Small change is good business ahead of Lebaran

Khabar Southeast Asia

Small change is good business ahead of Lebaran

Rukmiyati, 34, and her customers do a money transaction on Jalan Gajah Mada in Central Jakarta on August 14th. Despite the fee charged, many Indonesians visit street peddlers to exchange their large bank notes for small ones for gift giving on Idul Fitri.[Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

Small gifts of money make Idul Fitri sweet for youngsters. Many Jakarta residents get their small change for a small fee on the street, though some frown on such businesses.

As the Chinese do on Chinese New Year, it is common among Indonesian Muslims for older relatives to give small sums of money to younger relatives after the children wish them a happy holiday on Idul Fitri

That tradition has created a business opportunity for people such as Iphan, 32, and Rukmiyati, 34, who on a recent day were selling small change – exchanging large denomination notes for small ones, for a small fee – to customers on Jalan Gajah Mada in Central Jakarta.

“I’m actually new in this business. I just started three weeks ago. In one day, I can make 300,000 rupiah ($32) in profit,” Iphan, who is originally from Medan, North Sumatra, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

“But it depends on how many customers I get per day. Basically, I can make 5 to 15 % profit from each transaction,” he added.

Iphan explains that every day he receives as much as 10 million rupiah ($1,053) from an agent, who takes a cut of his earnings.

First, he needs to go to the bank to exchange the big notes for small ones: 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 rupiah notes (10 cents, 50 cents and $1.05).

Because of the high demand at this time of year, Bank Indonesia, in collaboration with nine other banks, opened a mobile small-change service out of a vehicle at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta, which operated from July 23rd to August 16th.

“Every day, I need to wait in line at the small-change service in the National Monument (Monas) Park, Central Jakarta. But unfortunately, we are only allowed to change up to 5 million rupiah ($527),” Iphan said.

“So that is why I also change the money with an agent,” he continued.

Even though banks make change for free, many Indonesians patronise street vendors for their small cash needs because of the convenience.

Rukmiyati, who has been working in the business for the last four years, told Khabar that she would make less profit if she changed the money with an agent.

She said she prefers to queue at the bank to get small change, even if she has to do it twice in a single day, because the agent will take an additional cut of her profit, shaving a 15% margin to 5%.

“That is why it is better to change it in the bank,” she said.

There is another reason to rely on banks, authorities say: they can vouch that the currency is real.

Questioned about the source of her capital, Rukmiyati said she did not know where the agent got the money. She believes it came from a bank.

Difi Johansyah, a spokesman for Bank Indonesia, told Khabar that informal small-change services are not banned because there are no regulations against them.

“We are aware that there are informal money changers in public places such as traditional market or side streets. Bank Indonesia will not prohibit them from doing business. However, we suggest the citizens not change the money with an informal money changer service because the authenticity is not guaranteed,” he explained.

Many Muslim religious leaders from the Indonesia Council of Ulema (MUI) consider money changing in the street “haram”. Such transactions are forbidden in Islam because of the fees charged. But MUI has not issued any fatwa banning the practice among the Muslim community.

Iphan, who worked as a laborer for 10 years in Jakarta before losing his job six months ago, told Khabar that he sells small denomination banknotes to support his family.

“If MUI said it is haram, then that is not really my problem. I have to provide food for my family. It is very difficult to find a proper job these days, and I heard about this seasonal business so I decided to join with my friend,” he said.

Many small-change vendors in Jalan Gajah Mada wear face masks, in part because they feel a little shame, Rukmiyati said.

However, “The main reason is to avoid breathing the bad pollution as big bus and trucks are passing by this road,” she said.

Islamist vigilantes lead teens into trouble

Khabar Southeast Asia

Islamist vigilantes lead teens into trouble

A July 29th police notice posted on the door of Café de’Most bans it from operating based on local laws governing entertainment venues during Ramadan. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

A hardline group that raided a bar in late July recruited local teens for the illegal attack. Two of them now face prison time.

Jakarta residents are applauding police for arresting members of a hardline group that raided a bar for serving alcohol during Ramadan, and enlisted teenagers for the illegal vigilante attack.

About 150 members of the Prophet’s Defender Council (Majelis Pembela Rasulullah, or MPR) swarmed into Cafe’ de’Most in South Jakarta late on July 28th and ransacked it, shattering windows, breaking bottles, and assaulting employees.

Police apprehended the group as they left the club on motorbikes, and seized a machete, a sickle, four samurai swords, a golf club and four wooden poles, as well as musical instruments stolen from the bar.

“We arrested 62 people. But we released 39 juveniles without charges because they were not directly involved in attacking the bar,” South Jakarta police chief, Senior Commander Imam Sugianto, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Among the 23 not released were two juveniles who were carrying a sickle and a machete, Imam said.

“They could face up to six years in prison under the Emergency Law No 12, 1951 for carrying weapons, and two and half years for destroying private property,” he said. Also arrested was MPR’s 29-year-old leader, Habib Bahar bin Smith, who organised the attack and was able to influence minors to take part in it, according to Imam.

