New ‘habib’ on the block
Hasyim Widhiarto and Fikri Zaki Muhammadi
The Jakarta Post
Claiming to currently manage more than 50,000 loyal followers, Majelis Rasulullah is possibly the largest Islamic prayer group in Jakarta.
Starting out by doing door-to-door Koran recitals in 1998, the group, founded by Yemen-educated cleric Munzir Almusawa, only took a few years to attract thousands of loyal sermon participants and to become one of the most influential Islamic groups in Jakarta.
Majelis Rasulullah, which literally translates as the Prophet’s Assembly, currently runs two mass gatherings per week — every Monday night at Al-Munawwar Mosque in Pancoran, South Jakarta, and every Thursday night at the Dalail Khoirot Hall in Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta.
The group also schedules smaller gatherings at different mosques across Greater Jakarta on the other days of the week.
Motorists and passersby can easily identify participants, as almost all of them wear black jackets with the group’s name stitched on their back. Young attendants usually march to the sermon venue by carrying flags bearing the name of their group or even a picture of Munzir.
A typical Majelis Rasulullah sermon is opened by a performance of the group’s hadrah (Islamic music) team, and later followed by a sermon from Munzir.
Munzir, 39, was born in Cianjur, West Java, the youngest of four children. His late father, Fuad Abdurrahman Almusawa, studied journalism at New York University and worked for the now-defunct Berita Yudha newspaper, which was established by the Army to counter communist propaganda in the 1960s.
In 1994, Munzir moved to the southern Yemeni region of Hadhramaut to continue his studies at Dar al-Mustafa, an all-male educational institute known for teaching traditional Islamic sciences with jurisprudence (fiqh) and Arabic grammar (nahw) as its primary subjects.
Four years later, he returned to Indonesia to start his career as a preacher.
“When Habib Munzir held his maiden [Koran] recital in 1998, only seven people showed up and they were all members of his family,” Syukron Makmun, the group’s sermon coordinator and one of Munzir’s closest aides, said recently.
Syukron said Munzir was currently unfit for any non-preaching activities, as he has been under medication to cure a prolonged case of brain inflammation.
With a hectic sermon schedule and a sea of loyal supporters, Syukron, however, confirmed that the group remained financially and politically independent by relying on public donations to run their day-to-day activities.
“Habib Munzir always reminds us that all the funds collected by Majelis Rasulullah must only finance the group’s activities; he never takes a single penny from them for himself,” he said. JP/Hasyim Widhiarto.
Implementing a “copy-paste” version of Majelis Rasulullah’s public relations strategy and open stage style, prayer group Nurul Musthofa has apparently managed to match the fame of the benchmark organization over the past few years.
Established in 2000 by young cleric Hasan bin Ja’far Assegaf, Nurul Musthofa, meaning “Selected Lights”, has managed to engrave its name on the minds of Jakarta residents after regularly organizing massive sermons and promoting the group’s attributes and merchandise among loyal supporters.
It even adds a touch of entertainment into its prayers.
“We only use, for example, the best quality sound system in our sermons. It costs us a lot, but it is totally worth it as all participants can enjoy the opening hadrah performance with quality sound; plus they can clearly hear what the Habib [Hasan] says,” Nurul Musthofa’s spokesman, Abdulrahman, said.
Hasan’s personality was another reason why the group’s sermons attracted around 25,000 attendees on weekdays and twice more on weekends, according to Abdulrahman.
“Through his peaceful sermons and vast knowledge of Islam, Habib Hasan has become the inspiration of other young Muslims in the city to learn more about their religion,” he said.
Born in Bogor, West Java, in 1977, Hasan was raised in a conservative Muslim family. He is a descendant of Abdullah bin Mukhsin Alatas, a leading Muslim cleric who lived in Bogor in the 19th century. Many people continue to visit Alatas’ grave in Jakarta, as it is considered “sacred”. Unlike Munzir Almunawar, the leader of Majelis Rasulullah, who loves to cite the life story of the Prophet Muhammad in his sermons, Hasan uses the story of Java’s Nine Holy Preachers (Wali Songo), who spread Islam throughout Java. This is due to his studies at Daarul Hadits Al Faqihiyyah boarding school in Malang, East Java.
Despite his popularity, however, Hasan has avoided journalists during the past several months after being implicated in allegations of sexual assault by some of his former students, most of whom were underage boys at the time of the alleged offences.
Thirteen former students from Hasan’s Koran recital group filed reports with the police over charges of sexual abuse. Besides the victims’ statements, it is believed that police also possess a copy of Facebook conversations between Hasan and his students.
Media reports stated that the alleged abuse took place in Kampung Kandang in Jagakarsa, South Jakarta, where Hasan set up his own Islamic congregation.
Abdulrahman, however, believes the allegations will not drag Hasan or his congregation down.
“The allegations are sleazy lies made by those who feel uncomfortable with the rising influence of Nurul Musthofa. It will not stop us from continuing to spread Islamic teachings and values throughout society,” he said.
Majlis bin Yahya
Majlis bin Yahya is one of the latest groups of preachers vying to make its mark in Jakarta. It recently held its first mass gathering at the Al-Atiq mosque in Tebet, South Jakarta, one of the oldest mosques in the city.
The group was established in 2010 and centers its activities near Cisarua in Bogor, West Java. It was founded by Usman bin Yahya, who was named after his great-grandfather, a Betawi mufti, or fatwa maker, who was a leading Muslim figure in the 19th century.
Majlis bin Yahya holds weekly and bimonthly sermons that have typically been attended by thousands.
Wawan Dermawan, the senior Majlis bin Yahya member who organized its maiden event in Jakarta, said the group had to expand to attract more people to its sermons and broaden its influence.
“Although we have a large number of followers in Bogor, we consider ourselves nothing until we can hold a regular large sermon in Jakarta,” Wawan said.
The group has plans to hold a monthly sermon in the capital following its first outing here on May 20.
Majlis bin Yahya previously erected large billboards depicting their 28-year-old leader on some major Jakarta thoroughfares. The promotion strategy has also been a hallmark of Majelis Rasulullah and Nurul Musthofa.
Wawan, however, said that Majlis bin Yahya was not copying the other groups, saying that his organization had stricter values.
“Unlike the other prayer groups, we are always separating men and women at the sermon venue to make sure that all participants purely come to listen to the sermon and avoid close interaction with the opposite sex,” he said.
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