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.


American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections

American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections
Updated 19 October 2021

American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections

American nurse convicted of killing 4 men with air injections
  • Prosecutors said during closing arguments that Davis “liked to kill people.”
  • Defense attorney says the hospital had issues and that Davis was a scapegoat

TYLER, Texas: A Texas nurse was convicted Tuesday of capital murder in the deaths of four patients who died after prosecutors say he injected them with air following heart surgeries.

The Smith County jury deliberated for about an hour before finding William George Davis, of Hallsville, guilty of capital murder involving multiple victims. Prosecutors planned to seek the death penalty during the sentencing phase, which was scheduled to start Wednesday.
Davis, 37, was accused of injecting air into the four patients’ arteries after they underwent heart surgery at the Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler in 2017 and 2018. During recovery from their surgeries, the four — John Lafferty, Ronald Clark, Christopher Greenway and Joseph Kalina — suffered unexplained neurological problems and died.
During the trial, Dr. William Yarbrough, a Dallas-area pulmonologist and professor of internal medicine, explained to the jury how injecting air into the arterial system of the brain causes brain injury and death.
Yarbrough said he was able to determine there was air in the arterial system of the victims’ brains by viewing images from brain scans — something he said he had never before observed in his decades in medicine.
He ruled out blood pressure problems or any other causes of death besides the injection of air, and said it must have happened after the surgeries because the complications occurred while the patients were in recovery.
Defense attorney Phillip Hayes told the jury that the hospital had issues and that Davis was a scapegoat who was only charged because he was there when the deaths occurred.
Prosecutor Chris Gatewood said during closing arguments that Davis “liked to kill people.” And prosecutor Jacob Putnam said the hospital hadn’t changed any of its procedures and hadn’t had any similar incidents since Davis left.


Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee
Updated 19 October 2021

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee
  • Hazrat Wali was stabbed to death last week when a fight broke out near his college
  • He is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year

LONDON: A boy, 16, has been charged with murder over the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old Afghan refugee, Hazrat Wali, in London last week.

The 16-year-old from Hammersmith and Fulham, London, appeared in court via video link from the young offender’s institution where he is being held.

He confirmed his identity and was told that his plea hearing would be held on Jan. 11, 2022. Wali’s brother and foster mother attended the brief hearing on Tuesday. 

The youth defendant was remanded into custody until his next court appearance.

Police are continuing to investigate the stabbing, which is said to have occurred when a fight broke out in a field near Wali’s college in west London.

Wali was an Afghan refugee who came to Britain two years ago, according to the Evening Standard. An unnamed relative told the free London daily newspaper: “He came here to study, he was living all on his own in London. His immediate family are all back in Afghanistan.

“I saw him in hospital. He had a fight is all that I had heard,” the relative added.

Witnesses say a teacher from the school ran over to give the teenager CPR in an attempt to save his life. While he administered first aid, Wali is said to have told the teacher the identity of the person that stabbed him. Wali died in hospital soon after.

Wali is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year.


Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
Updated 19 October 2021

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister
  • Thousands of migrants -- most of them from the Middle East -- have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer
  • Almost 6,000 soldiers are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border, said Poland's defence minister on Twitter

WARSAW: Poland has 6,000 soldiers deployed along the border with Belarus to help stop an influx of migrants, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday.
Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer.
The EU suspects this is an effort coordinated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against EU sanctions and has called the use of migrants a “hybrid attack.”
“Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border,” Blaszczak said on Twitter.
“The soldiers provide support to border guards by protecting the country’s border and not allowing it to be illegally crossed,” he said.
Border guards are reporting hundreds of attempted crossings every day and accuse Belarusian border guards of helping the migrants cross.
The government has implemented a state of emergency which bans journalists and humanitarian workers from the area and is planning a border wall.
Charities have criticized the government’s hard-line approach, particularly its pushback policy, and have warned of the growing danger for vulnerable migrants crossing through forests in the freezing cold.


‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
Updated 19 October 2021

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief

‘Wave of terrorism in Europe moving toward UK’: Ex-counterterror chief
  • Warning of ‘lone wolf’ attacks follows murder of British MP by man believed to have been radicalized online
  • Nick Aldworth: ‘lt’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it’

LONDON: The former head of Britain’s counterterrorism operations has warned that a “wave of terrorism” was heading from Europe to the UK and that Britain should raise its terror threat level accordingly.

Nick Aldworth, the UK’s ex-counterterrorism national coordinator, also told Sky News that individuals carrying out “lone wolf” attacks after being radicalized in their bedrooms were becoming the new norm.

His comments came just days after Ali Harbi Ali, believed to be an Islamist extremist radicalized online, murdered Conservative Party MP David Amess.

