Category: Religion

Indonesia shines a light on dishonest Umrah operators

Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has revamped its supervision of Umrah tour operators and imposed a moratorium on issuing licenses to new ones as of April.

The moratorium was imposed as a major Umrah scam case, which cost 58,682 aspiring Umrah pilgrims a combined loss of 848.70 billion rupiah ($60 million), was being heard at a court near Jakarta.

On May 30, the Depok district court on the outskirts of Jakarta handed down respectively 20- and 18-year prison terms to the husband and wife team Andika Surachman and Anniesa Hasibuan, a fashion designer who made a name for herself after her modest fashion collection was debuted internationally in London and showcased at New York Fashion Week in Sep 2016, during which “her works received eminent applause,” according to the fashion week’s website.

“We are reviewing the 906 Umrah tour operators currently listed in the ministry. We have also revoked licenses of four operators so far this year,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.

“The minister of religious affairs has also issued a ministerial regulation which details new rules for Umrah tour operators to abide by, such as the price reference should be at least 20 million rupiah ($1,428) and customers should be able to go to Makkah no longer than six months since they made their first payments,” Mastuki added.

Sobandi, the presiding judge, also gave Anniesa and her husband Andika a 10-billion-rupiah fine each on fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges.

Mastuki said the verdicts are proper punishments that everyone has to accept.

“Justice has been served, despite the consequences and losses that their customers suffered,” he said.

Through a Jakarta-based travel agency, which they had established in 2009, First Travel, Anniesa and Andika used to offer a cheap Umrah package, which cost about 14.3 million rupiah ($1,000) and was $300 cheaper than a normal package would cost.

“The defendants had known from the start that the 14.3-million-rupiah package per person would not be enough to send a customer to perform Umrah,” Yulinda Trimurti, a member of the panel of judges, said during the hearing.

Anniesa Hasibuan-facebook
Photo: Facebook/Anniesa Hasibuan Official

The pair, whose lavish lifestyle was on full display on their social media accounts, had promised customers who paid in full that they could go to Makkah for Umrah in a year.

But customers’ complaints began to arise and were made public after a group of would-be pilgrims failed to depart to Makkah in March 2017 and the travel agent could not give an estimated schedule of when they could eventually go.

From December 2016 to May 2017, there were 72,682 Umrah hopefuls signed up for the cheap package that First Travel offered, but the company was only able to send 14,000 customers to Saudi Arabia.

The pair also owed 24 billion rupiah ($1.7 million) to three hotels in Makkah and Madinah.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs revoked First Travel’s license as an Umrah operator in early August last year and later in the month, the police named the pair and Anniesa’s younger sister Siti Nuraidah Hasibuan as suspects and charged them with fraud and money laundering. Siti Nuraidah, also known as Kiki, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the same court.

Anniesa had been listed among Forbes Indonesia’s 2017 Inspiring Women earlier last year before the fraud case became public. But later in August, the magazine announced on its official Facebook page that it has removed her from the list.

“Forbes Indonesia endorses ethical business practices and wish to inspire others to achieve their success through ethical means of doing business,” the magazine said.

The police are now investigating a similar case involving a Makassar-based Umrah tour operator Abu Tour. Mastuki said Abu Tour’s case was similar to First Travel, which gained customers through Ponzi-scheme promotions and cheap packages.

“Initially there were about 80,000 prospective pilgrims who couldn’t go, but some have been remedied and sent on Umrah trips through other operators,” he added.

The long waiting list for Indonesians to go on Hajj, which could extend for more than two decades, has created a lucrative market for Umrah tour operators in the world’s largest Muslim population country to send pilgrim hopefuls to Makkah.

Read the full story in Arab News

Koko shirt inspired by Black Panther movie flies off the rack in Indonesia ahead of Eid

Clothing outlets in Tanah Abang Market in central Jakarta have been cashing in on the trend for koko shirts inspired by a garment worn by T’Challa, the main character in the movie “Black Panther,” which made history in Saudi Arabia as the first to open in a cinema in 35 years.

The long-sleeve, low-collar koko shirt, which is normally worn by Indonesian Muslim men when they go to mosque, attend Qur’an recital or on other special occasions, is in high demand these days as Indonesians go on a shopping spree during Ramadan and ahead of the Eid celebration at the end of this week.

IMG_0761(1)

Garment manufacturers in the busy textile market have been quick to grab the opportunity by producing koko shirts displaying a similar silver motif to the black attire that T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, wore in the movie. T’Challa, aka Black Panther, is the leader of the African kingdom of Wakanda.

