Mosques in Indonesia defy government to remain open for prayer

A man takes part in prayers at the Al Munawarah mosque during the Islamic month of Ramadan in Jantho, Aceh province on May 12, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2020

Mosques in Indonesia defy government to remain open for prayer

  • Religious issues are ‘very sensitive,’ says home minister
  • Local administrations in the country in charge of own COVID-19 response measures

JAKARTA: Despite restrictions on mass gatherings as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, worshippers in Indonesia — which has the world’s largest Muslim population — continue to attend prayers at mosques.

Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian acknowledged in a recent press briefing that mass prayers are still taking place across the country and said that forcing mosques to close remained a challenge as issues related to religion are “very sensitive.”

“We are not banning religious activities,” he said. “But any mass gathering is very dangerous, because it is really a potential medium for the spread of the virus.”

Indonesia has not imposed a nationwide lockdown, and Doni Monardo, chief of the national COVID-19 task force, said on Tuesday in an online press briefing that it is up to regional governments to implement their response to the pandemic according to local conditions.

 In 24 regions, including Jakarta, East Java’s Surabaya and Sidoarjo, and Gorontalo in Sulawesi island, local administrations have introduced comparatively strict measures, but congregational prayers continue to be held.

 “We still pray (at mosques) and we are doing it in a way that will not attract any attention,” Anwar, a resident of Gorontalo City, told Arab News, adding that they closed the curtains and turned off the lights when praying. “We tell the congregants to wear masks and to wash their hands before prayers.”

He said it was “unfair” to close mosques while markets and shops remained open.

In Surabaya, the capital of East Java — which has the most cases of COVID-19 in the country, outside of Jakarta — the popular Sunan Ampel Mosque remains open.

“The imam always reminds congregants to be at least one meter apart before starting the prayer,” mosque caretaker Abdul Nasir Abdul Rahman told Arab News.

The Surabaya administration has discovered that 386 of the city’s 2,504 mosques are still conducting Taraweeh and Friday prayers. Administration spokesman Muhammad Fikser acknowledged that there have been requests from local religious leaders and mosque caretakers for exemptions to the restrictions placed upon them.

“We are evaluating ways to address this issue and to find the solution,” he told Arab News.

In nearby Sidoarjo, officials tested Taraweeh prayer congregants at Al Ikhklas Mosque last week, and confirmed that six of the 120 people they tested were infected with COVID-19.

In the capital city, Jakarta, where more than 5,000 people have contracted COVID-19, the majority of mosques have been adhering to the pray-at-home orders. However, some still defy them, including one in the city’s densely populated Tambora area, where an 82-year-old imam continued to lead Taraweeh prayers despite testing positive for the virus.

In areas where local administrations have not imposed strict anti-coronavirus measures, such as Klaten in Central Java province, many mosques have now returned to business as usual after initially closing their doors.

“We apply hygiene measures and we don’t allow those who just returned from the big cities to join us,” said Suratmin, the imam of Klaten’s Al Huda Mosque, adding that Friday congregations have resumed, as some believed that Muslim men who skipped the obligatory prayer three times could be considered “infidels.”

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

Updated 22 September 2020

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

  • Service attracts more than 10,000 subscribers since July

KUALA LUMPUR: Netflix could soon have competition from a homegrown entertainment platform in Malaysia which, its makers say, will cater to Muslims’ “halal TV” needs based on Islamic values.

Dubbed “Nurflix,” the platform is Malaysia’s first Shariah-compliant streaming service and has attracted more than 10,000 subscribers since July.

Nurflix is the creation of Syah Rizal Mohamed, who wants to produce and release original content for the platform before its official launch in January.

“We spent $9.7 million for the startup, but the company will produce 1,000 (items of) original content in multiple categories like mainstream, educational, spiritual and motivational and kids, with about 12,000 episodes in the first five years of operating,” the 43-year-old CEO told Arab News.

He also plans for Nurflix to acquire content from local and international producers, as long as they align with the service’s production guidelines, with a focus on markets in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore before setting up internationally.

“We see ourselves covering the Southeast Asian region in the next five years with our readiness to establish hubs in the Middle East and Europe to gain traction in the international market.”

He said the decision to tap into the streaming service market was driven by the rapid growth of video-on-demand media and consumers choosing this, as well as over-the-top subscription services, as their main form of entertainment. 

Consumers agreed that there was a market for a halal content platform.

“The Islamic streaming service just enriches the Islamic entertainment ecosystem because there is a niche for it,” 25-year-old public relations executive Puteri N. Balqis told Arab News.

Media consultant Amir Hadi Azmi said a Shariah-compliant streaming service was an interesting niche, particularly for more conservative users, but that the concept was not unique to Islam or Muslims.

“In America, for example, there is a service called Pure Flix which caters to more conservative Christian viewers,” he told Arab News.

Amir Muhammad, managing director of Kuman Pictures, said that as a producer, the more outlets that were made available to content producers and filmmakers, the better. Kuman Pictures, which is known for releasing horror and thriller content, could create appropriate content if need be.

“I have not seen their actual guidelines, but if they want halal horror, we will give them halal horror,” he told Arab News.

The Nurflix CEO said there would be a Content Advisory Council and that it would be headed and supervised by Habib Ali Zaenal Abidin Al Hamid and the Honorable Ustaz Raja Ahmad Mukhlis.

“Productions, including third-party content providers, will be monitored by the council to ensure the end product abides by the set guidelines. Nurflix is unique in the market because it is not just offering Islamic-guided content. The production will be monitored by the council to ensure all aspects of work are conducted in a Shariah-compliant manner.”

Although there is no formal collaboration with the Islamic Affairs Department, he said that Nurflix’s ideas and concepts had already been shared with Islamic Affairs Minister Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

When contacted by Arab News, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development Paimuzi Yahya said his department was still working on “collaborating with the streaming service” and declined to comment further.