Religious Affairs Ministry Courts Controversy With Islamic Awards

The Jakarta Globe

Elisabeth Oktofani, Ulma Haryanto & Fitri R.

Critics have lashed out at the Ministry of Religious Affairs for recently handing out awards to Muslim leaders, saying it unduly favored Islam over other faiths.

The ministry on Monday presented awards to six governors and 10 district heads and mayors for “explicitly including Islamic education in regional bylaws.”

Recipients included the governors of Bangka-Belitung, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, East Java, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi.

The winning district heads and mayors were from Lhokseumawe and Sabang in Aceh, East Ogan Komering Ulu and Palembang in South Sumatra, Lebak and Tangerang in Banten, Sukabumi in West Java, Jepara in Central Java, West Sumbawa in West Nusa Tenggara and Kendari in Southeast Sulawesi.

Ismail Hasani, a senior researcher at the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said the ministry “showed favoritism” by handing out the awards.

“It’s supposed to be the Religious Affairs Ministry, not the Islamic Affairs Ministry,” Ismail said on Tuesday.

“I fear that the objectivity of the country’s public officials has been compromised,” he added. “They no longer work for all groups in society, but rather they see things based on the dichotomy of majority and minority.”

In particular, Ismail questioned the ministry’s decision to honor West Nusa Tenggara Governor Zainul Majdi, who pushed for a ban on Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect considered deviant by most mainstream Muslims, in his province.

“Zainul is an Islamic cleric whose grandfather founded Nahdlatul Wathan, the biggest Islamic organization in the province,” Ismail said. “Now he has ambitions to build the country’s biggest Islamic center there, for which he’s already had two schools bulldozed. Not to mention he’s already quarantined the Ahmadiyah.”

Members of the sect have been forced to live in temporary shelters in Mataram after being barred from returning to their homes. Several provincial officials have proposed relocating sect members to a deserted island.

Taqiuddin Mansur, director of the Al Mansuryah Islamic boarding school in Central Lombok, said Zainul’s administration treated Nahdatul Wathan institutions more favorably than those run by Muhammadiyah or Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s two biggest Islamic organizations.

“A governor shouldn’t be so primordial or sectarian like that,” he said.

Tantowi, a coordinator for the Institute of Humanitarian Studies (LenSA) in West Nusa Tenggara, said funding was skewed toward Zainul’s pet organization and projects.

“The provincial Islamic center gets an annual budget of Rp 500 billion [$56 million],” he said. “Meanwhile, anyone wanting to build a church or house of worship for any other religion gets a hard time from the authorities.”

Noorhaidi Hasan, from Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, said the awards might have been politically motivated.

“Research shows that religious bylaws are often used only to accumulate power or influence, and they’re not always implemented,” he said. “That the administrations getting the awards are those that pushed for Islamic interests — there might be something there.”

Ismail said the awards were introduced after Suryadharma Ali became the religious affairs minister in October 2009. “During his rule, he has often made decisions that reflect his Islamic political background and not his role as a public official,” he said.

Afrizal Zein, a spokesman of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said the awards were initiated by the head of the Directorate of Islamic Education, which naturally recognized efforts to help Muslim schools.

“If other directorate heads want to do the same thing, they are allowed to do so,” he said. “It just depends on whether they have the budget for it.”

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, Setara’s deputy chairman, said the state should “maintain its distance” from all faiths.

“Unfortunately, the government does things that it thinks are right, but that only turn out to be discriminative,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s