When asked if the Black Panther-inspired koko shirt was in high demand, Didi, a vendor of Muslim clothing in Tanah Abang Market, said: “Check out the Internet and you’ll see how it’s trending.”

“It started to become a trend before Ramadan after the film was screened, so we have been producing the shirt in our garment factory,” he said.

Since then his store, which is located in Block A of Southeast Asia’s largest textile and clothing retail market, has been selling and shipping Black Panther koko shirts in large quantities.

A quick browse through the market, with its throngs of shoppers and bulk buyers, showed that some vendors who sell Muslim clothing were displaying the Black Panther koko shirt in its original color, black, along with other colors such as white, blue, grey and light green — although the motif emblazoned on the shirt was the same.

Vendors said they had prepared large quantities in stock ahead of Ramadan, but claimed that they had run out of stock earlier than expected as people began to shop for Eid festivities this weekend.

One vendor, Juanda, said other koko shirts carried slightly different motifs, but were still inspired by T’Challa’s attire. “Garment factories in Surabaya, Bandung started to produce the shirts after the film hit the theaters,” he said.

The shirts are now also widely available through online marketplaces such as Tokopedia, Shopee, Lazada and Instagram.

Some retailers on Tokopedia, however, have put up notices telling buyers they have run out of the Black Panther koko shirts.

Ikram Putra, a 35-year-old social media specialist, was quick to grab one ahead of Eid. “It’s trending, happening, inspired by a popular movie and affordable. I bought it for 80,000 rupiah ($5.70) in one of the online marketplaces.

“I like it because the motif is different and more hip than the usual dad koko shirts.”

The Black Panther-inspired attire is not reserved for men only. The motif is also available on a children’s size shirt, with matching peci or traditional head cap for children, and on a black gamis (dress) for women.

Sumiyati and her 8-year-old son Heru Prakasa had to scout several stores in Tanah Abang before finding the shirt that Heru wanted.

“Other stores we asked earlier only had other colors available, but Heru wanted to have the black one, just like in the movie,” she said.

Lenni Tedja, a fashion observer and director of Jakarta Fashion Week, said while fashions can come from anywhere, trends can be particularly widespread when inspired by a movie.

“Especially if it is a box-office movie, so it has a big impact to generate trends and boost demand for items related to that movie,” she said.

Read the full story in Arab News

 

Plans for holy land tour in limbo as Israel imposes blanket ban on Indonesian visitors

Sally Piri’s plan to take her mother on a tour of the holy sites in the occupied West Bank this year may be put on hold after Israel’s recent move to ban Indonesian passport holders from entering the territory.

She had planned to go with her mother in November and has already paid for the tour, which includes visits to Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth and Caesarea, when she read the news that Israel had issued policy starting on June 10 that bans Indonesians to enter Israel.

jerusalem-88769_1280.jpg

“I really hope the policy will change so tourists like us who want to go on pilgrimage tours can still go. My travel agent told me they are still waiting for results of negotiations between their local partners and the authorities in Israel to have the policy revoked,” Sally said.

“My mother said she has been everywhere and now she just wants to go to the holy land,” she added.

Syuhelmaidi Syukur, a senior vice president of Jakarta-based humanitarian group Aksi Cepat Tanggap, said the ban will not disrupt the group’s humanitarian assistance for people in Palestine.

“We have rarely sent our own humanitarian workers there for the past two years, so we distribute our aid with the help of our local partners and fellow humanitarian groups in Gaza and Jerusalem,” he said.

Last week’s blanket ban for Indonesian tourists was, according to media reports, a tit-for-tat response to Indonesia’s decision to suspend visas already issued to Israeli citizens, suggesting that the visa cancellation was Indonesia’s response to the violence in Gaza in which Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians and injured thousands during recent protests to mark the Nakba.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said last week that Israel had been trying to reverse Indonesia’s decision but to no avail, which resulted in Israel reciprocating the move.

Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly confirmed on Friday that there were 53 Israeli nationals who had been denied visas to enter Indonesia.

“It was a clearing (house) decision that we have to carry out. We can’t disclose the reason because it’s a sensitive matter. It is our sovereign right to accept or reject visa (applications) from other countries,” Laoly told journalists at the Foreign Ministry.

Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but an Israeli passport holder can still get an Indonesian visa through the “calling visa” mechanism which is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.

The calling visa application is reviewed and granted by a clearing house which involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead, and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

Both Laoly and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi denied there had been initial talks about diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel or the possibility of Indonesia granting free visas to Israeli nationals.

“Indonesia continues to be with Palestine in their struggle for independence and their rights. Our foreign policy to take sides with Palestine is very clear,” Marsudi said.

