Category: General

Indonesia battles dengue outbreak as COVID-19 persists

Indonesia is battling a second deadly disease, dengue fever, which continues to infect its population way past the average peak recorded earlier this year, after efforts to prevent the outbreak were sidelined by anti-COVID-19 restrictions.

According to the Health Ministry, as of Monday there were 68,000 dengue cases across the nation, resulting in 446 deaths.

Deserted tourism hotspots, such as Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara and Buleleng, Denpasar, and Badung in Bali are among the regions recording the most significant number of dengue infections.

COVID-19 cases were also on the rise in Bali, which had 1,080 cases as of Monday.  

“Many hotels that are left empty may have become breeding grounds for mosquito populations,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Health Ministry’s director for vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, said.

“They have always been in check with regular mosquito larvae controlling measures but, with workers off duty, the efforts have been largely unchecked.” 

She said that while Bali had always recorded a significant number of dengue cases, they had never been as high as this year.

“We encourage operators of hotels and places of worship to also conduct larvae busting efforts in addition to disinfecting their premises ahead of the reopening of tourism areas.”

In previous years, dengue fever season would have peaked by March or April. But  this year the country is seeing a prolonged period of infections, with many cases still being recorded in June.

“Normally we would find less than 10 cases by June but, this year, we still find 100 to 500 cases every day so far, although the number of cases and fatalities year-on-year are not as high as June 2019, which recorded 105,000 cases and 727 deaths,” Tarmizi added.

Dengue fever first hit Indonesia in 1968, and the fatality rate had reached almost 50 percent. However, health authorities managed to control the outbreak and reduced the fatality rate to less than one percent over the years.

A spike in the dengue outbreak occurred in 2015, with authorities pulling out all the stops to prevent a recurrence.

But they are also likely to be dealing with double infection cases as the dengue outbreak is occurring in provinces that are most infected by coronavirus such as West Java, Jakarta, East Java, and South Sulawesi, Dr. Tarmizi said.

A chart from the Health Ministry has marked the whole of Java — Indonesia’s most populated island where 141 million of the country’s 270 million people live — in red, indicating that infections are high in the area.

The provinces located in Java, including the capital, Jakarta, West Java, and East Java are also the worst-hit by COVID-19.

Indonesia reported 954 new COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths on Monday, increasing the national total to 46,845, and the fatalities to 2,500, while Jakarta’s cases reached 10,098.

“While dengue can infect people of all ages, we have seen a trend of teenagers who are already in a critical phase being admitted (to hospitals),” Dr. Mulya Rahma Karyanti, a pediatrician, said during an online press conference on Monday.

The Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI) chairman, Aman Pulungan, has said that dengue fever is among a list of health problems that many Indonesian minors suffer from, making them among the most vulnerable to be infected by coronavirus.

Living with the dead: Indonesia’s Torajans downsize burials amid pandemic

She had been dead for two years and was ready to be buried. After restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were imposed in March, however, villagers in the La’bo village of the North Toraja regency in Sulawesi Island had no choice but to suspend the ceremony at the last minute.

On Saturday, they were finally able to hold a proper burial for the deceased village elder in a toned-down version of the elaborate, centuries-old ceremony known as Rambu Solo. The ceremony is central to the lives of the Toraja ethnic group, who are predominantly Christian but hold some animistic belief.

The Torajas inhabit two administrative areas — the North Toraja and Tana Toraja regencies — in the South Sulawesi province.

For Torajans, the deceased are not dead yet; they are seen, rather, as sick. Family members still talk to them, bringing food and drinks and keeping essential items nearby. The mummified corpse remains unburied in the family’s tongkonan, or a Toraja traditional house, while years of preparations for the burial ceremony is underway. It is a large family affair which would last for up to a week in pre-COVID-19 times, involving the entire village and requires the sacrifice of dozens of buffaloes.

“We condensed the ceremony to only two days. We also conducted the burial in compliance with health protocols by providing a hand washing station at the entrance. All mourners who came in had to wear face masks,” Yohannes Limbong, a family representative said.

The family was supposed to hold the ceremony on March 25, but it was suspended after the regency administration issued a stay-at-home order on March 23, advising citizens to hold off on any events involving large gatherings of people such as the Rambu Solo.

