Category: Religion

Something to celebrate

The Indonesian government has added another cultural event of its ethnic Chinese community to its official list of top attractions in a bid to lure more domestic and international tourists.

Chap Goh Mei marks the end of the Chinese New Year period, and the most lavish celebrations take place in Singkawang, a coastal town of roughly 240,000 in West Kalimantan on Borneo. About 40% of the town’s residents are of Chinese descent, but the celebration itself is a fusion of Chinese, indigenous Dayak and Malay cultures, laden with mysticism and supernatural power.

The highlight of the annual festival is the parade featuring Tatung, or people who are believed to have supernatural powers because they are possessed by the spirits of their ancestors or deities.

Dressed in the colorful garb traditional Chinese and Dayak warriors, more than 800 Tatungs from Singkawang and neighboring towns, as well as from Malaysia and Australia, thronged the town’s main streets on the last day of the celebration on Feb 8.

Spectators lining the parade route watched in awe as marchers demonstrated their supernatural abilities by having their faces and bodies pierced with sharp metal objects. Some were hoisted wooden chairs, but instead of soft upholstery, the seat, backrest, and armrest contain rows of sharp blades and arrows.

“We are proud that Chap Goh Mei in Singkawang is included again in the tourism ministry’s annual top 100 calendar of events, and has become one of the top festival destinations for tourists,” Mayor of Singkawang, Tjhai Chui Mie said prior to the parade.

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A Tatung stepped on a blade as he was hoisted on a chair with arrows of sharp blades and passed by the main podium during the annual Tatung parade in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on Feb 8, 2020. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The annual parade was the culmination of two weeks festivities that started on Jan 23. It has become the main attraction to spur economic growth in Singkawang, through the development in the real sector, the mayor added.

Last year’s festivities attracted 76,964 foreign and domestic tourists, an increase from about 70,000 in 2018, according to the ministry.

Sutarmidji, governor of West Kalimantan, acknowledged the festivities were the biggest tourism event in the province.

“When I was the mayor of Pontianak, I did not allow the Tatung parade to be held during the city’s Chap Goh Mei celebration so that it would remain the main attraction for Singkawang,” he said.

“Pontianak can have the longest dragon dance, but the Tatung parade should be the focus of Singkawang’s Chap Goh Mei.”

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Dressed as a Dayak warrior, a Tatung made his way to Tri Dharma Bumi Raya temple to pay respect during the road cleansing ritual on Feb 7, 2020, in Singkawang, West Kalimantan. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Dian Halidi, a tourist from Sumbawa Besar, the main city on Sumba Island in central Indonesia, said he had come to the festivities because he was curious to see the Tatung parade in person.

“I came here just by myself and this is my first time in Singkawang. It turned out the Chap Goh Mei here is really amazing and as spectacular as I have been seeing on television.”

Hotels and homestays in the city were fully booked ahead of the parade, wit room rates as much four times higher than they normally are. Some tour operators even had to book the rooms for their clients a year in advance.

However, concern about the coronavirus in recent weeks led to some people having second thoughts about traveling, although Indonesia officially has reported no cases of infection yet.

Hotel occupancy and visitor numbers slipped as a result, although Daniel, a manager of a homestay in Central Singkawang, said the rooms in his establishment were fully booked for the festivities.

“But reservations and confirmations were slow and occurred at the last minute,” he said.

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The Dragon statue, one of Singkawang’s landmarks, was adorned with red lanterns during the city’s Chap Goh Mei celebrations in the West Kalimantan town. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Hellen Chia, who comes from a family of Tatung and whose siblings are Tatungs from the Tho Fab Kiung temple took part in the parade, said that this year’s crowds of spectators were smaller compared to last year.

Dewi Virtana, a tour leader from a tour operator in Surabaya, East Java, said her company took just one group of 31 tourists to Singkawang this year, compared with three groups last year.

“I think it was mainly due to the rising prices of plane tickets, instead of the coronavirus,” she said.

But another tour operator based in Pontianak, Sentosa Tour, reported a small upturn this year. One of its tour leaders, Willy, said the company had about 200 guests this year, compared to 180 last year.

“We see the number of clients increase every year, he said. “Ninety percent of our clients are domestic, from other big cities in the country, and we also had a few foreign visitors from Japan and Australia who booked our private tours.”

