Indonesian Christians are mourning the death of an Islamic scholar, who stood for the rights of religious minorities and for the promotion of interfaith dialogue in the Muslim-majority country.
Professor Azyumardi Azra died of a heart attack while away on a speaking assignment in neighboring Malaysia on Sept. 18. He was 67.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, ministers, politicians and religious leaders have expressed condolences on his death.
Azra was the chairman of the national council of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a research and advocacy group for religious freedom. He was also elected as chairman of the Press Council in May.
He was the rector of the State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta, during 1998-2006 and director of the campus postgraduate program from 2007 to 2015.
His tireless promotion of interfaith dialogue was honored with the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2010 and The Order of the Rising Sun: Gold and Silver Star from Japan Emperor Akihito in 2017.
Azra often spoke for affirmative policies to help facilitate the construction of places of worship for minority groups, including Christians. He also strongly condemned the attacks on churches by extremist groups.
Father Antonius Benny Susetyo described Azra as an "organic intellectual" who was concerned about the future of diversity in the Indonesian nation.
"He had a serious concern for human rights and religious freedom, which are guaranteed in principle by the constitution," he added.
Father Otto Gusti Madung, the rector of the Ledalero Institute of Philosophy and Creative Technology on the Catholic-majority island of Flores, described him as "a very open person."
He recalled inviting Azra as a speaker on campus in 2019. "At that time he stayed here with the Divine Word priests and also prayed with them. He also offered to help our campus if we wanted to open a doctoral program," Father Madung told UCA News.
The priest said public intellectuals like Azra were the pillars of religious tolerance in Indonesia.
Reverend Gomar Gultom, chairman of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, called Azra a "teacher and friend" who always spoke frankly.
"His intellectual endeavors transcended the barriers of nation, ethnicity, religion, etc.," he said.
Gultom hoped Azra's lifelong efforts will lead to "a just, peaceful and prosperous Indonesia."
Azra will be buried at the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, South Jakarta on Sept. 20.