A relative mourns on the deceased’s coffin. (Photo: Lisa Saba Palloan)

As of Saturday, the regency has not reported any COVID-19 deaths, but there were four confirmed cases, all of whom were travelers from virus-infected areas, including the provincial capital, Makassar, about 317 kilometers away. 

The province has had 3,635 confirmed cases so far or about 8 percent of the 45,029 national caseloads. North Toraja, which has a population of 230,000, has lifted some restrictions in recent weeks after the region was considered an area where the risk of infections is low, allowing for religious events. Participants are nevertheless required to observe health protocols.

“There were less than 100 mourners who attended the ceremony. Normally, it would be double that amount or more,” Lisa Saba Palloan, a local tourist guide, said.

Romba Marannu Sombolinggi, chairwoman of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago Toraya chapter, said that families who conducted the burials recently had to compromise between the obligation to perform a respectable send-off and compliance with social restrictions.

“A complete ceremony could take at least five days,” she said.

“But we are obeying government regulations. There are some disappointments, but we understand the situation. We do not want people to be infected because we insist on having the long ceremony.”

A few people had died who were under treatment but who had tested negative for COVID-19. They had to be buried in accordance with health protocols as soon as possible, which meant that the surviving family members could not keep the deceased embalmed in their houses as they would traditionally do.

“The families still performed the most essential rituals, including sacrificing at least a pig or a buffalo before the burial,” Sombolinggi said.

Sombolinggi said that buffaloes are sacrificed to mark the symbolic passage to death since they would serve as the deceased’s “carriage” in the afterlife.

“It is very much about the family’s dignity. They would otherwise experience social repercussions if they were not able to hold a presentable burial,” she added.

Read the full story in Arab News

Surviving as a refugee becomes more testing during pandemic

More than 200 refugees and asylum seekers sheltering in a rundown military command headquarters in Kalideres, West Jakarta, remain as isolated as ever.

This is despite the surrounding residential areas returning to life with the gradual lifting of the city’s coronavirus restrictions.

It is a very contrasting world divided only by the fence between those who have set up their temporary homes in small dome tents in the deserted compound and those living in the middle-class residential area.

The lives of the former remain in a state of indefinite uncertainty awaiting permanent resettlement to a third country. The pandemic has been making the situation worse as refugees have had to resort to their own means to isolate themselves and prevent the vulnerable group from contracting the disease.

“Nothing has changed for us. Our situation as a whole is really different than the outside world,” a refugee community spokesperson, Hassan Ramazan, said on Friday.

“We are still locking our doors and we don’t ease our restrictions. The situation around the camp is more crowded now but we are more careful than before.”

The community decided to isolate itself after hearing on the news that there were 20 people infected with the disease in the Kalideres area at the beginning of the pandemic.

“The main gate is locked, and we only open the small gate that we take turns to guard to prevent people coming in as we isolate ourselves because of the coronavirus,” Ramazan said during a visit to the camp in May.

Refugees have been living in the camp since July 2019. Initially, hundreds of refugees were taken to the temporary shelter, but the Jakarta city administration ordered them to leave the building by August 2019. Some have left while others stayed behind — 245 people from 28 families, 40 children, and single men such as Ramazan. There are also three septuagenarians and two people who are in the sixties. Most of them are Hazara people from Afghanistan, along with a few Iraqis. Four babies have been born during this time at the Kalideres camp.

Electricity and running water are scarce. Even the street lights outside, which provided some lighting to the parking lot, were turned off in the evening, Ramazan said.

“Our lives depend on donations to keep the water and electricity running and assistance comes in occasionally and irregularly. We could have water and food enough for certain days until the next donations come again,” he said.

There were days when donations came in the form of a prepaid electricity token, so the people could have electricity for a certain time. However when the token ran out, and until another was donated, they could be left with no electricity at all for days, Ramazan said.

International agencies had visited the camp informing the inhabitants about social distancing guidelines at the beginning of the pandemic and sprayed disinfectants in the building.

“But that’s it. They told us to wash our hands but they don’t provide us with water. They told us to stay home but where is home for us?” Ramazan said.

Read the full story in Arab News

Not a minor problem: Children in Indonesia most vulnerable to COVID-19

Schools in Indonesia will not be opening anytime soon, with 94 percent of students across the country living in areas with a moderate to high risk of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, and over 6,000 children said to have been exposed to the disease.

