Banned for decades, Chinese is now taught at Indonesia’s largest mosque

Indonesian students learn Mandarin at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, May 16, 2024. (AN Photo)
Indonesian students learn Mandarin at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, May 16, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 11 June 2024
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Banned for decades, Chinese is now taught at Indonesia’s largest mosque

Banned for decades, Chinese is now taught at Indonesia’s largest mosque
  • Policies restricting Chinese learning were in place until the fall of Suharto regime in 1990s
  • Free Mandarin courses for Muslims and non-Muslims are run by Istiqlal Mosque

JAKARTA: Twice a week, Tjong Lan Tjen travels for more than an hour from her home to central Jakarta, where she heads to Indonesia’s largest mosque to study Chinese.

Tjong used to attend Mandarin classes in the mid-1960s but had to stop when General Suharto came to power and issued various policies to restrict the culture of Indonesia’s Chinese minority, including banning the teaching of the language in schools.

That ban was lifted after the regime’s fall in 1998, but only lately — with the development of political and commercial connections with China — has the teaching of Mandarin once again become popular in the Southeast Asian nation.

When Tjong heard that she could learn the language for free at Istiqlal Mosque, she was initially hesitant.

“A friend said there (had been) news on TV, so I thought that I could study. I also thought: ‘Is it allowed?’ In the past, it was dangerous. So, I asked around,” the 71-year-old told Arab News.

Once assured that it was permitted and that the classes were open to all, she signed up.

“I want to learn it, even though I’m old. Everyone in my generation has forgotten it, my family all have forgotten. I’m the only one,” Tjong said. “It’s always good to gain knowledge as long as we can.”

Tjong is one of 25 students enrolled in the mosque’s course, which was launched in late February. Co-organized by the Chinese government, the classes were initially set up to help the mosque’s staff communicate in Mandarin with tourists. However, as the mosque’s spokesperson, Saparwadi, who is also a student on the course, told Arab News, anyone is welcome to register for the course.

“Muslims, non-Muslims are all welcome to come to Istiqlal Mosque, (and) learn ... Istiqlal Mosque is the country’s icon, and we must stand up for all groups,” Saparwadi said. “Language has no religion.”

As the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and one of the 10 largest in the world, Istiqlal Mosque, which can accommodate more than 120,000 people, is one of the top tourist attractions in the Indonesian capital and very popular with visitors from China.

“They are very enthusiastic, they want to know about Islam, Muslims, how they pray, what they do,” Saparwadi said, adding that being able to communicate with Chinese visitors in their language is a way of learning their culture too: “And we know that we respect each other. That’s what I think is the most important.”

Habibah Munawaroh, another of the mosque’s employees attending the course, believes learning a new language has helped improve her cognitive skills.

She has always wanted to try learning Mandarin and being able to attend the classes at her workplace for free was a pleasant coincidence, as normally such courses are quite expensive.

“I like to put words together and then translate them into Mandarin. It makes the cognitive faculty work again,” she said.

“I hope these Mandarin classes will (continue) to the highest proficiency level, so that what I have learned will not disappear.”


Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry

Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry
Updated 3 sec ago
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Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry

Ambani nuptials spotlight India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry
  • Groom is the youngest son of Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani
  • Lavish pre-wedding celebrations around the world started in March

NEW DELHI: After four months of lavish events spotlighting India’s multibillion-dollar wedding industry, the nuptials of the son of Asia’s richest man reached their final stage on Friday, with global A-listers and elites arriving in Mumbai for the most extravagant of billionaire celebrations.

The celebrations that built up to the wedding of Mukesh Ambani’s youngest son, 29-year-old Anant Ambani, to Radhika Merchant, daughter of a pharmaceutical tycoon, saw the family and hundreds of its guests serenaded by the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber, sailing up the coast of Italy on a luxury cruise, watching a 5,500-drone light show in Cannes, and participating in a jungle-themed safari party in India’s Gujarat.

