Indonesia hopes to become world leader in “Sharia tourism”

Khabar Southeast Asia

Indonesia hopes to become world leader in “Sharia tourism”

Riyanto Sofyan, president-commissioner of the Sofyan Hotel chain, says revenue has increased ahead of the industry as a whole ever since the hotels converted to a Sharia-based system. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

Riyanto Sofyan, president-commissioner of the Sofyan Hotel chain, says revenue has increased ahead of the industry as a whole ever since the hotels converted to a Sharia-based system. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

With Muslim vacationers seeking a holiday experience that accords with their values, the archipelago could become a top destination for this niche market.

Hoping to tap a burgeoning market among devout Muslims, Indonesia’s government has teamed up with religious leaders to develop “Sharia tourism”, which seeks to provide participants with a holiday experience that is aligned with Islamic values and beliefs.

A key milestone was reached in December when the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy (MTCE) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indonesian Ulema Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia/MUI), on a programme to foster this form of tourism. The government hopes to launch the initiative by June or July.

“Basically Sharia tourism is a concept [involving] leisure accompanied by religious values. It provides facilities and services closest to the values of Islam,” Firmansyah Rahmin, director general of destination development for the MTCE, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

This emerging form of tourism is not the same thing as a religious pilgrimage, a practice that has existed for centuries. Rather, it entails providing a travel environment aligned with Muslim observances.

“It needs to be understood that Sharia tourism is different from a religious trip,” Rahmin said.

Qur’an in each room, no liquor in restaurant

The Sofyan Hotel chain, headed by Riyanto Sofyan, is one of the pioneers behind the concept.

“We provide a Qur’an, Muslim prayer rug and directions for praying in every room. We provide toilets with sprinklers. We also don’t sell any alcohol or pork in our restaurant,” explained Riyanto, who is also chairman of the Indonesian Sharia Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHSIN).

Since converting to a Sharia-based model in 1994, he added, the chain’s revenues have increased by 15% to 20% each year.

“Our revenue is above the growth of the industry, which is only 10% a year,” he told Khabar.

In 1998, Sofyan Hotel closed down its nightclub and discotheque. In 2000, they stopped selling alcohol. And finally in 2002, it started to screen guests to ensure they are not using the hotel for activities prohibited by Islam. For example, unmarried couples are not permitted to stay.

“Guest selection is conducted to determine whether a couple who is going to check in is a married couple, family or an unmarried couple. If they are an unmarried couple and going to stay a short time, we will politely reject them,” Riyanto said.

According to Riyanto, Sofyan Hotel rejects approximately 1,000 to 2,000 guests every year.

Although it adheres to the Sharia code, he said, it welcomes business from members of other faiths who are willing to comply with the guidelines.

“A Sharia hotel is not exclusive for Muslims only. It’s open to anyone, whatever their race, religion or ethnicity as long as their activities do not violate any regulation,” he said.

Increased prospects as industry booms

Businesses such as Sofyan Hotel are benefitting from what appears to be a growing international trend, according to industry data.

According to Crescentrating, a halal-friendly travel and tourism consultant, the world’s Muslim travellers contributed as much as $930 billion to the tourism industry in 2009 (the latest).

According to country’s Directorate General of Marketing, meanwhile, approximately 1.3 million foreign Muslims visited Indonesia in 2010. Riyanto said 18% of those were interested in Sharia tourism.

“Interestingly most Muslim travellers were not only coming from the Middle East but also Europe, Australia, Japan, and China. The potential Sharia market in the tourism industry remains virtually untapped,” he said.

An MUI representative contacted by Khabar said the Islamic organisation is excited about the trend, but cautioned that Indonesia’s religious diversity must be taken into account.

“MUI is very supportive of the development of the tourism business,” said the representative, Slamet Effendy Yusuf.

But Sharia tourism, he added, is not appropriate for all parts of Indonesia because of cultural differences.

“Definitely Sharia tourism cannot be implemented in Bali or Manado (where Muslims are in the minority). However, it can be implemented in places such as East Java or Lombok. Therefore, we should be wise in implementing it,” Slamet said.

According to Zoraida Ibrahim, the director of the tourism industry at the MTCE, following the Sharia code is a “lifestyle” that is proving more and more popular.

She stressed, however, that there is no obligation in Indonesia for all tourism-related businesses to follow Sharia-based practices, despite the growing trend.

In Indonesia, continuing debate over “female circumcision”

Khabar Southeast Asia

In Indonesia, continuing debate over “female circumcision”

G.K.R Hemas, the queen of Yogyakarta, has urged the government to revoke the 2010 Ministry of Health Regulation that legitimises the practice of female genital mutilation and authorizes medical professionals to perform it. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

G.K.R Hemas, the queen of Yogyakarta, has urged the government to revoke the 2010 Ministry of Health Regulation that legitimises the practice of female genital mutilation and authorizes medical professionals to perform it. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

The OIC says Islam does not support the practice and the UN has condemned it. What stance will Indonesia take?

