MUI Group Urges Politeness, Dialogue During Obama's Indonesia Visit

Despite protests from hard-line Islamic groups, the chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema on Monday said Indonesia should be a good host and show respect to United States President Barack Obama when he visits later this month. “Above all, we need to show him that Muslims in this country are moderate,” said Amidhan, chairman of the council, also known as MUI. “Therefore, we must welcome him.” Over the weekend, some 750 ulema, or religious scholars, from the East Java branch of the conservative Islamic organization Hizbut Tahrir signed an agreement expressing opposition to Obama’s visit, “because he is the head of a country that has been fighting Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Pakistan.” Hard-line preacher Abu Bakar Bashir, once dubbed the spiritual leader of the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday that Obama should not be welcomed in Muslim countries as long as American troops were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. “America is a great infidel because it fights Islam,” he said. Amidhan said it was normal for some groups to express resistance to Obama’s visit. He added that Obama’s policy on the Middle East would be discussed, since the president kept sending troops to Afghanistan. He said he hoped the government could set up a dialogue between the US president and religious leaders here. Amidhan said that Islamic leaders should be given a chance to talk with Obama upon his visit, and that the economic relationship between the two countries should be discussed, so that Indonesia would not suffer in any deals with the US. “Many cooperative efforts, for example in the mining industry, still favor the US,” he said. “We need to persuade President Obama to change this.” Ma’ruf Amin, MUI deputy chairman, told the Jakarta Globe that he understood the rallies held across the country prior the visit of the president. He acknowledged that some people might distrust Obama’s visit. “But in MUI, we keep thinking positively as long as Obama doesn’t continue Bush’s political policies, and if he executes some changes to standpoints that many Muslim people oppose,” he said. Ma’ruf seconded his colleague’s statement that it was better for Obama to listen to what religious figures in Indonesia wanted out of the bilateral relationship. He said the dialogue would be significant to the two countries’ future relationship. “MUI doesn’t ban the anti-Obama rallies, because it’s the people’s right [to protest]. We just don’t give any response,” he said. Amidhan also added that any trade agreement must be at least equally beneficial for both countries. He called on the government to take a stand and pursue what was profitable for Indonesia instead of simply following what the US suggested. “We have to have a win-win outcome in every agreement,” he said.

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