Category: Religion

Supporters of Indonesian cleric set up think-tank in his honour

Supporters of controversial Indonesian cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab have set up a think-tank named after him in a sign of his growing stature at home as he fights legal troubles from a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Habib Rizieq Shihab Center, which was inaugurated in Jakarta over the weekend, aims to be a scientific and strategic research hub based on Islamic values for the benefit of Muslims and the country in general, said its chairman, Abdul Choir Ramadhan. “Habib” is an honorific used to address a Muslim scholar believed to a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.

“The center is named after him because of his stature and as a show of our admiration for his struggle to uphold Islamic values,” Ramadhan said. He said the center was self-funded but did not rule out public donations.

Rizieq, founder of the vigilante group Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), shot to political prominence after he led a campaign in 2016 and 2017 to oust then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, over allegations that he had insulted the Koran in off-the-cuff remarks.

The center’s launch coincided with the 20th anniversary of the FPI’s founding. The group is notorious for past anti-vice raids targeting places accused of harboring sex workers and drug users, as well as nightspots that remained open during Ramadan.

Rizieq has been in a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia following attempts by Indonesian police to question him last year over allegations he had engaged in a lewd online chat with a female supporter and a separate charge of insulting the Indonesian state ideology of Pancasila.

Investigations into the cases were stopped this year with police citing a lack of evidence.

The cleric’s supporters said the cases against him were fabricated by the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo because of Rizieq’s role in inflaming Muslim sentiment against Ahok, an ally of the president.

Ramadhan said Rizieq had doubts about returning home any time soon, saying the political climate is unfavorable.

“The investigations may have been dropped, but they can always reinstate them any time,” Ramadhan said.

On Saturday, Rizieq delivered a speech through a telephone link during the ceremonial launch of the center.

“I hope that the HRS Center will become a place for the advancement of knowledge for the benefit of the Muslim ummah (society) and the country,” he said in the message posted on YouTube.

“This is in line with the principles of my struggle that I have always adhered to: That the Scripture must be above the Constitution, and that the Constitution should not deviate from the Scripture,” he said.

“The institutionalization of Sharia is inevitable for Islamic values are an inseparable part of our nation building,” he added.

Emrus Sihombing, a political analyst at Pelita Harapan University, described the center as a positive move.

“If the center is indeed engaged in scientific and strategic studies for the benefit of the ummah, it’s very good for public discourse because there will be debates on the merits of their ideas,” he said.

“It will be a lot more productive,” he said.  “He is a leader who commands the strong loyalty of people who subscribe to his views.”

Rizieq played a key role in last year’s conviction and imprisonment of Ahok on blasphemy charges.

Conservative Muslim groups held protests against Ahok in 2016 and 2017 in the run-up to a gubernatorial election in which he was a front-runner after an edited video made it appear that he had said the Quran deceived people.

Ahok lost the Jakarta gubernatorial election to former Education Minister Anies Baswedan, who courted support of FPI and other conservative Muslim groups despite his liberal credentials. Ahok later was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

Ramadhan said the HRS Center would conduct studies, hold seminars, provide training as well as publish books to influence public discourse on Islam, including in the aspects of law, governance and public policy.

“We want to promote ideas of a system of governance based on Islamic values,” he said.

“There’s no contradiction between Pancasila (the state ideology) and Islamic teachings.”

Copyright ©2018, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.

Indonesia’s Smart Hajj app makes pilgrimage easier

Tech-conscious Indonesian pilgrims this year can count on their smartphones to make the pilgrimage easier by using the updated Smart Hajj application launched by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Available only to Android smartphone users since 2016, the app is available on Google Play Store and has been updated from its earlier version with more features on its menu.

“We have added more detailed information about the pilgrimage,” ministry spokesman Mastuki said.

Pilgrims can get information about their hotels, modes of transport, and a menu of the food they will eat throughout the journey by logging in the app, he added.

img_1087.jpgBy entering the code of their flight group, pilgrims can find out which hotel they will stay at in Makkah and Madinah, along with the map and online directions to get to the hotel and information on the facilities the hotel provides.

The pilgrims can also get information on the kind of food on the menu prepared for them on a specific day during their stay. Mastuki said this is an updated feature which previously only showed an example of a menu for the pilgrims.

The app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times and has received mixed reviews from 395 users, of which 240 gave the app five stars. Some complaints in the reviews said the screen sometimes goes black and white and that it was still “too buggy.”

“Pilgrims can also submit complaints on problems they found during this year’s pilgrimage by logging in to the feature using their passport numbers,” said Sri Ilham Lubis, the ministry’s director for Hajj services, during the app launch on July 15.

According to data from the ministry, 81,618 Indonesian pilgrims had already arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Up to 221,000 pilgrims are expected to depart from Indonesia this year and the last Hajj departure will be on Aug. 14.

Read the full story in Arab News

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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