President Jokowi meets royal family, enters the holy Kaaba during Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

President Joko Widodo entering the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Twitter/@pramonoanung
President Joko Widodo entering the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Twitter/@pramonoanung

While the running mate of his rival plans to visit a self-exiled former pornography suspect for guidance and prayers in Saudi, President Joko Widodo, who is also in Saudi for the Umrah pilgrimage, met with King Salman and went inside the holiest site in Islam in what could be a huge boost to his Islamic credentials two days ahead of the presidential election.

According to a press release from the Cabinet Secretary’s Office, President Jokowi arrived in the Saudi capital of Riyadh yesterday evening and met with King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman as the leaders discussed strengthening economic relations between the two countries.

Some time after midnight, Jokowi and his family embarked on a flight to the holy city of Mecca to perform the optional Umrah pilgrimage. In footage posted on social media by Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, as soon as he arrived in Mecca, President Jokowi was escorted to the city’s holy mosque and was given the privilege of entering the Kaaba — the most sacred site in Islam, to which every Muslim in the world faces when performing their prayers.

In theory, any Muslim can enter the Kaaba, but, to prevent millions of people from entering the sacred building, only a select few have been able to go inside. Guardianship of the Kaaba was bestowed to one Saudi family from the days of Prophet Muhammad, while King Salman is the current custodian of the two Islamic holy mosques in Saudi (the other being in Medina), meaning that he had to have given permission for Jokowi to enter the Kaaba.

Jokowi is not the first Indonesian president to enter the Kaaba, as his predecessors Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), Soeharto, and founding father Soekarno were also all given permission by the Saudi royal family.

And while the Saudi royal family has not explicitly endorsed President Jokowi nor his rival Prabowo Subianto in the upcoming presidential election, the fact that Jokowi entered the Kaaba may be just as good as an endorsement in the eyes of many Muslims in Indonesia.

At home, President Jokowi has had to fend off accusations that he and his party, PDI-P, are anti-Islam despite the fact that his running mate is Ma’ruf Amin, the chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), the highest clerical body in the country.

Ultra conservatives in the country hold this belief due to the prevalence of hoaxes and fake news stories about Jokowi. Perhaps the most high-profile of these involved three middle-aged women who were seen in a viral video going door-to-door campaigning for Prabowo while lying about President Joko Widodo wanting to legalize gay marriage and ban the Islamic call to prayer. The three were later arrested by the police.

Among other hoaxes that have haunted Jokowi during his presidency include accusations that he’s secretly Chinese and a member of the banned Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). However, a recent survey showed that fewer people buy into conspiracy theories that Jokowi is pro-communist and anti-Islam.

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