Bahar and another adult identified only as S.Y. have been charged with the same offenses as the teenagers but face up to 12 years in jail terms because they are adults.

The remaining suspects were charged with aggravated assault on several bar employees and could face up to five and a half years in prison.

Mia Trisnawati, a waitress at a bar in South Jakarta, was happy to hear it.

“I have always been afraid to work during the fasting month because a number of hardline groups have threatened bars and night clubs,” Mia told Khabar.

“But I think that the police have done something different to protect their citizens by arresting the hardline group that acted as if they were the police with their raid,” Mia said

Vigilante organisations, notably the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), say they are acting to protect Islam, but critics say their tactics are violent, illegal and also redundant, as authorities have already moved to limit the activities and operational hours of nightclubs and other entertainment venues during Ramadan.

In fact, police shut down Café de’ Most on July 29th because it was selling alcohol during Ramadan in violation of local regulations.

The involvement of minors in the raid is a cause for special concern. Arist Merdeka Sirait, Chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, said parents and officials must declare a campaign against violence in society and make efforts to deter teenager involvement.

“Basically, teenagers tend to copy their idol’s behaviour. Therefore, it is very important for us, parents, teachers, government and religious leaders, to show how to live in peace and omit violence from daily life,” he told Khabar.


Jazz stars bring their talents to Jakarta mosque

Khabar Southeast Asia

Jazz stars bring their talents to Jakarta mosque

Producers of the Ramadan Jazz Festival say music can be a form of preaching, reaching out to young people, and showing them that mosques can be cool.

For two nights in late July, the Cut Meutia Mosque compound in Jakarta rang with swinging sounds as Indonesian jazz musicians and groups entertained thousands at the second annual Ramadan Jazz Festival.

“We want to send a message to Muslim youth that the mosque is actually a cool place for Muslim youth to hang out,” said Agus Setiawan of Jakarta-based jazz promoters Warta Jazz, which produced the festival together with the Cut Meutia Mosque Islamic Youth Association (RICMA).

“The mosque is actually not only a worship place. It is also a place to socialise,” Agus added.

Jazz is very popular among young Muslims in Jakarta, he said.

“The Q’uran verse says, ‘Preach with your own people’s language.’ Hence, we use jazz music as a medium to preach and approach young people, so there would be more Indonesian youth coming to the mosque more often,” he said.

Gilang Widodo is a 22-year-old who came to pray and lingered for jazz.

“I am not a big fan of jazz music. But I found this jazz festival to be unique because we could enjoy jazz music in a mosque after Taraweeh prayers, which is very unusual,” he said, referring to a special prayer said during Ramadan. “I decided to stay here to watch it.”

A focus on tolerance

This year’s festival featured 16 prominent Indonesian jazz musicians. They included Dwiki Dharmawan, Idang Rasjidi, Payung Teduh, Tompi, Endah N. Rhesa, Ari Pramudito, Barry Likumahuwa and also Jilly Likumahuwa.

Coming from different backgrounds, they brought diversity and high-calibre talent to an event where the emphasis was on religious as well as musical harmony.

“Through the Ramadan Jazz Festival, we want to share the spirit of togetherness without being concerned about our differences,” said Agus, the Warta Jazz representative.

“We want to show that Islam is a tolerant religion. For example, we not only invited Muslim jazz musicians, but also Christian jazz musicians such as Barry Likumahuwa and also Jilly Likumahuwa,” he explained.

The first Ramadan Jazz Festival, held in 2011, attracted 2,500 young audience members from the greater Jakarta area. This year, attendance at the July 27th-28th event topped 4,000.

Audience members also helped support local libraries. Instead of purchasing a ticket, those attending the event were asked to donate a children’s book.

Andhika Mauludi, a RICMA spokesman who chaired the event, told Khabar the books will be donated to ten libraries in East Nusa Tenggara Province.

“Every book was exchanged for an entrance ticket. For those who did not bring books, we sold a donation ticket for a nominal 20,000 rupiah ($2). The money will be used to buy more books,” he said.

“Last week, we were able to collect 1,600 books, which was more than our target of 1,000. We also raised one million rupiah ($106) in donations,” he said.

The books will be examined prior to delivery to ensure that none contains portrayals of violence, racism, or other sensitive issues, he said. RICMA plans to sort them that after Idul Fitri (Eid Mubarak). Then, they will be donated through the non-profit Sabantara Community at the University of Indonesia, which has a book donation programme.

Islam for a new generation

Andhika told Khabar that RICMA has been using non-conventional approaches to engage young Indonesian Muslims since the early 1990s.

“The jazz festival is actually not our first modern approach to preaching. Previously, we have held events such as Bike to Mosque and the Jakarta Islamic Fashion Guide,” he went on.

He believes that these are some of the best ways to reach Indonesian youth.

“We hope that by using a modern approach, we could attract as many young Muslims as possible to come to the mosque more often and be active and involved in mosque activities,” Andhika explained.