The bright red, yellow and green temple-like exterior of the Lautze Mosque in Jakarta’s Chinatown could be mistaken for a Chinese home.
However, the distinctive structure of the mosque reaffirms its role as a good example of how Indonesians of Chinese descent blended in with their predominantly indigenous Muslim neighbors.
“Many mistook the mosque for a Chinese temple, so two years ago, we put up signs bearing the name of the mosque,” Imam Naga Kunadi said.
The three-story mosque is part of a row of buildings in a busy trading area along Lautze Street, after which the mosque is named, in Central Jakarta. Because of its location, the mosque only opens during the day.
“In Ramadan, we usually open every Saturday, starting at Asr time, because we have a specific type of congregation — many of the members live far from the mosque. We would provide iftar and hold taraweeh prayers. But we cannot do that this year as we have to close due to the large-scale social restrictions in this time of coronavirus,” Kunadi said.
Kunadi, whose Chinese name is Qiu Xue Long, said the mosque would still operate in a subdued manner for alms collection and distribution, or to assist those wishing to convert to Islam, and that mosque officials would act in compliance with social distancing measures.
The mosque was established in 1991 by the Haji Abdul Karim Oei Foundation, named after a Chinese-Indonesian Muslim nationalist, the late Abdul Karim Oei Tjeng Hien.
It aimed to facilitate the assimilation of the ethnic Chinese community and indigenous Muslims, especially in cases where ethnic Chinese people wished to embrace Islam.
“We understand the specific needs of Chinese mualaf (convert). We understand what they go through because we’ve experienced it before,” said Kunadi, who converted to Islam in 2002.
The original mosque occupied a shophouse and, a few years later was expanded after acquiring an adjacent building to accommodate 300 congregation members.
“The Chinese-style exterior is also to show that we still maintain our Chinese heritage even though we converted to Islam,” Kunadi said.
Muhammad Ali Karim Oei, son of Oei Sr., said the facade was designed to make the mosque more welcoming for ethnic Chinese people wishing to come inside and ask about Islam.
“They are free to ask anything and learn about Islam here, even some burning questions they may be reluctant to ask in other mosques. It is another reason we chose the name Lautze — a Chinese word for teacher,” Oei Jr. said.
The mosque has seen more than 1,000 Chinese-Indonesians embrace Islam. In addition to making an ethnic Chinese person part of the country’s Muslim majority, it also makes the person a double minority for being a Muslim minority in an already small ethnic group.
Its reputation as a nonjudgmental place for Chinese-Indonesians who want to study Islam, and for the new converts, as well as other Chinese Muslims to observe the faith, led to the establishment of Lautze Mosque 2 in Bandung, West Java in 1997.
“There was a need for a mosque that accommodates the growing number of Chinese-Indonesian Muslims in the city. They felt like there was still a gap when they pray in regular mosques. People would look at them differently, even though they are already part of the Muslim brethren,” Hernawan Mahfudz, an official from Lautze Mosque 2 Foundation told Arab News.
To make them feel more at home, congregation members are encouraged to address each other as “koko” and “cici,” the Chinese words for brother and sister.
Like its Jakarta predecessor, the mosque maintains the Chinese-style facade accentuated by a row of Chinese red lanterns. The ground floor serves as the prayer hall for 200 people while the upper floor serves as a shelter for the mualafs who might be experiencing hardship as a result of their conversion.
Despite the mosque closures, Mahfudz said they would still keep the Ramadan tradition alive even without the communal gatherings.
“We still provide iftar meals every day but instead of having them at the mosque, we distribute the meals directly to the beneficiaries. We also conduct group Qur’an recitations and sermons using videoconferencing applications,” he said.
This story was first published in Arab News