The groom’s father, chairman of Reliance Industries — the largest private sector corporation in India — is the world’s 10th richest man.

The display of his wealth through the wedding has set a new benchmark for the sector worth some $130 billion, according to last month’s report by the global investment banking firm Jefferies.

The Indian wedding industry is the country’s second-largest, after food and grocery.

“The Indian wedding industry is one of the largest and most lucrative markets globally. India hosts around 10 million weddings each year, with varying scales and budgets,” Simran S. Kohli, wedding planner and founder of Love Me Knot Weddings, told Arab News.

“The Ambani wedding is a prime example of just how extravagant and grand one can be.”

With the swathes of business billionaires, world leaders and top Bollywood and Hollywood stars attending, and the amount of international media attention focused on all the nuptial events, it is also an example of how the legendary allure and grandeur of Indian weddings never fades.

“How everyone looks forward to being a part of Indian weddings, the involvement of international celebrities, performers, and guests reflects the global influence and reach of the Indian wedding industry now,” Kohli said.

“Indian weddings can push the boundaries of creativity and extravagance.”

With dignitaries and celebrities from all over the world flocking to Mumbai to attend the four-day ceremony, parts of the city have been sealed.

“Mumbai is closed for almost three days now where the wedding is happening. There are VIP restrictions,” said Suneer Jain, director of Oh Vow Weddings.

“Ambani’s wedding reminds you of the grand Mughal weddings where thousands of horses and elephants used to participate. Now, the elephants have been replaced by artists. The Ambanis have set a different standard in weddings by inviting lots of international artists to come and perform.”

While the celebration has been reported to cost $600 million, from the artist lineup alone, Jain estimated it could be much more.

“This wedding is a showoff and it’s showing to the people how important they are and how well connected they are, how powerful they are. It’s a demonstration of wealth,” he said.

“The spending in Ambani’s wedding would be much more than what we can think about. Engaging an international artist is not only about the fee, it’s also about their comfort, their hospitality, doing everything for their team. It involves huge costs in many other aspects also.”

It has raised the bar so high that it will not be easy for the next celebrity weddings to cross it and organize nuptials on an even bigger scale.

It is a matter of Indian family prestige to do so.

“It is a lifetime event. We earn for only two things in life: for getting our own home and for weddings,” Jain told Arab News.

“When people see Ambani’s wedding, (it is assumed that) the next super wedding would be at a much higher scale … It gives you a clear picture that no one wants to do a normal wedding, but everyone wants to do a grand wedding.”

Everyone also wants to attend weddings in India, as they are an intrinsic part of its culture and play a major role in boosting other sectors such as entertainment, fashion, design, and travel.

“There is a person who is creating entertainment, there is a person who is doing labor work, there is a person who is doing floral work, there is a person who is working for fabric treatment. There is a person who is working on the structure, there is a transporter, manager, designer, sound engineer, artist. A lot of people get jobs out of it,” said Rajat Tyagi, director of Weddings Flowers Decor India.

An Indian wedding is never a cheap affair. A “good decent function” organized by Tyagi’s company at a local venue starts at about $45,000.

“As Indians, a society, we are bright, we are vivid, we are diverse, and we are vocal. We are not bland … If we have a taste, why not flaunt it,” he said.

“Even if you go to a village, the poorest of the poorest women are wearing makeup … It’s like we are made this way, our upbringing is that way. We love to show off.”

The display pulled off by the Ambani family was for Tyagi not only a record-breaking event, but also proof of India’s growth.

“At the end of the day, Mukesh Ambani is also an Indian entrepreneur, so India is not just a country of snake charmers. Now it has people who have the potential to bring such international artists and spend so much,” he said.

“It shows the potential of the Indian wedding industry. It shows the potential of Indians globally.”


Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO

Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO
Updated 47 min 28 sec ago
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Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO

Russia says it is not preparing to attack NATO
  • Zakharova said NATO was trying to “justify its existence and strengthen Washington’s control over European satellites“

MOSCOW: Russia said on Friday it was not planning to attack NATO and it was the alliance that was aggravating tensions.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was referring to a NATO Summit declaration that said: “Russia remains the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security.”
Zakharova said NATO was trying to “justify its existence and strengthen Washington’s control over European satellites.”
Western leaders have repeatedly said that President Vladimir Putin will order his military to go further and attack NATO countries in central and eastern Europe if he is not stopped in Ukraine.


Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others

Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others
Updated 12 July 2024
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Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others

Nigeria school collapse kills several students, traps others
  • Parents desperately looked for their children at the Saint Academy in Jos North district
  • It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse

JOS, Nigeria: A school in central Nigeria collapsed on Friday, killing several students and trapping others who were heard crying out for help under the rubble, a rescue agency and witnesses said.
Parents desperately looked for their children at the Saint Academy in Jos North district of Plateau State after the building fell in on students taking their exams, an AFP correspondent at the site said.
“A two-story building housing Saint Academy... in Busa Buji in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State collapsed this morning killing several students,” the National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
“NEMA and other critical stakeholders are presently carrying out Search and Rescue operations,” it said.
Officials did not give a precise toll, but a resident at the scene Chika Obioha told AFP he estimated eight people died at the site and dozens more had been injured.
“Everyone is helping out to see if we can rescue more people,” he said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the collapse but residents said it came after three days of heavy rains in Plateau.
Building collapses are fairly common in Africa’s most populous nation because of lax enforcement of building standards, negligence and use of low quality materials.


France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes

France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes
Updated 12 July 2024
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France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes

France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes
  • Voters from different camps joined forces in the second round to shut the far-right National Rally (RN) out of power in a “republican front“
  • Macron has rejected LFI demands they should be tasked with forming the next government

PARIS: France’s political parties scrambled Friday to break a parliamentary deadlock brought on by an inconclusive snap election, as the outgoing prime minister vowed to prevent any government with far-right or hard-left members.
A runoff Sunday left the National Assembly without any overall majority, but a broad alliance of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber.
Voters from different camps joined forces in the second round to shut the far-right National Rally (RN) out of power in a “republican front,” allowing President Emmanuel Macron’s followers to claim second place with 164 seats and leaving the far right in third at 143.
With each of the three blocs controlling roughly one-third of the chamber, political leaders are admitting it may be a long slog to find a government able to survive a no-confidence vote.
Macron has rejected LFI demands they should be tasked with forming the next government, appearing to rule out a role for either LFI — the largest player in the New Popular Front (NFP) left alliance — or the far-right RN in any new coalition.
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal echoed that stance Friday saying that he would seek “to guard against any government” that included RN or LFI ministers.
In a document outlining his bid to take the leadership of the Macron-allied “Renaissance” parliamentary group, Attal acknowledged it had “narrowly escaped extinction” in the vote.
As party group leader, Attal said he would “completely revise our methods and our organization.”
Attal, the only candidate to take over the Renaissance parliamentary leadership, said he hoped to “contribute to the emergence of a majority concerning projects and ideas” in the future parliament.
Renaissance deputies are to elect their new leader on Saturday. If voted in, Attal said he would rename the formation “Together for the Republic.”
The document, seen by AFP, made no mention of Macron, with reports suggesting that Attal is distancing himself from his former mentor, blaming Macron’s decision to dissolve parliament and call the election for the political quagmire.
Under the French constitution Macron, who has just under three years left of his second presidential term, will appoint the next prime minister.
The nominee must be able to garner enough support to negotiate the first hurdle, a confidence vote in the National Assembly.
There is, meanwhile, a good chance that the current government remains in place until after the Paris Olympic Games which open on July 26, according to political observers.
The leftist NFP, which had initially promised to suggest a candidate for prime minister to Macron by the end of the week, on Friday acknowledged that it probably wouldn’t be able to.
“I’d rather not set a deadline,” said LFI coordinator Manuel Bompard, telling the TF1 broadcaster that “more time may be needed for discussions.”
Green party boss Marine Tondelier said the problem was that “everybody claims that they are the biggest group” which she said showed that vote size was perhaps not “the most important criterion.”
A source within the Socialist party who declined to be named said the LFI had put forward four names, including that of firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon who is unacceptable to all other parties, and controversial even among LFI members.
The Socialists themselves are pushing for their party’s boss, Olivier Faure, who they say would be acceptable as prime minister to a broad range of deputies from the left to center-right.
“Faure or Melenchon? That’s the real question,” remarked a Socialist official who declined to be named.
The head of the RN, Marine Le Pen, has already threatened that her deputies would reject any government that included LFI or Green ministers.
The RN’s vice president Sebastien Chenu meanwhile said that he saw “no satisfactory solution” to the current standoff “except a kind of technocratic government without political affiliation.”


Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid

Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid
Updated 12 July 2024
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Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid

Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid
  • It was unclear whether Biden’s performance would convince doubters in his party that he is their best bet to defeat Republican Donald Trump
  • At least 17 congressional Democrats so far have called for him to drop out

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden faced more calls from fellow Democrats to abandon his re-election bid on Friday, following a news conference in which he delivered nuanced responses but occasionally stumbled over his words.
It was unclear whether Biden’s performance would convince doubters in his party that he is their best bet to defeat Republican Donald Trump in the Nov. 5 election and serve another four-year term in the White House.
At least 17 congressional Democrats so far have called for him to drop out and allow the party to pick another standard-bearer, including some who announced their positions after the news conference on Thursday night.
Democrats are worried that Biden’s low public approval ratings and growing concerns that he is too old for the job could cause them to lose seats in the House and Senate, leaving them with no grip on power in Washington should Trump win the White House.
But Biden made clear that he did not plan to step aside.
“If I show up at the convention and everybody says they want someone else, that’s the democratic process,” Biden said, before shifting to the stage whisper he often uses for emphasis to add, “It’s not gonna happen.”
Biden perhaps did not reassure those who were spooked by his poor presidential debate performance against Trump on June 27.
At one point, he referred to his vice president, Kamala Harris, as “Vice President Trump.” That came just hours after he introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “President Putin” at the NATO summit, drawing gasps from those in the room.
Biden occasionally garbled his responses at the news conference, yet he also delivered detailed assessments of global issues, including Ukraine’s war with Russia and the Israel-Gaza conflict, that served as a reminder of his decades of experience on the world stage.
Some Democrats were not reassured.
“We must put forward the strongest candidate possible to confront the threat posed by Trump’s promised MAGA authoritarianism. I no longer believe that is Joe Biden,” said Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, who called on the president to end his campaign after the news conference.
But one influential party figure, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, reiterated his support on Friday morning.
“I am all in. I’m riding with Biden no matter which direction he goes,” he said on NBC’s “Today” program.
A senior campaign official who spoke on condition of anonymity called the performance the “worst of all worlds. Not good. But not bad enough to make him change his mind ... It’ll give some enough cover to back him publicly, only to say he’s not up for it privately.”
Fundraiser Dmitri Melhorn said other donors told him they saw a strong performance from the president. “This is the person who can beat Trump. The mistakes are baked in and the upside is strong,” he told Reuters.
Biden will hold a rally on Friday in Detroit, where his campaign says he will focus on the “dangers” of Trump’s agenda.
The Michigan city is also headquarters of the United Auto Workers labor union, whose leaders endorsed Biden but now are assessing their options, three sources told Reuters.
With most US voters firmly divided into ideological camps, opinion polls show the race remains close.
An NBC/PBS poll released on Friday found Biden leading Trump 50 percent to 48 percent, a slight increase from his position before the debate. Biden fared slightly worse than Trump when third-party candidates were included in the questioning.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found Biden and Trump tied at 40 percent each. But some nonpartisan analysts have warned that Biden is losing ground in the handful of competitive states that will determine the outcome of the election.