Authorities faced an “enormous challenge” in identifying potential attackers such as Ali that had been radicalized at home, Aldworth said.

“It’s become the new norm within terrorism: People self-radicalizing and then deciding to do something about it.

“We live in a democratic society, we don’t live in a surveillance society where the authorities can, without cause, tap your phone and monitor your internet usage. It’s an enormous challenge and an enormously resource-intensive challenge.

“My view, from what we’re seeing, is there are similarities this year with what we saw in 2016 and 2017 of a slowly developing wave of terrorism in Europe that’s starting to move toward the UK.

“My belief is we must be quite close to moving up a threat level back to severe (meaning an attack was highly likely),” he added.

During 2016 and 2017, five deadly terror attacks took place in Britain, including the Manchester Arena bombing which killed dozens of people, many of them children, and the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Amess’ killing has prompted renewed scrutiny on the effectiveness of Britain’s counter-radicalization program, Prevent, because Ali had previously been referred to it.

British Home Office figures show there were more than 6,200 referrals to the Prevent scheme in England and Wales in the year up to March 2020.

Aldworth said that the Prevent program was currently not receiving enough referrals from friends and family, who were best placed to notice changes in people’s behavior.

“Typically, about 30 percent of referrals come from education … about 30 percent come from the police, and about 30 percent come from a disparate number of places including health.

“The interesting point is that only between 2 and 5 percent come from family and friends, and the workplace. Of course, that’s the point you would expect changes in people’s behavior to be most observable. That’s where the gap in the market is,” he added.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that. We obviously constantly have to learn not just from incidents that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs.

“We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose, robust, doing the right thing. But importantly learning lessons, always building upon what is working, and addressing any gaps or issues where the system needs strengthening,” she added.


UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
Updated 19 October 2021

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover

UK Afghan envoy warned of Taliban threat in lead-up to dramatic takeover
  • Sir Laurie Bristow’s urgent cables raise questions over British handling of mass evacuation
  • Two months before the takeover, Bristow predicted the Taliban would ‘escalate its campaign’ only after international military withdrawal was irreversible

LONDON: Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, sent repeated warnings of the imminent Taliban threat ahead of the militant group’s takeover of the country, diplomatic cables show.

The revelations prove that the UK was aware of the threat posed by the Taliban, raising questions over the decision to evacuate from the war-torn country.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab embarked on a holiday to Crete at the time of the takeover, despite the urgent messages sent by Bristow.

A freedom of information request saw the cables relayed to The Times newspaper, which revealed in detail the messages sent by Bristow and his deputy, Alex Pinfield.

A cable sent on June 28 saw the ambassador note that US aerial firepower was the central force deterring the Taliban from entering Afghan cities. Bristow said: “It (The Taliban) is unlikely to do so while it perceives a threat from US airpower.

“From a Taliban perspective, doing so would risk provoking a slowing or a reversal of the US withdrawal, as well as taking significant casualties for little gain.

“It is more likely that the Taliban will wait until it believes international military withdrawal is irreversible before escalating its campaign.”

But US President Joe Biden, less than a week later, on July 2, ordered a military withdrawal from Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan.

A month later, on Aug. 2, the effects of the declining US presence in the country were seen in a cable sent by Bristow, where he said: “The gloves are off ... we are entering a new, dangerous phase of the conflict.”

When the Taliban appeared prepared to stage an assault on their first city, he added, warning: “If that happens, the impact on already fragile political unity, military, and public confidence and sentiment will be significant.

“The UK legacy in Helmand may add fuel to the public debate in the UK over relocating those who have worked for us during the last two decades in Afghanistan.”

The ambassador also warned of the threat posed to the capital, Kabul, which until the takeover was largely insulated from the conflict raging elsewhere in the country.

In response to the revelations, a government source said: “While the situation in Afghanistan was clearly deteriorating, the Taliban’s final advance on Kabul was significantly faster than anyone predicted.

“Despite an extremely difficult situation on the ground, months of intensive cross-government planning allowed us to deliver the biggest evacuation in living memory, bringing 15,000 people, including 7,000 British nationals and their families, to safety.”

Another source defended the government’s decisions, saying that Bristow’s cables were only “a fraction of the advice going to ministers.”

As a result of The Times report, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, himself a former army officer, demanded that the UK Foreign Office reveal the full extent of the decisions it made in light of Bristow’s warnings.

Smith said: “I’m glad the ambassador was telling the Foreign Office but the question now is what did Raab do and did anybody in the government say to the US ‘this is going to be a disaster if you close Bagram?’

“Did we, at any stage, say to them ‘Do not close Bagram?’”