When hardliners hung banners on the campus of Islamic University Malang (Unisma) promoting militant Islam, the rector, Masykuri Bakri, ordered them ripped down and fundamentalist texts to be thrown out.
‘There’s no room for radicals at Unisma,’ he said. ‘This is a place of harmony.’
For Bakri, interfaith tolerance is serious stuff. He reads the Qu’ran as a book of peace and inclusiveness, not an order to blast infidels. Harmony is a word he loves, but seems at odds with a stern administrator running a tight academic institution.
His background, upbringing and career to date might have shaped a determined advocate of Indonesia as a syariah state. Instead he wants to break down walls between faiths. He dismisses his critics: ‘I just keep going. That’s my job. I’m not interested in politics, just peace, understanding and respect.’
Bakri stands for more than words. Earlier this year his university hosted the Deklarasi Malang Berdoa, the Malang Declaration of Prayer. This was village-style consensus building – known as musyawarah – on an urban scale.
‘We want Unisma to be an example that others can follow,’ said Bakri who gave a strident speech evoking shared national values and a vision of togetherness that brought frequent outbursts of applause from the 600-strong crowd, showing most were already converted.
The timing was important.
With fears that some regional election candidates would play the religious card in the recent July elections, the event aimed to fend off hate. It didn’t succeed beyond Malang. Days later suicide bombers in Surabaya attacked churches, killing 28 and wounding 50. In Central Sumatra police arrested alleged terrorists linked to Riau University.