JEDDAH: Indonesian Consul General Dr. Mohamad Hery Saripudin said his country welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s call for the promotion of moderate Islam.
Speaking as a guest of honor at the Arab News annual iftar at Assila Hotel in Jeddah on Sunday, Saripudin said the crown prince’s vision of moderate Islam aligns well with Indonesia’s concept of Islam Wasatiyyah.
“We believe in Islam Wasatiyyah — the middle way of Islam — in implementing moderation in the practice of the Islamic faith, and as a response to check the spread of extremism,” Saripudin said, adding that Indonesians have a special attachment to Saudi Arabia.
“Indonesia sends the largest number of Muslims on Hajj. This year 231,000 Indonesians will perform Hajj, and in terms of Umrah pilgrims, last year we were second only to Pakistan, with Indonesia sending approximately 1.2 million Umrah pilgrims,” he said.
“That translates to roughly 100,000 Indonesians visiting Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah every month, and this is over and above the 221,000 pilgrims who performed Hajj last year,” he added. “Hajj and Umrah certainly have played important roles in building relations between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.”
The important element of a good relationship are these people-to-people ties, Saripudin said. “The Indonesian pilgrims play an important role in strengthening ties. Our pilgrims spend almost 70 days on average interacting with the local Saudi population, and this helps bring our two peoples together,” he added.
“The Indonesians ensure that they take souvenirs from Saudi Arabia, which they then distribute to their families, relatives and acquaintances back home. This binds them all with Saudi Arabia. Both the spiritual and the tangible connections strengthen relations.”
He said ties between the two countries are rooted in history. “Long before the historic visit of King Salman to Jakarta in March 2017, Saudi Arabia was among the first countries of the world to recognize the independence of Indonesia,” Saripudin added.
“We welcome the clearance by the Shoura Council of the green card (residency) system. We’ve had many, many queries from our businesspeople and Indonesian expatriates about the new incentives being offered by Saudi Arabia, which will improve the business climate. The new green card system is a very significant step in the right direction,” he said.
The huge numbers of Indonesian citizens and people of Indonesian descent in the Kingdom have adapted well to Saudi culture, and have thus become a powerful bridge in strengthening bilateral relations, he added.
“We invite Arab News to help us trace the footprints of the Saudi-Indonesian diaspora in both countries,” Saripudin said, praising the newspaper’s role in bringing different communities and countries together.
“I make it a point to read Arab News every morning before starting my day. If I don’t read it, it’s like having soup without salt. Arab News helps my sanity,” he added.
“It’s an honor to be here at the Arab News iftar as a guest of honor. The media is an essential part in promoting good ties between our two countries, and it has the ability to highlight the good and the bad in both.”
Arab News has been “very supportive of us (Indonesians), and has played a positive role in promoting good Saudi-Indonesian ties,” Saripudin said.
He thanked the newspaper’s Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas, and promised greater cooperation with Arab News.
He highlighted the familiarization trips that the Indonesian government sponsors in order to familiarize Saudi journalists with Indonesia.
Speaking at the event, Abbas said: “Our iftar comes at a very important time for the Kingdom, when his royal highness the crown prince has announced that we want to go back to moderate Islam. This is important not just for Saudi Arabia but for the entire Muslim world.”
There is no better example of tolerant Islam than Indonesia, the editor in chief added. Introducing Saripudin, Abbas said: “Indonesia was selected as the guest of honor at the 2019 Janadriyah cultural festival, so it’s with great pleasure that I introduce to you our guest speaker for tonight’s iftar.”
Abbas said Arab News was founded 44 years ago. “We’ve recently gone through a transformation to make it more digital and more global,” he added.
“We’re also proud of our initiative to hire more Saudis and more women, and we’re proud that women now form 35 percent of our global workforce.”
Despite all these changes, “we were, and always will be, an international Arab newspaper based in Saudi Arabia,” Abbas said.
This means “we’re equally privileged to have some of the best Saudi, Arab and international talent working with us,” he added.
Abbas and Arab News Western Region head Mohammed Al-Sulami presented to Saripudin a plaque that has the newspaper’s first edition — dated April 20, 1975 — embossed in metal.
Earlier, Deputy Editor in Chief Tarek Mishkhas delivered welcoming remarks, followed by a video presentation of the newspaper’s latest achievements.
Arab News staffer Aisha Fareed was honored by Abbas, who announced her promotion to be head of the Jeddah local desk.
A number of diplomats, dignitaries and journalists attended the iftar.