The story first appeared in Arab News

East Timor’s Muslim minority welcomes Ramadan

Muslims in Dili, the capital of predominantly Catholic East Timor, have welcomed Ramadan with great joy.

Julio Muslim Antonio da Costa, the imam of Dili’s largest mosque An Nur, said as the holy month approached, the mosque council set up a committee to organize Ramadan-related activities, such as preparing meals for iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset) and collecting alms.

“We had up to 400 people for iftar in on first and second day of Ramadan and we prepare the food everyday throughout the month,” da Costa said.

Some congregation members stay in the mosque for the rest of the evening to perform the Taraweeh prayer and listen to sermons delivered by clerics from neighboring countries.

The clerics also “deliver sermons in other parts of the country, where there are smaller Muslim communities,” da Costa said in an interview at the mosque.

Every Sunday afternoon, Nurul Habibah, 28, organizes Qur’an recital with her fellow members of Muslim women.

“We have sermons and recital after the Asr prayer, and we involve children from the adjoining orphanage,” said Nurul who hails from Lombok island in Indonesia and whose husband, Fawwaz Akmal Fragoso, is a Muslim convert.

Muslims make up about 0.3 percent out of East Timor’s 1.2 million population, most of them concentrated in Dili.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose Fretilin party lost in parliamentary elections on May 12, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.

“There is no problem with religion in my country. The problem is only when you mix religion with politics. But it’s a problem at the high level. There is no problem at the people level,” Alkatiri said in an interview at a hotel near the Fretilin party headquarters.

Despite its Catholic-majority population and the church having great influence, East Timor is secular and Muslims live in peace and harmony with the rest of the society. Both Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha are public holidays in the country.

“Every Eid-Al-Fitr, the President comes to An Nur after Eid prayer to celebrate the day with the Muslim community. It is a symbol of religious tolerance in East Timor,” da Costa said.

“What makes the Muslim community even more thriving here is the presence of Indonesian Muslims from Java island and Makassar in South Sulawesi,” President of Center of East Timor Islamic Community, Arif Abdullah Sagran, said.

The offices of the president and the prime minister, as well as other government offices, send livestock for sacrifice to the mosque for the Eid Al-Adha festivities, Sagran said.

“But there were times when the leaders’ offices sent the animals on Eid Al-Fitr instead of Eid Al-Adha,” he chuckled.

Finding halal food is still a problem in the country and there used to be a misperception that food was halal as long as it was cleanly cooked, Sagran said.

“The lingering misperception now is that food is halal as long as it doesn’t contain pork. We don’t have yet a special body to regulate about halal food. But for the time being, we can get halal food and meat from Indonesian traders here,” da Costa said.

An Nur, which is located in Dili’s Campo Alor neighborhood, was built in 1950s during the Portuguese colonization of East Timor. It was developed further during Indonesia’s occupation and officiated in March 1981 by then-Indonesian military commander in East Timor, Brig. Gen. Dading Kalbuadi.

“After our independence in 2002, the government built two towers in the mosque. Now the mosque can accommodate up to 3,000 people,” da Costa said.

The story has been expanded from its original version in Arab News

Indonesia to host Pakistani, Afghan scholars for peace conference

Indonesia will host a meeting of “ulema” (Islamic scholars) from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia on Thursday in an effort to support the Afghan peace process, the country’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla announced last week.

In a concluding speech at a three-day gathering of international Muslim scholars, Kalla said Indonesia could play a role in building peace in Afghanistan by hosting the meeting on May 11. It was scheduled to be held in March in Jakarta but was delayed after a call from the Taliban to boycott it.

“We hope to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, we still have a problem there,” Kalla said at the vice presidential palace on May 3.

The plan to hold the meetings of the ulema from Indonesia, Pakistan and Afghanistan arose after a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council led by its chairman Karim Khalili visited Indonesia in November. The council had asked Indonesia to support the peace process in Afghanistan through the ulema’s role.

The plan was further discussed when Kalla visited Kabul in late February to attend the Kabul Process conference, where he was the guest of honor.

“The people will listen to the ulema and they have trust in fatwas that the ulema issued,” Kalla said.

Afghan cleric Fazal Ghani Kakar, who was one of the participants in the conference, confirmed that the meeting will take place and that he has been invited to attend.

Kakar, who is the former chairman of Afghanistan’s Nahdlatul Ulama, said that the meeting would be timely because there was an urgent need to find resolution to the problem in Afghanistan, which he said was suffering from radicalism and extreme interpretation of Islam.

“The core issue will be how to build trust between the Afghan and Pakistan ulema because both sides have their own influence on the warring factions in Afghanistan,” Kakar told journalists at the palace.

