On Intolerance: Will Prabowo Listen to Hashim or Fadli Zon?


Businessman Hashim Djojohadikusumo, the co-founder of the deputy chairman of Gerindra, are two of the closest people to Prabowo Subianto, the presidential candidate from Gerindra. Hashim is a Protestant Christian, while Fadli Zon is a Muslim. On the subject of religious intolerance, who would Prabowo listen to the most? [continue reading]

Muslim, Christian leaders gather to seek common ground

Khabar Southeast Asia

Muslim, Christian leaders gather to seek common ground

Religious leaders from 16 Asian countries came to Jakarta for the February 26 – March 1st Conference of Muslim-Christian Religious Leaders of Asia, which emphasised that the two religions share a core teaching: love. [Photos: Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

Religious leaders from 16 Asian countries came to Jakarta for the February 26 – March 1st Conference of Muslim-Christian Religious Leaders of Asia, which emphasised that the two religions share a core teaching: love. [Photos: Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

International interfaith conference discusses need for dialogue, collaboration in tackling modern problems in the region.

Muslim and Christian leaders from 16 Asian countries pledged to work side by side to tackle present-day problems in the region at a recent conference here, grounding their common vision in religious teachings both share.

“Asia is currently facing serious problems of poverty and environmental degradation,” M. Nashihin Hasan, executive director of the International Conference of Islamic Scholars (ICIS), told Khabar Southeast Asia.

“Here, we are trying to find a solution based on religious values, and not secularism,” he added.

ICIS organised the four-day Conference of Muslim-Christian Religious Leaders of Asia, together with Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) and The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI).

Both the Qur’an and the Bible teach love of God and love of one’s neighbour. That shared teaching “provides a common ground for Muslims and Christians to work together for peace and harmony in this violence-torn world today”, a conference statement said.

Rejecting extremism

Held February 26th-March 1st at Jakarta’s Hotel Acacia, the gathering was attended by 120 Indonesians and 55 religious leaders from 16 countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Timor-Leste, India and Malaysia.

Many participants stressed the need for dialogue among believers of different religions as a means to foster a culture of harmony and peace in Asia.

Religious leaders need to come together on a regular basis on the local level, and to have a clear process of identifying common problems, Monsignor Felix Machado, archbishop of Vasai, India, told the forum on its opening day.

“This collaboration must be founded on the rejection of fanaticism, extremism and mutual antagonisms which lead to violence,” he said. “Education is also an important tool to promote mutual understanding, co-operation and respect.”

The growing gap between rich and poor was another common theme.

“I often heard various problems which could be identified as social and economic injustice in Asia as the result of modern prosperity only enjoyed by a few people, while many are exploited and marginalised,” Bishop Felix said.

The importance of dialogue

The chairman of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organisation, told Khabar he appreciated the event and hoped it would be fruitful.

Both Islam and Christianity value humanity and both “have a significant role in developing and anticipating the dynamic of Asia as the future of the world,” Din Syamsuddin told Khabar outside Istiqlal Mosque, during a visit there by conference participants.

Dialogue among moderate religious leaders is important to push the government to take serious action on eradicating religious conflict, he said. He voiced hope that in the future, the conference would also invite religious leaders from fundamentalist groups, so their voices can be heard.

Afghan participant Fazalghani Kakar said he wants to apply what he learned in his home community.

“Although we don’t have many religions in Afghanistan …. This conference is very important for us because we are all aware that Afghanistan has been in war these past three decades,” he said.

“We also need dialogue to get a mutual understanding both technically and also professionally to create tolerance among us,” Fazalghani said.

A path of moderation

In their concluding statement participants pledged to renew efforts to promote peace and justice, prevent violence and facilitate dialogue in situations of conflict.

“We believe that if human dignity is respected, human values are promoted and the path [to] dialogue remains open, conflict can be avoided in every circumstance,” it said. “…A path of moderation and a pedagogy of persuasion are more in keeping with the Asian genius than the use of force or mutual denunciation.”

Conference participants understood such goals cannot be instantly achieved.

“We do not want to be in a rush,” Nashihin, of ICIS, said. “Perhaps, we would hold another meeting within three years to see the result of the implementation of our agreement.”

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.