Gaffes trip up Indonesian religion minister’s push for moderation — BenarNews

Miscommunication, like comparing the Muslim call to prayer to the barking of dogs, could complicate the Indonesian religious affairs minister’s efforts for religious inclusivity and moderation.

Since taking office in December 2020, blunder-prone minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, 47, has found himself in hot water several times.

Earlier this week, dozens of Muslims from a group called Action to Defend Islam gathered outside the national police headquarters and demanded that he – everyone’s religious affairs minister – be arrested on blasphemy charges for his choice of puzzling words in which he compared the muezzin to calls to prayer over loudspeakers to the barking of dogs.

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, and in Islam dogs are considered unclean.

“I think political miscommunication is to blame for some groups’ anger towards Minister Yaqut,” said Ujang Komarudin, a political analyst at Al Azhar University in Indonesia.

It all started with a circular issued in February by the Ministry of Yakut that regulated the use of loudspeakers in mosques and prayer rooms to reduce noise.

Responding to criticism of the directive, Yaqut said last month: “If our neighbors have dogs and they all bark at the same time, don’t we think that’s a disturbance? Therefore, we must regulate all noises so that they do not become a nuisance.

The unflattering comparison angered many Muslims here, so much so that a former minister filed a police report against Yaqut, accusing him of blasphemy. But the police did not pursue the case.

Yaqut’s office denied accusations that it compared the call to prayer to the barking of dogs.

“The minister was setting an example – an example of the importance of regulating noise,” ministry spokesman Thobib Al Asyhar said in a statement last month.

“Muslims who live as a minority group in places where many people keep dogs will certainly be disturbed if their neighbors are intolerant,” he explained.

When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appointed Yaqut Minister of Religious Affairs, supporters of religious freedom in the multi-faith archipelago hailed his appointment. Yaqut is the former president of the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization.

Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs. [Photo courtesy Ministry of Religious Affairs]

‘Must deliver its message correctly’

In an interview with BenarNews last year, Yaqut said the government is committed to promoting religious freedom in Indonesia, where attacks on religious minorities have taken place and places of worship have been forcibly closed.

“Differences between groups, including in matters of religion, should be resolved through dialogue without resorting to illegal acts,” he said in an interview.

“My position is firm: differences in beliefs should not be the reason why the majority persecutes other groups and takes the law into their own hands. This is the government’s position. »

Shortly after being sworn in, Yaqut pledged to eradicate intolerance and promote religious moderation in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, where Islamic conservatism is on the rise.

But that seems easier said than done, with his policies facing pushback from conservative Muslims.

“His approach to communication without limits, not choosing his words carefully, causes misunderstandings,” said Adi Prayitno, a political observer at the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University in Jakarta.

“His inclusive views are commendable, but he needs to get his message across properly,” he said.

For example, Yaqut angered many Muslims last year after he said the religious affairs ministry was the nation’s gift to Nahdlatul Ulama, of whom he and his family are among the elite.

He later clarified that his off-the-cuff remarks were meant to motivate NU members.

More recently, Yaqut’s ministry has come under fire for introducing a new halal logo that many Indonesians say is hard to understand. The logo is meant to be a sign that anything stamped on it is permitted for consumption under Islam.

the new logo is a departure from the previous one which shows the green word “halal” in Arabic on a white background, like those found in most countries.

Instead, it takes the form of a figure found in Javanese shadow puppet theater known as a “gunungan”, with the word “halal” written in stylized calligraphy in purple.

Critics said the logo was Java-centric. Social media users reacted to its release by creating halal logos with the symbols of traditional icons from their regions.

“[The] the halal logo is not only for us muslims in indonesia but it is for all muslims who come to indo[nesia]“, said a person on Twitter.

“It should be easy for them to notice what is Halal for them.”

Minnie J. Leonard