Anies Baswedan says it’s dangerous to mix religion and politics

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan speaking to members of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) during his campaign on Jan 2, 2017. FPI leader Rizieq Shihab is sitting to his right. Photo: Dokumentasi Tim Anies Baswedan

Although there are numerous huge challenges facing Jakarta, such as (but certainly not limited to) traffic, flooding and pollution, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the main issue that has dominated the Jakarta gubernatorial election thus far has been religion due to the systematic attacks on Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama’s for his alleged blasphemy against Islam.

The unrelenting focus on these divisive attacks has been politically advantageous to Ahok’s political enemies. The latest polls show the incumbent’s rival in the April 19 runoff election, Anies Baswedan, ahead of Ahok despite high satisfaction levels in the governor’s work. Most voters surveyed said their primary reason for voting Anies was that he “wasn’t Ahok”.

But fanning the flames of religious intolerance for political points has reached a point that even the hardline Islamic Defender Front (FPI) can’t stomach. A spokesperson for the Islamist group recently denounced Muslims who refused to perform funeral prayers for those who voted for Ahok after reports that a 78-year-old woman in South Jakarta had been refused the sacred funeral rite at her local mosque.

It is the only reported incident of a person being denied prayers because they had allegedly voted for Ahok, but recently banners went up at some mosques around the capital stating they would not perform funeral prayers for the incumbent’s supporters, who they label as hypocrites for “defending” a blasphemer.

Anies also denounced those who might deny prayers to the dead over political affiliations, saying it was dangerous to mix religion and politics.

“We all have an obligation to perform the funeral prayers. This has nothing to do with political affairs and they should not be put together. It’s dangerous,” Anies said yesterday as quoted by Kompas.

Many people have found Anies’ warning against mixing religion and politics to be somewhat… disingenuous. The gubernatorial candidate was lagging in 3rd place behind Agus Yudhoyono until January, a month he began by meeting with infamous FPI leader Rizieq Shihab and his organization. He also joined a prayer rally at Istiqlal mosque organized by anti-Ahok groups shortly before the first round of election at which attendees were asked to pledge that they would only vote for Muslim leaders.

When asked by Reuter’s reporter Eveline Danubrata if Jakarta’s governor has to be Muslim after the first round of the election, Anies said every citizen had the right to run, but added: “Jakarta needs an effective leader who can execute all the plans, and secondly, who can unite, not divide.”

It seems clear that the issue that is creating the greatest divisions in Jakarta right now, which is causing neighbors to actually refuse prayers for their community’s deceased, are the religious attacks being used by Ahok’s political enemies.

If Anies is serious about not wanting to mix politics and religions, if he is serious about wanting to win on the merits of his policies versus Ahok’s, then he should unequivocally declare that Muslims should be able to vote for any leader they choose, no matter their religion.

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