Jakarta

Islam in Chinatown

The best of two worlds: A congregation member of Lautze Mosque in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta, prays on Friday in the mosque, which is decorated with a fusion of Chinese and Arabic calligraphy. JP/Medy Sofyan
The best of two worlds: A congregation member of Lautze Mosque in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta, prays on Friday in the mosque, which is decorated with a fusion of Chinese and Arabic calligraphy. JP/Medy Sofyan

Along with its unique name, Lautze Mosque does not look like most mosque’s in Jakarta. The four-story building, in the Chinatown area of Pecinan in Pasar Baru, Central Jakarta, was formerly a shop-house.

The mosque’s architecture is in the Chinese style and its doors and windows are painted red. Excerpts from the Koran are written in Arabic script and Chinese kanji are hung on the walls.

With a width of 100 square meters, the mosque can accommodate 400 people on its first and second floors, while its third and fourth floors are for Haji Karim Oei Foundation — which manages the mosque.

Besides being a place to pray, the mosque is also a place for Chinese-Muslims in Pecinan to assemble and teach mualaf (converts) about the religion.

“Lautze, in Chinese, means teacher or wise man,” said mosque spokesman Yusman Iriansyah. “Our main activity is to deliver information about Islam to people, especially Chinese descendants who live in this area.”

Lautze Mosque was founded in 1991 by a group of friends, including Ali Karim Oei, the son of the prominent Chinese-Muslim businessman Oei Tjeng Hien or Abdul Karim Oei.

Abdul Karim was a member of the early generation of nationalists who fought for Indonesia’s independence with the country’s founding father, Sukarno, and prominent Muslim leader Buya Hamka.

Yusman said that the mosque established to introduce Islam to the Chinese in Jakarta because they often kept their distance from the majority indigenous Muslims.

“Even though the majority of Chinese people are not Muslims, they need to understand Islam so that they can eliminate their bad perception of Muslims,” he said.

Yusman said that around 90 percent of residents in Pasar Baru area were Chinese; some of them had become mualaf and the mosque assisted their conversions.

According to him, from 1997 until now, the mosque had assisted more than 1,000 people to convert to Islam.

“We try to be flexible because they need to understand about the religion first,” he said.

“For example, if a married person wants to be a mualaf, we will not force his or her spouse to follow. Or if someone asks whether Islam allows Muslims to say Christmas greetings to family members, we will say yes.”

Amin Ali Nurdin, a convert and regular visitor to Lautze Mosque, said he was grateful that the mosque was close to his house and he only hoped it would stand forever.

“Islam does not teach Muslims to force other people to follow their path,” he said. “The most important thing is to do good things to each other.”

He said the mosque also held religious services, Koran readings and Mandarin lessons.

“During Ramadhan, every Saturday evening we provide iftar [food to break the fast] and then hold tarawih [extra prayer services],” he said.

To encourage mualafs to improve their understanding of Islam, the mosque management encourage them to lead tarawih prayers, he said.

“Unlike in other mosques, we change imam [prayer reader] for every set of prayers,” he said. (ian)

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