Work is worship: Indonesia’s 5,000 mosque counters seek to answer one question

Work is worship: Indonesia’s 5,000 mosque counters seek to answer one question
A visitor walks outside the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 March 2021

Work is worship: Indonesia’s 5,000 mosque counters seek to answer one question

Work is worship: Indonesia’s 5,000 mosque counters seek to answer one question
  • Government-appointed team has been scouting across the archipelago for the past seven years to document every Muslim place of worship
  • “This is a never-ending job with new mosques and musallas constructed all the time,” Affan told Arab News

JAKARTA: Fakhry Affan could easily qualify as a human catalog with information on every Muslim place of worship across Indonesia.
For the past seven years, the official from the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) has been in charge of its Sistem Informasi Masjid (SIMAS), or Mosque Information System — a digitized database to find out how many mosques the world’s largest Muslim majority nation has.
“This is a never-ending job with new mosques and musallas constructed all the time,” Affan told Arab News.
A musalla is an open space outside a mosque, mainly used for prayer. 
The idea is to get the best estimate on the number of mosques in the country, where more than 80 percent of its 270 million population is Muslim.
Affan said that before the SIMAS’ establishment in 2013, various agencies had issued different estimates on the total number of mosques in the country without providing any official reference.
The ministry’s manual data itself listed more than 741,000 mosques, while then-Vice President Jusuf Kalla was quoted in 2018 as saying that there were more mosques than schools in the country and that “only God knows” how many mosques Indonesia had.
“We were challenged by the difference in the numbers, so we started digitalizing the data in 2013 to verify and validate our manual data,” Affan told Arab News.
Helping him with the project is a dedicated team of 5,000 MRA personnel, down to the sub-district level across Indonesia.
Their task? To register and digitize data on the various sites, irrespective of size, where Muslims can pray in the respective areas.
Each place registered, from the Istiqlal Mosque — the state mosque in the capital Jakarta — to a prayer room inside a restaurant, gets its own identification number, with a brief description of the place and how to get there.
“We register them all one by one. If, for example, a mall has more than one prayer room located on different floors of the building, we list each prayer room individually,” Affan said.
It is a common sight in Indonesia to find mosque signage outside an eatery, to inform Muslim customers that they have a place to pray in the vicinity.
When Arab News interviewed Affan last Monday, his team had gathered information on 599,486 mosques and musallas.
“In 10 minutes, the number could change. It’s constantly updated by colleagues nationwide,” he said.
As of Saturday, that number had increased to 600,581 — almost 80 percent from the manual number provided and out of the 90 percent target that Affan and his team aim to reach by the year-end.
There are hurdles, of course, Affan said, such as collecting data from the country’s eastern region and remote, far-flung islands in the sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, which usually trickles in due to slow Internet connectivity.
The team also deploys a drone to get pictures of the mosque and its surroundings from various angles. Many mosques are too big to capture with a regular camera or are located in a densely populated neighborhood with narrow alleys, making it challenging to get a complete photograph.
Since 99 percent of the mosques are constructed and maintained by the local community, Muhammad Agus Salim, the MRA’s director of Islamic affairs and Sharia development, said that having an official and verified mosque catalog would serve as a “basic reference” for government policies related to mosques, such as local community empowerment, construction and renovation, water and sanitation improvement, caretakers’ capacity building, and religious moderation to prevent mosques from becoming a place that spread extreme Islamic teachings.
“This data collection is crucial in mapping Muslims’ potential in Indonesia. We did not have official data on imams, mosque caretakers and youth clubs, so we were unable to allocate a budget to mosques development,” Salim told Arab News.
Developing youth clubs would also encourage young people to become mosque activists and imams, he added.
It would also ensure transparency in alms’ collections and donations, for which the MRA is working with financial authorities to allow mosques with verified data to open a Shariah bank account as well.
Secretary-general of the Indonesian Mosque Council (DMI), Imam Addaqurutni, told Arab News that the DMI has been working on a similar project for three years.
“We have an open database to which anyone can enter data of a mosque with its coordinates. Once an entry is completed, we will lock it in for verification. We will use the data to develop mosques to be more than just a venue for religious activities,” he said.
Recently, DMI chairman, Jusuf Kalla, said that the government had welcomed the council’s proposal to use mosques as COVID-19 vaccination centers for senior citizens from next month.
Since the two and a half months of rolling out the vaccination campaign, about 3,000 people in three priority groups — medical workers, frontline and public workers, and senior citizens — have received their second jab, while almost 7,000 have had their first jab, out of 40,349,051 in the three groups.
The move is part of the government’s plan to vaccinate 181.5 million by year-end and reach herd immunity.
“We are finalizing the mechanism with the Health Ministry to accelerate the number of senior citizens getting vaccinated,” Addaqurutni said.