Despite growing international condemnation of female genital mutilation, the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) is urging the government to resist any international or domestic pressure to ban the practice it calls female circumcision.

“On the issue of female circumcision, we do not consider it compulsory, but we forbid any action to ban it,” MUI Chairman Ma’ruf Amin told a January 21st press conference on the subject at MUI’s Central Jakarta office, according to multiple media reports.

He said that in recent times more medical practitioners have refused to perform female circumcisions, and he urged the government to act decisively against such individuals, based on its 2010 Health Ministry regulation on the practice, which effectively legitimises female circumcision and authorise medical professionals to perform it, the Jawa Pos National Network reported.

“Because we support that regulation, we ask the government not to heed any effort by any party that wants circumcision banned in Indonesia,” he said, according to Detik News.

“Circumcision is a part of Islamic teaching that is highly recommended for Muslims, whether male or female,” he said, adding that the law on the matter calls for specific procedures which, he claimed, do not damage the clitoris.

“The procedure for female circumcision according to Islamic teaching is removal of only the membrane, or in medical terms preputium [the clitoral hood] that covers the clitoris,” he said.

“It needs to be understood that Islamic teaching prohibits the female circumcision practice which is done by cutting or injuring the clitoris, as it is dangerous.”

Mixed messages

The government has issued mixed messages on female circumcision. In 2006, the Ministry of Health banned it as potentially harmful. But in 2010, it issued guidelines on how the procedure should be done, raising the ire of some women’s rights activists.

Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas, the queen of Yogyakarta, believes the government must revoke the 2010 regulation effectively legitimising female circumcision and authorizing medical professionals to perform it.

“I am very certain that the 2010 regulation on female circumcision was issued because there was a big pressure from religious organisations to the Ministry of Health. Even recently, the MUI has demanded the government lift the ban on female circumcision,” she told Khabar Southeast Asia.

“I think that all the parties, which are involved, should have a wider point of view on female circumcision, particularly from the health point of view,” she said.

It is not known how many Indonesian girls undergo female circumcision, which is believed to reduce sexual desire and prevent promiscuity, and encompasses a wide range of practices in Indonesia, from cutting a small part of the clitoris to scratching it to pressing spices on the genitals.

Suratningtyas, a 46-year-old midwife at a private hospital in Depok, West Java, told Khabar that some parents do ask the hospital for female circumcision.

“I cannot reject their request because we are allowed to do it. But we make sure to do it properly so it will not harm the baby girl,” she said.

Condemned by the OIC

At odds with developments in Indonesia, there is growing international consensus against the practice of female genital mutilation.

On December 20th, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first-ever resolution on the female genital mutilation, urging states to “take all measures — including legislation — to protect women and girls from this form of violence”.

Earlier the same month, speaking in Jakarta at the opening of a conference on women in development, Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called on OIC member states to prohibit the practice.

“This practice is a ritual that has survived over centuries and must be stopped, as Islam does not support it,” he said, according to reports in and Tempo. “Female genital mutilation is a violation of human rights of girls and women.”

A weak theological basis

The theological basis for female circumcision is a weak hadith, according to Maria Ulfah Anshor, secretary general of Alimat (the Movement for Indonesia Family Justice) and former chairwoman of the woman’s wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation.

“The hadith said that circumcision is sunnah for men [highly recommended] and makrumah for women [voluntary but meritorious]. Hence it cannot be used as a theological basis to conduct female circumcision, because it is optional,” she told Khabar.

The government does not need to regulate it, nor should it ban medical professionals from giving the service to a Muslim family that requests it, she said. But she said it is unfortunate that female circumcision is often conducted on infants, meaning that girls have no say in whether they want to undergo an optional practice.

“It is against human rights,” she said.

A Javanese tradition

Javanese tradition includes a ceremonial form of circumcision conducted without removing or harming the female body in any way, G.K.R Hemas told Khabar in an exclusive interview.

“Female circumcision in Javanese tradition is very different with what happened in other places. It is done by holding on to a piece of fresh turmeric on female genitals,” she said. Later the turmeric and other offerings are thrown to the rivers, she added.

The ceremony is conducted twice, at the age of five and when a girl begins to menstruate. These days, such ceremonies are rarely carried out in Javanese society, except for royal family members at the Yogyakarta sultanate.

“Once again, there is no woman’s body part which is being removed or harmed from those two traditions,” she added.