In a bid to attract more tourists to the city, which is about four-hour drive from Pontianak, Mayor Thjai said the city has allocated and cleared an area of 151.45 hectares to build an airport and is seeking to develop it under a public-private partnership.

According to the transport ministry, the first phase of the airport will have a 1,400-metre runway that could accommodate ATR aircraft. A 2,600-metre runway that would allow a Boeing 737 to land could be developed in the future.

A day before the parade, the Tatung also toured the city performing a road cleansing ritual to ward off bad spirits. They also paid respects to their ancestors and deities by visiting various temples and houses of worships, or cetiya, scattered around Singkawang, which is known as the city of a thousand temples.

Jelangkung Datuk Suleiman
Rattan dolls from the Hok Lo Nam temple believed to have been possessed by the spirits of their ancestors and deities were brought to pay respect to the sea goddess in the century-old House of Tjhia in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on Feb 7, 2020. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

An entourage from the Hok Lo Nam temple also took part in the ritual. Carrying five dolls made of rattan and dressed in colorful Chinese costumes, the entourage visited a cetiya at a century-old mansion belonging to the Thjia clan in the city center, to pay their respect to the sea goddess to which the cetiya is dedicated.

The dolls were believed to have been possessed by the spirits of their ancestors and deities, as well as a local Malay elder identified as Datuk Suleiman.

More cities in the country with a large population of Chinese descent have been making Chap Goh Mei, or the 15th day of the Chinese new year an annual celebration. They include Jakarta, Palembang in South Sumatra, Bali, and Bogor in West Java.

Bogor celebrated in style this year, with organizers buoyed by the tourism ministry’s decision to place the festival on its official calendar of events.

The West Java provincial administration has even disbursed 30 billion rupiahs to revamp Suryakencana Street, the main street where the annual Chap Goh Mei parade is held in Bogor, 55 kilometers south of Jakarta.

“This is a show of support from the provincial administration,” West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said.

The story was first published in Bangkok Post

Minister urges fatwa requiring rich to marry poor

An Indonesian minister has called for a fatwa, or religious edict, requiring the rich to marry the poor to reduce inequality.

“What happens is the poor marry the poor and they create more poor families,” Minister of Human Development and Culture Muhadjir Effendy was quoted as saying by the news portal Tempo.co.

“The religious affairs minister should issue a fatwa requiring the rich to marry the poor and the poor marry the rich,” he said.

In November, Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi said he was considering requiring those wishing to get married undergo a pre-marital preparation course.

He has not responded to Muhadjir’s suggestion.

A 2017 study by international charity Oxfam found that four richest Indonesians own as much wealth as the country’s poorest 100 million citizens. Indonesia is home to 260 million people.

Indonesia taps into Muslim tourist market with Shariah hotels

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Shariah-based Hotel Sofyan in Central Jakarta. Photo: Sofyan Hotel

With a rising awareness to promote Muslim-friendly travel, the widespread adoption of Shariah-based accommodation is not always successfully put into practice, as Octine Riyantini realized during one of her stays at a hotel that claimed to be Shariah-compliant.

Riyantini has stayed in two Shariah-based hotels in Indonesia and had a good experience with the first one, where she found that hotel staff always greeted guests with the Islamic greeting, had call of prayers blasted from a speaker and provided prayer amenities as well as a Qibla sign in each room.

“The ambiance was very much Islamic and the hotel itself was clean and well-maintained,” she said.

She had a different experience with the second one, despite the Shariah label that goes with the hotel’s name in an online hotel reservation website.

Although they provided a prayer room on each floor, Riyantini said it seemed like it was hastily prepared and a bit spooky, so she and her family chose to pray in their room. Moreover, the hotel was not properly maintained.

“Maybe they consider their hotel to be Shariah-compliant just because they provide a prayer room on each floor and a Qibla sign in the room, yet the overall ambiance hardly felt like it was Muslim-friendly,” she said.

“I learned that not all hotels that claimed to be Shariah-based are really compliant to the value. If we have to stay in such a hotel another time, we will have to consider which hotel chain it is associated with,” she said.

Muslim-friendly travel and tourism in Indonesia continues to rise, with Indonesia named as the number one destination, out of 130 countries, for halal tourism in the world by the Global Muslim Travel Index 2019.

