Running the World’s Largest Muslim City Isn’t Easy, Especially When You’re a Christian


Running Jakarta is no job for the timid. The Indonesian capital’s traffic is hellish. Many officials are on the take. And much of the city’s population — nearly 30 million people if you count its environs — is fed up with government dysfunction.

But these challenges are compounded for Jakarta’s governor, a feisty civil servant nicknamed Ahok. As a minority, he must also contend with a toxic wave of racial and religious bitterness.

Most in Indonesia are Muslims. Their ancestral roots are firmly planted in the tropical archipelago. Not so for Ahok. The 50-year-old governor — full name: Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — is none of the above.

He is the grandson of a tin miner from mainland China. He’s also a Christian. In other words, he is a minority twice over.

That he has achieved so much political power is a testament to Indonesia’s dreams of equality — a goal, enshrined in the constitution, of a Muslim-majority country that accepts other faiths. The national motto is “Unity in diversity.”

But not all Indonesians share this dream.

Across the country, hardline Muslims have rallied to call for Ahok’s ouster. The largest gathering amassed an astounding 200,000 people. The crowds are stoked by Islamists who, from day one, have reviled the idea of a non-Muslim in Jakarta’s top post.

The governor’s supposed crime? Disrespecting the Quran.

In September, Ahok casually cited this Quranic passage: “Oh, you who have believed, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies.”

That verse had been misinterpreted, Ahok said, by political rivals hoping to whip up hostility toward non-Muslim politicians. “If you feel like you can’t vote for me because you’re going to hell,” he told voters, “then you’re being tricked.”

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SOURCE: USA Today; GlobalPost, Patrick Winn