In a virtual press conference on Monday, Education Minister Nadiem Makarim said that the school year would start on schedule in July, but students would have to study from home, adding that only schools in the green zone, or regions where the infection cases are low, could reopen for the new academic year.

“Only six percent of our students live in the green zone — 85 regions and cities — where schools can gradually reopen. But they will need their parents’ consent to go back studying in school,” Makarim said.

The announcement came after the Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI) advised in late May against the reopening of schools at least until December this year after regional governments across Indonesia started to ease some restrictions and reopen the economy.

“They need to clearly explain to the parents that their children will still be exposed to the risk of infections. Assigning zones can be very dynamic — today a region may be a green zone, but it could change anytime,” IDAI Chairman Aman Pulungan said.

As of Monday, there were 1,017 new infections and 64 deaths reported in the country, increasing the national total to 39,294 cases and 2,198 deaths.

About 3,000 people below the age of 18 had contracted the virus, 7.8 percent of the national tally, while around 3,400 minors were being treated, according to data from the COVID-19 national task force.

The data also showed that 1.4 percent or 550 minors had died, out of which 353 were under five years old.

“The number of children who contracted COVID-19 and who died from it continues to increase every week. We should not let even one child die,” Pulungan said, adding that an average of four percent of children who tested positive for the virus died every week, and that the figure of those who had died while undergoing treatment was even higher.

Even before the pandemic, Indonesian children were already exposed to several health issues such as malnutrition, with the World Health Organization (WHO) listing Indonesia among countries with the highest prevalence of stunted growth. In 2019, the prevalence was 27 percent, still well above the WHO standard of 20 percent.

“The comorbidities found in adults are found in children, too, but many Indonesian children also suffer from diarrhea, dengue fever, tuberculosis, and malnutrition,” Pulungan said.

Data from the Ministry of Health showed that 17.7 percent of Indonesian children below five years of age suffered from malnutrition, making their immune systems even more at risk from COVID-19.

“The government needs to beef up its efforts in preventing children from contracting the coronavirus and treating those exposed to the disease,” Susanto, chairman of the Indonesian Commission for Child Protection, said.

This story was first published in Arab News

Follow rules or bury victims: Indonesia gets tough on violators

Indonesia’s East Java province is taking extra measures to ensure people obey social distancing rules, with violators facing penalties such as burying coronavirus victims or cleaning up public places.

The province is battling a spike in coronavirus infections, making it the second-worst hit by the outbreak in the country’s national caseload.

On Saturday, East Java accounts for 5,835 cases of infections out of the 30,514  across the country. The province reported 17 more deaths, bringing the fatalities count to 463, out of the 1,801 total deaths in Indonesia.

“East Java registers the highest surge of infections cases today with 286 cases, and at the same time, the province reports the highest number of recoveries with 154 patients recovered,” COVID-19 national task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said in his daily press briefing.

IMG-20200507-WA0071 (1)
Residents of Surabaya’s Ampel sub-district were wearing face masks as the religious tourism area is closed due to coronavirus restrictions. Photo: The Parrot/Nunung Tejo

The national government has made it mandatory to wear face masks in public places since early April, with regional governments tasked with distributing face masks for free to people.

But many have ignored the rule, forcing regional leaders to come up with social shaming tactics to reprimand violators.

In East Java’s regencies of Tuban and Sidoarjo, the regional administration has manning checkpoints to monitor the movement of people in and out of the regions or cleaning up public places as punishment.

“Another alternative to social sanctions for repeat social restriction offenders is being part of the team that conducts burials for those who died of COVID-19,” Tuban Regent Fathul Huda said in a May 27 statement released by the local administration. “Sellers and customers who do not wear facial masks in markets will be told to go home.”

Sidoarjo, one of the regencies with the highest number of infections in the province, also imposed the same rule.

The regency and neighboring regency of Gresik are part of the provincial capital’s Surabaya metropolitan area that imposed prolonged large-scale social restrictions, which are due to end on June 8 after they were extended for the third time since late April.

Dimas Rahmad Saputra, a food and beverage businessman in Gresik, said locals in a village in Trenggalek regency were keen on practicing social distancing when he paid a condolence visit upon the death of his cousin in Kendalrejo village.