Service providers have been quick to tap into the growing market, despite the controversy and misconceptions about halal tourism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

According to a survey conducted by accommodation network operator Airy, 60 percent of Indonesian travelers think that it is important to have Shariah-based accommodation. The figure was consistent with data from the Alvara Research Center, which showed that 64 percent of Indonesian millennials travel and go on holiday at least once a year, providing a market of about 26 million holiday-hunting Muslim millennials.

Responding to the market demand, Airy in 2016 began offering a segment called Airy Syariah or a Shariah-based accommodation network.

“Our Airy Syariah properties offer Muslim-friendly accommodation so that guests can stay comfortably and worry-free. The market response has been good and demand for Shariah-based accommodation continues to rise every year. Our occupancy rate so far stands at 40 percent to 70 percent,” Airy vice president for marketing, Ika Paramita, said.

Paramita said Airy cooperates with more than 400 Muslim-friendly properties in some 50 cities across Indonesia and it has been growing at a triple-digit rate year-on-year.

“The food and drinks in our properties are halal-certified, and we provide Muslim-friendly amenities. Guests can immediately experience their stay in our Shariah-based properties, where hotel staff uniforms and attitudes conform to Islamic values. Moreover, we validate the marriage status when a couple is checking in,” Paramita said.

Shariah-compliant accommodation is not new in Indonesia. The Sofyan Hotel chain in Jakarta has implemented the concept in its two properties since 1992 by removing nightclubs, bars and alcoholic drinks from its facilities.

But the concept does not always appeal to all Muslims in Indonesia. University lecturer Ratna Djumala said she prefers to stay in a conventional hotel to show her children about meeting people of various backgrounds.

“I want to show my children about diversity and tolerance, especially this coming December when hotels are adorned with Christmas decorations. I want my kids to experience the ambiance, too. A family-friendly hotel doesn’t always have to be a Shariah-based one. What’s important for me is the food has to be halal,” she said.

Muslim-friendly travel was valued at $189 billion in 2018 and is estimated to reach $274 billion by 2024, according to the State of Global Islamic Economy Report 2019.

The story was first published in Arab News

Attorney General’s Office says gay people need not apply

The Indonesian Attorney General’s Office said on Thursday it would not hire gay or transgender people to work at the institution.

“We want to hire only normal, proper people,” a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Mukri, told reporters.

“We don’t want unusual things,” said Mukri.

A listing for jobs posted on the office’s website, including prosecutor, doctor and computer expert, says applicants “must not be mentally disabled, including deviant sexual-orientation and behaviour (transgender).”

Activists condemned the requirement as a rights violation and noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) has removed homosexuality from its list of mental illness.

“Rejecting applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is a blatant form of discrimination,” said Ricky Gunawan, director of the Community Legal Aid Institute.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, except in Aceh province where sharia – strict Islamic law – is in force.

But the LGBT community has been under increased pressure in recent years as growing advocacy for sexual minorities has been met with homophobic rhetoric from officials and conservative Muslim groups.

In recent years, police have occasionally raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained them on suspicion of engaging in prostitution and pornographic acts.

Last year, the city of Pariaman in the devoutly Muslim province of West Sumatra passed a by-law that imposes a fine of 70 dollars for “homosexual and transgender activities.”

Push for all things halal divide opinion in Indonesia

After an official suggested that the Lake Toba area on Indonesia’s Sumatra island could be turned into a halal tourism destination, activist Togu Simorangkir came up with the idea of holding a pork festival as an act of resistance.

The event from October 25-26 involved pork cooking and pig catching competitions and was attended by 300,000 people from all over the country, according to Simorangkir.

“It was a big success even though it was just a spontaneous response against making North Sumatra a halal destination,” says Simorangkir, a British-educated activist who founded Alusi Tao Toba, a foundation dedicated to improving the communities around Lake Toba.

“The festival is not about religion, but about maximizing local tourism potential,” he says, adding that most people in the area make a living as farmers.

Muslims are forbidden from eating pork under Islamic rules because the meat is considered unclean.

The Indonesian government established a new halal certification agency under the Ministry of Religious Affairs in 2017. Since then, everything from refrigerators and microwaves to cat food can be certified as halal, or religiously permissible.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but is also home to several other religions. About 63 per cent of North Sumatra’s 15 million people are Muslim, but members of the indigenous Batak tribe, to which Simorangkir belongs, are mainly Christian.

Simorangkir says the idea of halal tourism in North Sumatra is divisive.

