*Just one day after an Indonesian minister had expressed reluctance to shake her hand [scroll down to watch], First Lady Michelle Obama visited Southeast Asia’s biggest mosque with her husband on Wednesday as part of the president’s 10-day swing through Asia.
The much-anticipated visit to the Istiqlal Mosque in central Jakarta was one of the last stops on Obama’s twice-postponed visit to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and Obama’s boyhood home.
Grand Imam Haji Mustafa Ali Yaqub showed the Obamas around the massive domed structure, which was still being built when a young Barack lived in the nearby suburb of Menteng as a child in the late 1960s.
He explained its history and architecture — it was designed by a Christian — and impressed Obama with the story of how the caretakers donate the mosque’s parking lot to the neighboring Catholic cathedral on Christmas day.
“That’s an example of the kind of cooperation” between religions in Jakarta, Obama told the following White House press pack, in keeping with his desire to uphold Indonesia as a model of religious tolerance.
Michelle wore a silky flowing chartreuse pant suit and beige head-covering adorned with gold beads and a black fringe. She also wore thin lace socks, having removed her shoes to enter the mosque.
As previously reported, the first lady had become the unwitting focus of a raging online debate Tuesday about religious tolerance and women’s rights in the country of 240 million people, 80 percent of whom are Muslims. [Watch video below.]
Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring, a conservative Muslim who refuses to touch women he is not related to, had messaged his thousands of Twitter followers that he had reluctantly shaken hands with her at a formal reception.
“I tried to prevent it with my two hands but Mrs Michelle moved her hands too close to me, then we touched,” he wrote, sparking a firestorm of condemnation on the hyperactive Indonesian blogosphere.
Video footage of the meeting [seen below] suggested otherwise, showing Sembiring reaching out to shake Michelle’s hand like the other dignitaries.
Michelle Obama returned to the States today while her husband continued on to South Korea for an economic summit starting Thursday.