First Friday prayers held at new Tokyo mosque

First Friday prayers held at new Tokyo mosque
The Islamic Center will open its doors to all who want to learn about Islam and those who need any social help. (ANJ Photo)
Updated 6 sec ago

First Friday prayers held at new Tokyo mosque

First Friday prayers held at new Tokyo mosque
  • An imam led a Friday prayer for about 80 Muslims
  • “This is a wonderful opportunity to open an Islamic Center in Nishi Kasai to serve a Muslim community,” said Imam volunteer Abdul Wahid

TOKYO: Muslims held the first Friday prayers at a new mosque and community center established in the Nishi Kasai district in Edogawa, one of the 23 wards of Tokyo.

On the second floor, an imam led a Friday prayer for about 80 Muslims, while loudspeakers conveyed the audio to the first floor of the building in an area set up for females worshippers.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to open an Islamic Center in Nishi Kasai to serve a Muslim community as well as our neighbors and local community and society at large,” the Imam volunteer Abdul Wahid told Arab News Japan. “We are offering our services, to serve Islam, to teach Islamic values and teachings in this society and community.”

Nishi Kasai is about 15 minutes by train from central Tokyo.

Abdul Wahid said the Islamic Center will open its doors to all who want to learn about Islam and those who need any social help.

Haroon Qureshi, Secretary-General of the Japan Islamic Trust, told Arab News Japan that the establishment is run by the Japan Islamic Trust, a religious organization running nine mosques in Japan.

“We are thankful for the cooperation of the local Muslims in Japan and many donors from more than 70 countries,” he said.

Abdullah Baba, president of Nishi Kasai Center, said they established their community seven years ago when there were 12-15 families, which increased to 80 families. The new center will provide important help for them.


Taliban order male students, teachers to school

Taliban order male students, teachers to school
Updated 17 September 2021

Taliban order male students, teachers to school

Taliban order male students, teachers to school
  • A statement published on Facebook Friday did not include girls of that age

ISTANBUL: The Taliban’s education ministry says all male students of grades 6 to 12 and male teachers should resume classes across Afghanistan, starting on Saturday.
The statement published on Facebook on Friday did not include girls of that age, and the lack of guidance highlighted ongoing concerns that the Taliban might impose restrictions on girls and women.
Since taking over power last month, the Taliban had allowed girls in grades one to six to resume classes. When they ruled Afghanistan previously in the 1990s, the Taliban had forbidden girls and women from attending school and work.
In some of the provinces, women still are not allowed to continue their work, with exceptions for women who have worked in health departments, hospitals and education.

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Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort

Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort
Updated 17 September 2021

Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort

Trial begins over COVID outbreak in Austrian ski resort
  • An independent commission last year concluded that authorities in the Tyrol region acted too slowly to shut down ski resorts