“This will be the first round and we hope this will open the gate for further discussion,” Kakar said.

He said that he had high hopes for the meeting because “most of the extreme ideas are coming from the Pakistani side, so sitting with the Pakistani ulema is the first step together to reach a better solution.”

He also said there would be at least five ulema from Afghanistan attending, and ulema from the Taliban were expected to come because the political faction of the Taliban has expressed interest in joining the meeting.

“We are very thankful for Indonesia; it has always played its role in brokering peace within the country, and in neighboring countries. We are looking forward to this being a good step for Afghanistan,” Kakar said.

Riefqi Muna, a foreign policy researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said  there was a lot that Indonesia could share from its experience as a Muslim-majority country with a stable democracy that has had its own share of secessionist and communal conflicts.

“We are not going to lecture them, but there are best practices experiences that we can share, so it is necessary for Indonesia to take part in pushing for peace process in conflict-torn countries,” Muna said.

“Facilitating a place for conflicting parties to meet is a step to build peace and for conflict resolution,” he said.

The story was first published in Arab News

 

Indonesian president urged to ban child marriage

Women’s rights activists in Indonesia are pushing President Joko Widodo to issue a presidential regulation that will make child marriage illegal in the country, where its prevalence is one of the highest in world.

They submitted on Apr. 20 their proposed draft of a presidential regulation to Widodo, in lieu of a law to prevent and abolish early marriage. Presidential spokesman Johan Budi, confirmed that the meeting took place in Bogor Palace.

Naila Rizqi Zakiah, a public attorney from Community Legal Aid Institute (LBH Masyarakat) and one of the 18 activists invited to meet with him, said they raised three issues: Child marriage, the bill to amend the criminal code, and the bill against sexual violence.

“The first issue the president responded to was child marriage,” Zakiah said.

“We asked him to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of a law to prevent and stop child marriage. We’ve come up with a draft, and we submitted it to him for his perusal.”

She said Widodo responded “positively” to the proposal after they explained to him that child marriage could deny children their basic human rights and hinder national development.

“We submitted this draft because we think rampant child marriage in the country is an emergency situation, while the procedure in Parliament to amend the articles on the minimum age to marry in the marriage law could be lengthy,” Zakiah said.

The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has urged Parliament to prioritize amending the 1974 marriage law to raise the minimum age for females to marry to 20 and for males to 22.

The law requires parental permission for those under 21 who want to marry. The minimum legal age for women to marry is 16, and 19 for men.

Parents can request a legal exemption from a religious court to marry children younger than that, with no limit on the minimum age.

Women’s and child rights activists have been advocating to raise the minimum legal age for females to marry to 18, in line with the child protection law that categorizes those under 18 as minors.

“It’s still not the ideal age to get married, but would be the minimum (acceptable),” said Maria Ulfa Anshor, a commissioner for the Indonesian Child Protection Commission.

“We appreciate the president’s response. We’ve been waiting for so long for this move, especially since the risks and dangers of child marriage, such as the high maternal mortality rate, are so real,” she added.

“I hope there will be no more child marriage, because the courts give exemptions to do so.”

The Constitutional Court in June 2015 rejected a request to review the marriage law and raise the legal age for girls to marry from 16 to 18.

According to UNICEF, child marriage in Indonesia is rampant, with more than one in six girls, or 340,000, getting married every year before they reach adulthood.

Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are 16 and 17, but there has been a decline among under-15s.

The debate about banning child marriage resurfaced following media reports of a 14-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend in South Sulawesi province who sought an exemption from a religious court to get married, which they obtained. They reportedly got married on Monday.

The story was first published in Arab News

Indonesian LGBT community wins respite from criminalization

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia can breathe a sigh of relief, at least temporarily, as the House of Representatives has put on hold for the next few months the passage of revisions to the Criminal Code which include articles that would criminalize gay sex and extramarital sex.

Teuku Taufiqulhadi, a member of the House of Representatives’ working committee deliberating the bill, said the revisions were almost final but some articles required approval from different factions in Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, justice, human rights and security.

The bill was previously scheduled to be passed into law through the House’s plenary session in February but was sidelined after a public outcry over several controversial articles, as lawmakers and government were finalizing the 12-year deliberation to amend the penal code originally written by the Dutch during the colonial era.

“We are giving more time in the next two or three months for the public to provide feedback on the bill to us,” said Taufiqulhadi, a legislator from the National Democratic Party.

The most recent feedback came from the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI). They met lawmakers earlier this month to convey their recommendations and urged the parliament and President Joko Widodo to soon enact regulations that could criminalize and contain deterrents to LGBT activities. They also recommended that homosexuality should be categorized as a mental illness.