“The villagers kept a distance from me, being from the red-zone Gresik,” he said. “They kept reminding me not to shake hands with anyone, even with my aunt and uncle. People who did not wear masks were not allowed to go to the burial.

Each village set up its own barrier to the village entrance. They really comply with the social restrictions because there are many elderly people, so I understand they are just trying to protect the elders from the risks of being infected.”

Residents on the resort island of Bali are abiding by local customs and values, in addition to formal regulations to control the spread of the virus.

In Sanur Kauh village, on the southeastern part of the island, the village customary board requires violators to pay a fine of 5 kilos of rice.

“There are six villages in the area including Sanur Kauh that impose such customary sanction, but so far none has been reprimanded for that,” said Didi, who goes by one name only and is the owner of Didi’s Stall in Sanur Kauh, said.

“We are committed to abiding by the rules to get rid of the virus from Bali, otherwise tourists would not come here as tourism is our lifeline.”

Bali’s deputy governor, Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati, on Sunday said that the island was limiting the movement of people entering and leaving the area as part of its virus control measures.

Government officials and people from the private sector are working to curb the spread of the virus. Bali residents returning from work or studying abroad, and individuals with nuclear family members who are dead or gravely ill are among those allowed to enter the island.

This story has been updated from its original one in Arab News

Indonesia eager to ease restrictions despite ongoing pandemic

The Indonesian government is in the process of easing the restrictive measures implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), spending most of last week in preparations to reopen the economy. This comes despite an uptick in new infections that has brought the total number of cases to more than 28,000 across the archipelago on Wednesday.

“We still have important, strategic agendas that remain a priority for our national interests and that should not be halted,” President Joko Widodo said during a Cabinet meeting last week.

To ensure citizens abide by guidelines — such as wearing face masks and observing social distancing — the government has deployed 340,000 police and military personnel to monitor the situation in over 1,000 public places in four provinces and 25 regencies and municipalities across the country.

Experts, however, are divided over the government’s decision to involve the military in dealing with the pandemic.

“The military has been a part of the government’s response to the pandemic since the beginning. So far, they have not overstepped their role,” Stanislaus Riyanta, University of Indonesia’s intelligence and security analyst, said, adding that “public discipline” was necessary for the virus-containing measures to work.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the university, echoed Riyanta’s statements.

“Compliance with the health protocols in public places is the only vaccine we have right now. We have no other choice but to adopt these measures,” Riono said.

However, Asfinawati Ajub, human rights advocate and chairwoman of the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation disagrees, adding that such reasons are not enough to deploy military personnel and that the policy was “ill-intended.”

As of Wednesday, there were 684 new infection cases, increasing the national tally to 28,233, while the death toll rose to 1,698, with 35 new deaths reported, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.

While 12 provinces did not report any new positive cases, while four provinces — East Java, Jakarta, Banten, and South Kalimantan — recorded the highest number of new infections.

East Java has emerged as a new COVID-19 hotspot, with new clusters popping up in the province.

Meanwhile, the provincial capital and Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, remained the worst-hit in the province, despite the extension of large-scale social restrictions.

“City residents have not been complying with restrictions. Many Surabayans cannot work from home. They have to go out to earn their living,” Nunung Pramono, a freelance tour guide in Surabaya, said.

Last week, Minister of Tourism Wishnutama Kusubandio said that regions that had been declared safe to reopen would need at least one month to implement health protocols. Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi issued social distancing guidelines to open places of worship on Saturday.

But Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono, another epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, said that the nationwide anti-virus measures, in general, were not enough to curb the spread of the virus, let alone allow for an easing of restrictions.

“But we can review the measures based on each region’s capacity to contain the virus, such as controlling the spread, isolating the infected, or identifying imported cases,” he said.

On Friday, West Java Gov. Ridwan Kamil said that after imposing province-wide, large-scale social restrictions, new cases had dropped significantly and that a majority of regencies and municipalities in the province — the third-most infected in Indonesia — could start easing some restrictions.

The government said that the reproduction rate of new cases in virus-stricken Jakarta had dropped to a more controllable level and that if this remained consistent for at least two weeks, it would be safe to lift some restrictions.