VIENNA: A civil trial opened Friday in Austria over the government’s handling of a coronavirus outbreak at an Alpine ski resort during the early stages of the pandemic that relatives say resulted in unnecessary infections and deaths.
Sieglinde and Ullrich Schopf, the widow and son of a 72-year-old Austrian man who died of COVID-19 after becoming infected in Ischgl, are seeking about 100,000 euros ($117,000) compensation from the government. Their is seen as a test case for a larger class action suit involving hundreds of people who fell ill with COVID-19 following a trip to the Paznaun valley in February and March 2020.
The family is supported by Austria’s Consumer Protection Association, which said it is open to a negotiated settlement.
The outbreak in Ischgl, a popular resort in western Austria, is considered one of Europe’s earliest “super-spreader” events of the pandemic.
“Stopping people from leaving and arriving in the Paznaun valley or at least issuing a travel warning — the authorities failed to do that,” said Alexander Klauser, a lawyer representing the Schopf family. “Thousands of people left the Paznaun valley unhindered, thousands of people arrived without a clue that they were in danger.”
An independent commission last year concluded that authorities in the Tyrol region acted too slowly to shut down ski resorts in the valley after it became clear they were dealing with one of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreaks in March. But the panel didn’t find evidence that political or business pressure played a role in the decisions.
Klauser, the lawyer, said that even after authorities issued a directive to close apres-ski bars it wasn’t enforced strongly enough.
“Open air mass gatherings which were forbidden according to the directive continued,” he said. “The police just watched on without doing anything.”


Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis

Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis
Updated 17 September 2021

Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis

Japan Foreign Minister condemns attacks by Yemen Houthis

TOKYO: Japanese Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu on Friday condemned Houthi attacks earlier this month on Saudi Arabia.

“On September 4, a missile attack in the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia was launched and repeated transporter attacks by Houthis against Saudi Arabia have been carried out. We strongly condemn such actions,” Motegi told Arab News Japan at a press conference.

Motegi stressed that the Japanese government was attempting to help in negotiations in order for a truce to be reached between the Houthis and various other parties.

“We very much support the activity by Ambassador Grandberg, Special Envoy for Yemen of the United Nations, and various other initiatives to end the disputes in Yemen and in the international community,” Motegi said.

The Japanese minister said during his recent visit to the Middle East, he more firmly supported a peaceful truce in Yemen.

Motegi said Japan will continue to collaborate with the relevant countries within and outside of the Middle East to achieve peace and security in Yemen.

“Ninety percent of the crude oil arriving in Japan comes from the Middle East and from such perspective peace and stability in the region is of crucial importance for Japan.”


Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station

Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station
Updated 17 September 2021

Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station

Chinese astronauts return after 90 days aboard space station
  • The three astronauts emerged about 30 minutes later and were seated in reclining chairs just outside the capsule
  • State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi Desert

BEIJING: A trio of Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday after a 90-day stay aboard their nation’s first space station in China’s longest mission yet.
Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo landed in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship just after 1:30 p.m. (0530 GMT) after having undocked from the space station Thursday morning.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi Desert where it was met by helicopters and off-road vehicles. Minutes later, a crew of technicians began opening the hatch of the capsule, which appeared undamaged.
The three astronauts emerged about 30 minutes later and were seated in reclining chairs just outside the capsule to allow them time to readjust to Earth’s gravity after three months of living in a weightless environment. The three were due to fly to Beijing on Friday.
“With China’s growing strength and the rising level of Chinese technology, I firmly believe there will even more astronauts who will set new records,” mission commander Nie told CCTV.
After launching on June 17, the three astronauts went on two spacewalks, deployed a 10-meter (33-foot) mechanical arm, and had a video call with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
While few details have been made public by China’s military, which runs the space program, astronaut trios are expected to be brought on 90-day missions to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.
The government has not announced the names of the next set of astronauts nor the launch date of Shenzhou-13.
China has sent 14 astronauts into space since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own.
China’s space program has advanced at a measured pace and has largely avoided many of the problems that marked the US and Russian programs that were locked in intense competition during the heady early days of spaceflight.
That has made it a source of enormous national pride, complementing the country’s rise to economic, technological, military and diplomatic prominence in recent years under the firm rule of the Communist Party and current leader Xi Jinping.
China embarked on its own space station program in the 1990s after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to US objections to the Chinese space program’s secrecy and military backing.
China has simultaneously pushed ahead with uncrewed missions, placing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and, in December, the Chang’e 5 probe returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
China this year also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, with its accompanying Zhurong rover venturing out to look for evidence of life.
Another program calls for collecting samples from an asteroid, an area in which Japan’s rival space program has made progress of late.
China also plans to dispatch another mission in 2024 to bring back lunar samples and is pursuing a possible crewed mission to the moon and eventually building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.