During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to perform the taraweh prayer — an optional yet highly virtuous prayer — every evening, ideally at mosques. But the Jakarta Provincial Government recently had another idea: holding a one-off mass taraweh prayer on the grounds of Monas (National Monument), just like the mass Friday prayers that have been done during numerous Islamic protests and rallies in the past, such as the 212 anti-Ahok protest and the more recent pro-Palestine rally.
On Friday, Vice Governor Sandiaga Uno said city hall was finalizing the details for a taraweh prayer at Monas on May 26, which would have been attended by himself and Governor Anies Baswedan.
“Because [Monas] is a symbol of Jakarta and it’s a place that has unified the congregation,” Sandiaga said, as quoted by Detik on Friday.
If the Jakarta Provincial Government was hoping for a big turnout for the prayer, those hopes were dashed after the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the highest clerical body in the country, criticized the plan.
“I hope the Jakarta Provincial Government reconsiders their wish to hold the taraweh prayer in Monas… Praying outdoors is inappropriate when there’s a mosque next door that can hold the congregation. The Jakarta Provincial Government would be wise to concentrate on central issues of its governance such as preventing floods and traffic jams that clearly affect the people,” wrote MUI leader Cholil Nafis in a statement, as picked up by Detik on Saturday.
Indonesia’s largest Islamic organizations, including Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, also criticized the plan, with a representative of the former going as far as implying that it was politically motivated.
“The timing is not appropriate, especially as the country is in the midst of huge democratic events: the regional elections next month and the presidential election next year,” said Heri Sucipto of Muhammadiyah’s International Relations and Cooperation Department, as quoted by Detik today.
Amid all the criticism, Sandiaga said today that the Jakarta Provincial Government has cancelled the plan to hold the taraweh prayer in Monas. Upon Anies’ return from his trip to India today, Sandiaga said they will discuss an alternative location for the prayer.
“So we will take people’s input into account, because before [when we originally made the plan] many ulemas asked for a taraweh prayer at Monas,” Sandiaga said, as quoted by Detik.
A likely alternative for Jakarta Provincial Government’s taraweh prayer event is the Istiqlal Grand Mosque, which is located not far from Monas and is the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia with the capacity to hold over 120,000 people.
Religious activities (as well as commercial and political activities) were banned in Monas since 1994. However, soon after his inauguration last year, Anies overturned the policy, which many observers saw as his way to show gratitude to the 200,000 or so Muslims who showed up at the symbolic site for a massive protest against Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who Anies defeated in the 2017 gubernatorial election. The move prompted Nahdlatul Ulama Chairman Said Aqil Siradj to warn Anies not to use religion as a political tool, and remind the provincial government that they must give all faiths equal treatment.