This story has been updated from its original one in Arab News

 

Jokowi was wrong to block internet during Papua unrest: Court

 An Indonesian court on Wednesday ruled that President Joko Widodo acted unlawfully by shutting down internet services in Papua province during last year’s deadly unrest. 

The Jakarta State Administrative Court ruled in favour of a lawsuit brought by freedom of information advocacy groups, who argued that the government’s decision to shut down mobile data during the riots violated people’s right to information. 

Joko and his information minister, Johnny G Plate, were co-defendants in the lawsuit. 

“The action taken by the defendants was unlawful,” the panel of judges ruled in their verdict. 

About a dozen people were killed during the two weeks of unrest. It was sparked by perceived heavy-handed and racist treatment of Papuan students by security personnel on Java island. 

The Papua region, which makes up the Indonesian part of New Guinea island, has been the scene of a low-level separatist insurgency since the 1960s.

Indonesia urges pregnancy postponement amid fears of COVID-19 baby boom

Indonesia’s family planning agency on Thursday urged couples to delay pregnancies after estimates showed that 10 percent of reproductive couples in the fourth most-populous country had abandoned contraception as a result of restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lack of access to contraceptives could result in 420,000 unplanned pregnancies, sparking fears of a COVID-19 baby boom, said Hasto Wardoyo, the head of the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN).

“With an additional 420,000 births next year, population growth in Indonesia could surge dramatically,” he said. “If you plan to get pregnant, now is not the right time.”

The government estimates that about 15 percent of 3 million couples who stopped using contraception between March and April could end up pregnant, Hasto said, adding that 95 percent of contraceptive users in Indonesia are women.

Hasto said people had been reluctant to visit health clinics because of fears they would contract COVID-19, while many health workers have suspended their practices to avoid contact with other people.

Government health workers assisted by military personnel are going door-to-door to provide contraceptives and other family planning services, along with personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel in the field of reproductive health, he said.

Health officials in Tasikmalaya, a regency in West Java province, reported earlier this month that the pregnancy rate doubled to more than 3,200 in the January-to-March period compared to last year.

“The April-to-May period may see another rise,” said Uus Supangat, chief of the Tasikmalaya health office, according to Kumparan.com online news portal.

Nearly 5 million babies are born every year in Indonesia and about 28 million couples were using contraception last year, according to government data.

COVID-19 cases

Indonesia recorded 973 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the largest single-day rise so far, taking the total to 20,162. East Java province saw the highest daily increase on Thursday, 502, COVID-19 task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said.

Globally, more than 5 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and nearly 330,000 have died as of Thursday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Obstetrics and Gynecology Association (POGI) has urged couples planning pregnancy to postpone visits to clinics until the pandemic is under control as health workers are focusing their attention on providing services to expectant women to prevent COVID-19-related complications.

“Even though there’s no evidence yet that the fetus can be infected by COVID-19, we still have to take precautions,” said Budi Wiweko, POGI’s deputy secretary general.

“We have to avoid caesarian delivery as much as possible,” he said.

Angga Sisca Rahadian, a researcher with the Population Research Center at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said the predicted 420,000 additional births in 2021 would make it harder for Indonesia to achieve its total fertility rate target of 2.1. The rate refers to the average number of children a woman would have if she survives all reproductive years.

Indonesia’s total fertility rate is 2.4, according to a 2017 demographic and health survey.

“With the increase in pregnancy rates during the pandemic, it will certainly affect the growth rate,” Angga said, referring to population growth.

Angga said the government must ensure that women who are pregnant during the pandemic are given maternity care.

“These are unplanned pregnancies and the government has to find ways to keep pregnant women well-nourished to prevent complications,” she said.

Infant mortality rate in Indonesia is 24 per 1,000 live births, while under-5 mortality rate is 32 per 1,000 live births, far beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of 70 per 100,000 live births, according to the 2017 demographic survey.

Travel concerns

Task force spokesman Yurianto attributed the jump in single-day COVID-19 cases in Indonesia to increased testing and the failure to observe social distancing measures.

He warned that the country could see an increase in infections because of higher mobility during the holy month of Ramadan culminating in the Eid al-Fitr festival, which falls on Sunday.

Traffic in the greater Jakarta region has been busier in recent days ahead of Eid al-Fitr, while airports, sea ports and markets have also started to reopen.

The head of the COVID-19 task force’s team of experts, Wiku Adisasmito, said public perception that travel restrictions had been relaxed could also be a factor.