“I think there’s no need to divide people based on religion,” he says. “Here there are many mosques and people from all over the world come.”

“If they want tourism to thrive here, they should crack down on companies that destroy the environment,” he adds.

Simorangkir says the pork festival was initially opposed by local leaders and tour operators because of fears it would offend Muslims and hurt tourism.

“The word ‘pig’ has negative connotations in our society, when in fact it’s just an animal, like cows and buffaloes,” he says.

Critics fear that halal tourism, intended to attract Muslim visitors from wealthy Middle Eastern countries and all over the world, could mean a ban on alcohol, separate facilities for men and women and other restrictions.

North Sumatra Governor Edy Rahmayadi has denied suggestions he wants to turn the Lake Toba area into a sharia-compliant destination.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” he was quoted as saying by Detik.com, adding that he was simply suggesting that infrastructure be improved to serve visitors from Muslim countries such as Malaysia.

“So, when Muslims come to a place, […] there’s halal food,” he said. “Even in Thailand, where Buddhists are the majority, there are halal restaurants.”

The head of the Religious Ministry’s Halal Certification Administering Agency, Sukoso, says food and drinks, cosmetics, drugs and other consumer products will have to be certified halal by 2026 according to a 2014 law.

“As for household goods, it should be determined what materials they are made of,” he says, adding that products made of leather are subject to halal certification to ensure they do not contain materials from pigs.

The country’s first halal certified corrective glasses were launched in early November by PT Atalla Indonesia, according to the state Antara news agency.

“Even though glasses are not yet among products that need to be halal certified, the company has done it. I appreciate the effort,” Industry Ministry official Gati Wibawaningsih said at the launch event.

Japanese consumer electronics maker Sharp last year launched what it described as the first line of halal refrigerators in Indonesia.

The company expects sales in the segment to grow between 10 and 20 per cent with the introduction of halal products.

“We want our customers to have peace of mind when using our products,” Sharp Electronics Indonesia sales general manager Andri Adi Utomo said in a statement.

But some Indonesians have questioned why consumer products needs to be certified halal, with many taking to social media to ait their views.

“Now that there are halal glasses, watching porn will no longer be sinful,” one Twitter user joked.

Talk of introducing halal tourism to cater to Muslim visitors in the popular resort island of Bali, a mainly Hindu enclave of Indonesia, has also faced opposition from locals.

Earlier this year, vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno sparked controversy after he said he would promote halal tourism in Bali if he and his presidential running mate Prabowo Subianto were elected.

They were defeated by incumbent President Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin in the April election.

Bali Governor I Wayan Koster rejected the idea.

“Bali is a cultural tourism destination,” he told local media. “There’s no need for such narrow branding.”

Jerinx, the frontman of popular Bali-based rock band Superman Is Dead, said the concept was irrelevant.

“Bali has always been friendly to Muslims. What the f*** is wrong with you people?” he wrote on Twitter.

Indonesia’s Muslims urged to ‘go green’ and ditch plastic bags on Eid

 

Screenshot_2019-08-11 Kerajinan Indonesia craftindo on Instagram “Stok besek Size 18 x 18 cm spesial for #besekkurban Ready[...]
Photo: Instagram @kerajinan_handycraft_indonesia

Indonesia is urging Muslims to use eco-friendly packaging when distributing sacrificial meat on Eid Al-Adha this year, as the country fights to reduce the amount of plastic waste it produces.

Indonesia is second only to China when it comes to dumping plastic waste in the ocean and, with a Muslim-majority population, the use of plastic bags to package sacrificial meat could lead to tens of thousands of tons of additional waste. Indonesia is estimated to produce an estimated 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day, many of which end up in the ocean.

The slaughter of an animal — qurbani — is carried out in remembrance of the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at Allah’s command.

Regional leaders across Indonesia were last month urged by the government to tell people to bring their own reusable containers instead of single-use plastic bags for the sacrificial meat.

“Alternatively, they can replace plastic bags with wrappings from banana or teak leaves, woven bamboo baskets, or other biodegradable or reusable packaging,” an official from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, said in a circular.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said the use of woven bamboo baskets would help to reduce plastic waste and generate additional income for local tradesmen, while Central Jakarta Mayor Bayu Meghantara said his office would distribute 500 woven bamboo baskets to qurbani committees.

Abu Hurairah Abdul Salam, a spokesman for Istiqlal Mosque in Central Jakarta, said the qurbani committee had started using plastic bags made of cassava pulp four years ago.

