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US Vice President Pence tours Southeast Asia’s biggest mosque

Published: Updated:

US Vice President Mike Pence toured Southeast Asia’s largest mosque on Thursday during a visit to Indonesia, calling the Muslim-majority nation’s tradition of following a moderate form of Islam “an inspiration to the world”.

Pence, an evangelical Christian, has sought to use his trip to soften some of the harsher edges of rhetoric about the Muslim world used by US President Donald Trump, who has frequently railed against “radical Islamic terrorism.”

US Vice President Mike Pence tours the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta on April 20, 2017. (Reuters)
US Vice President Mike Pence tours the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta on April 20, 2017. (Reuters)

As leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has voiced worries about Trump’s immigration policy, which critics say is biased against Muslims.

Pence, standing side by side with Widodo at a news conference, said: “One of the greatest threats we face is the rise and spread of terrorism,” though he did not refer to “radical Islam”.

Largest majority-Muslim country

“As the largest majority-Muslim country, Indonesia’s tradition of moderate Islam, frankly, is an inspiration to the world,” he said.

“In your nation as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn’t divide,” he added.

 Chief Imam Nasaruddin Umar (left) and Chairman of the Istiqlal Mosque Management Executive Board, Muhammad Muzammil Basyuni (right) during his visit to the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta. (Reuters)
Chief Imam Nasaruddin Umar (left) and Chairman of the Istiqlal Mosque Management Executive Board, Muhammad Muzammil Basyuni (right) during his visit to the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta. (Reuters)

Pence, joined by his wife and daughters, later went on a tour of Jakarta’s Istiqlal mosque, posing for pictures in the massive empty courtyard and walking through the five-storey prayer hall, big enough to hold 200,000 people.

US Vice President Mike Pence listens during a meeting with Indonesian Muslim community leaders at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, on April 20, 2017. (Reuters)
US Vice President Mike Pence listens during a meeting with Indonesian Muslim community leaders at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, on April 20, 2017. (Reuters)

Afterwards, he met religious leaders from various faiths, including Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and others.

Indonesia is officially secular and most of its 220 million Muslims practise a moderate form of Islam, although the country has some vocal Islamist groups and has suffered in the past from attacks by militants.