“It could be due to increased testing, or due to the lack of discipline in observing health protocols,” he said.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday said the government would not ease restrictions amid criticism that the government is silently relaxing measures to curb the spread the virus to keep the economy running.

Speculation that the government is taking steps toward reopening the economy emerged last week after Wiku said residents 45 and younger could be allowed to return to work.

He said West Java has been a bright spot in the fight against COVID-19 for its success in flattening the curve.

“Hopefully other provinces can catch up,” he said.

East Java Deputy Gov. Emil Dardak told local television that the provincial government had tested not only people who showed symptoms of COVID-19, but those who were at risk, resulting in the high number of daily cases.

The story was first published on BenarNews.org

Lautze Mosque: A symbol of Chinese-Muslim assimilation in Indonesia

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.

Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 21.34.37
Muslim faithful gathered for a mass taraweeh prayer in Ramadan 2019 in front of Lautze Mosque 2 in Bandung, West Java. Photo: Instagram @masjidlautze2

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

A crate idea: Indonesian architects reuse plastic boxes to build mosque

Under normal circumstances, the small mosque on the outskirts of Jakarta constructed from 1,208 used plastic bottle crates would have been abuzz with the sound of people praying and reciting the Quran during Ramadan.

It would be the first Ramadan since the 42-meter-square mosque was built in late 2019, following the establishment of Kebun Ide (Garden of Ideas) — a restaurant with a back-to-nature theme — which houses the facility.

The coronavirus pandemic might have prevented communal prayers, but the mosque’s plastic recycling design is still attracting attention.

“Since we have this prayer room, many residents around here have expressed interests to organize gatherings such as group Quran recitations there. But unfortunately, we cannot do that now as we have to close the restaurant due to social distancing rules,” Handoko Hendroyono, the owner of Kebun Ide, told Arab News.

1
A worshipper prayed inside Kotakrat, a praying room that can accommodate nine worshippers and constructed of 1,208 reused plastic bottle crates built in late 2019 in Bintaro township on the southern outskirts of Jakarta. Photo: Instagram @psastudio

The pavilion, named Kotakrat, was initially constructed to be part of a local architectural exhibition in Bintaro township.

“The project concept was good because it reused discarded material, and there was a need for a praying room for our guests and employees, so I agreed to have the Kotakrat to be constructed in our space. Now we have a very good place to pray. Many visitors didn’t realize that it is actually a prayer room,” he added.

Designed and constructed by architect firm PSA Studio, Kotakrat is part of an architectural project to build a multi-purpose “space of kindness” to meet the community’s social needs.

“This space of kindness can be in the form of a kiosk, place of worship, shelter, bus stop, security post, and many other places. It is built from plastic crates that we can easily find and install to form a space for various architectural shapes and purposes. The crates can be arranged to function as a roof, a partition, and a wall,” Ario Wirastomo, a principal architect in the firm, told Arab News.

This construction used 1,208 used plastic bottle crates to form the prayer room’s walls and roof, and benches for the visitors to remove their shoes before entering.

It also provides water faucets for congregants to perform ablutions.

The architects used bolts to join the crates. They also used a polycarbonate roof supported by hollow metal frames.

The mosque has two separate entrances for men and women, although it does not separate men and women in the 8.64-meter-square praying space that can accommodate three rows of nine worshippers. The first row is for the imam, while the other two rows are for men and women respectively.

“As a prayer room is a public place that Muslims would look for to perform the five daily prayers everywhere they go, we expect the Kotakrat space would be durable and functional for a long time,” Wirastomo said.

Despite reusing discarded material, Wirastomo said he could not claim this project was environmentally friendly but he hoped people would be more aware of recycling waste.

Indonesia is one of the world’s top plastic waste producers with 5.05 million tonnes of plastic rubbish generated annually, out of which 81 percent is mismanaged and contributes 10 percent to the global total of mismanaged plastic waste. Our World In Data projected that Indonesia would contribute almost 11 percent of global mismanaged plastic waste by 2025.

The country’s chief maritime affairs and investment minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, recently said that Indonesia has come up with an action plan that aims to reduce 70 percent of its plastic pollution by 2025, hoping to be free of plastic waste by 2040.

This story was first published in Arab News