“But, in accordance with the governor’s instructions, we will be using woven bamboo baskets to distribute qurbani meat this year. We have prepared 5,000 baskets and, if we run out of baskets, we will be using biodegradable cassava plastic bags,” he said.

The mosque slaughtered 30 cows and 20 goats this year.

North Jakarta’s Ancol Dreamland Park will hand out sacrificial meat to the first 100 recipients in woven bamboo baskets, or besek.

“We will wrap the rest of the qurbani meat packages, which on average are up to 5,000, in biodegradable, cassava-based bags. This is one of the many policies that park management has issued to address the waste problem. We have stopped using plastic straws at all vendor stalls,” Ancol spokeswoman Rika Lestari said.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema is backing the nationwide green initiative.

“We can take this Eid moment to start a new habit by using eco-friendly bags and to change our society’s dependence on plastic bags,” council’s fatwa committee official Hasanuddin Abdul Fattah said in a statement.

Read the original story in Arab News

Jakarta’s zero tariff move to lift Palestinian imports

The Indonesian market could be a testing ground for Palestinian exports’ competitiveness following the introduction of a zero tariff policy.

An agreement with Indonesia on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products came into effect in mid-February after 2.5 years since the idea was floated in Oct 2016.

The initial waiver will apply to fresh and dried dates, and virgin olive oil. Palestine has asked for about 20 export products to be included in the policy.

Tariffs previously were set at 5 percent.

Djatmiko Bris Witjaksono, director of foreign trade analysis and trade center at the Ministry of Trade, said the agreement offers preferential treatment for Palestinian imports, but it will be up to the business community to show its willingness to buy the products.

“Palestine may have to compete with similar products imported from other countries. If the supply and product continuity is reliable, importers will eventually buy from them,” he said.

“The tariff exemption is significant and should be reflected in the products’ pricing in the market. Eventually it will boost the competitiveness of Palestinian products in Indonesia.” Witjaksono said.

Shinta Widjaja Kamdani, vice chairwoman of international relations at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the zero tariff policy will boost trade between the two countries.

“Now we have to look at the market opportunity to identify the goods from Indonesia we can export and vice versa. It looks like there is a market there for our food and beverage products,” she said.

Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said the elimination of Indonesian tariffs on Palestinian dates and olive oil began on Feb. 21, when Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to Palestine.

Zuhair Al-Shun, Palestine’s ambassador to Indonesia, was also told about the tariff move in a meeting with Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla on Feb. 28.

“We hope we will be able to enjoy Palestinian dates in the upcoming Ramadan,” Lukita said in a joint press conference with Palestinian Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al-Shun after meeting the vice president on Feb. 28.

Both countries are considering expanding the policy to create a preferential trading agreement, the trade minister said.

Al-Shun said Palestine has provided a list of products to be considered for preferential treatment by Indonesia.

“The list is being reviewed by the Indonesian government. We also welcome Indonesian products that will be exported to Palestine,” Al-Shun said.

Lukita said the trade agreement is part of Indonesia’s unwavering support for Palestine.

Trade between Indonesia and Palestine was worth $3.5 million in 2018. Indonesian exports to Palestine include coffee, tea, bread and other foodstuffs, while dates and olive oil make up the bulk of its imports.

According to data from Statistics Indonesia, trade between Indonesia and Palestine reached US$3.5 million in 2018. The zero tariff policy is expected to boost date imports by 11.62 percent within a year.

Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, AM Fachir said the idea to provide preferential treatment for Palestinian products was first floated by members of Palestinian trade delegation attending an international trade expo in Jakarta in Oct 2016.

Lukita and his Palestinian counterpart formalized the idea in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) they signed on the sidelines of the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina in Dec 2017, during which Indonesia also endorsed Palestine to be a WTO member.

The MoU was then ratified in Indonesia into a presidential regulation in April 2018, followed by Lukita and Al Shun signing the formal agreement in Jakarta in Aug 2018.

Ministry of Finance then issued two ministerial regulations — on import tariff waivers for Palestinian products and on the technical direction for customs offices to execute the policy.

Issuing the two regulations was the last phase along Indonesia’s legislation process to allow the full implementation of the agreement since they will be circulated to all ports of entry so that customs officers can identify products from Palestine and exempt them from any import duties.

Read the original story here in Arab News