, Sinta's birthplace in East Java, is home to the Tebuireng Islamic Boarding School, established in 1899 by NU founder K.H. Hasyim Asy'ari.

Sinta said she has been inviting people from different religious, cultural and social backgrounds to join both sahur and iftar gatherings to get the message across that Indonesian Muslims accept diversity.

PDI-P politician Maruarar Sirait, who is a Christian, praised the former first lady for actively promoting the principles of Pancasila.

"We all hope that Mrs. Sinta stays in good health and keeps voicing [the meaning of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika] everywhere as the youth still needs guidance and such. We are tired of listening to political rhetoric," he said.