“Adulterers, lesbians, gay men and other deviant sexual activities should be severely punished, as well as those who advocate, facilitate, provide funding or groups that take economic and political advantage from the deviant sexual behavior,” Sri Astuti Buchari, a deputy chairwoman at ICMI said during a discussion on Apr. 6.

She also called for greater cooperation to block pornography and LGBT channels on social media platforms and the internet.

Some of the most controversial articles in the bill, known by its acronym KUHP, are those regulating general morality. The articles included an expanded definition of adultery and gay sex between consenting adults, with heavier sentences for violations. The revisions, which will seek a five-year prison term for adultery and one year for couples accused of cohabitation, were made following request from the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and a mounting push from religious conservative groups.

Under the current Criminal Code, consensual same-sex relations are not treated as crimes, except in Aceh where the province has a special autonomy to impose shariah law.

An article that previously only criminalized only paedophiles has been expanded to also criminalize all gay sex between consenting adults.

“We continue to push for the removal of the specific mention of sexual orientation in the proposed article. As long as the sex is non-consentual or with a minor, it should be enough to constitute a crime,” said Anggara, the executive director of Jakarta-based rights advocacy group Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR).

The morality articles have been criticized for meddling too much in citizens’ private lives and creating potential of new crimes at a time when law enforcement agencies are already overwhelmed and understaffed in the face of more pressing offenses such as drugs, human trafficking or terrorism. Correctional facilities are also bursting at the seams with overpopulation.

Arsul Sani, a legislator from the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) and member of the working committee vetting the bill, defended the expanded definition of adultery to include gay sex and extramarital sex, saying it reflected the people’s philosophical, social and cultural values.

Sani said in February after the House plenary session that the proposed morality article would prevent ‘street justice’ or people taking matters into their own hands to harass those engaged in sexual activity they disapproved of, even if it is between consenting adults.

“It is necessary to expand the fornication article to not just criminalize adultery between members of the opposite sex but also between those of the same-sex,” he said.

“It was first proposed three years ago. Why make a fuss about it now when the bill is about to be passed into law?” he added.

Dede Oetomo, a Surabaya-based gay rights activist, acknowledged growing anxiety in the community over the rising hostility encountered in recent years, in contrast to the tolerance seen in the past.

Oetomo, an adviser to gay rights advocacy group GaYa Nusantara, said that the community had been optimistic that tolerance towards them would prevail, especially after President Joko Widodo was elected in 2014, as they believed he would push for greater democratization.

“We had big expectations because he is not from the old regime or a former military man but apparently we were wrong,” Oetomo said.

“Even before this talk about the proposed LGBT clause in the revised draft of the penal code, we have continued to encounter growing verbal and physical hostility since mid 2015,” he said, noting that the worrying trend coincided with the growing clout of religious conservatives in Indonesia.

Despite the unfavorable outlook, Oetomo said LGBT people continued about their regular daily lives and to hope they would not encounter harassment by police or intolerant groups.

In October, police officers raided a gay sauna in Central Jakarta and apprehended 51 men including seven foreigners, only to release most of them on the following day, while five employees were prosecuted for providing prostitution and pornography. It followed a raid in May in North Jakarta on a shophouse where gay men were gathering at a sauna. Police arrested 141 men but 126 were released the next day while 10 were prosecuted for violations of the 2008 anti-pornography law.

Surveys carried by Jakarta-based pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting paint a mix picture of public opinion in the world’s largest Muslim majority country, and one long seen as moderate and tolerant.

In a poll taken in March 2016, 47.5 percent of respondents who know or have heard about LGBT agreed that same-sex relations are forbidden by religion while 34 percent said they totally agreed with that view.

But in surveys taken in September and December last year, a large majority of the 1,220 respondents saw the LGBT community as a threat. In the December survey, 87.6 percent said they felt threatened by LGBT people, up from 85.4 percent in September.

More than half of the respondents, or 53.3 percent, said they could not accept if a member of their families was gay and 79.1 percent objected to having LGBT people as neighbors.

However, 57.7 percent of the respondents also acknowledged that LGBT people have the right to live in the country and 50 percent agreed the government should ensure that LGBT people’s rights are protected.

“The majority of citizens also object if a LGBT person becomes a government official, such as mayor, governor, or president,” said Ade Armando, the director of the polling firm.

“Even though the public views the LGBT people negatively and is being discriminative by refusing to support them to become public officials, the public does not discriminate when it comes to LGBT people living as regular citizens,” Armando added.

The article was first published in the Bangkok Post