The State Palace has a strict dress code, with clothing items such as sandals and sarongs strictly off-
But the fasting month of Ramadhan appeared to ease this strict protocol when the Baiturrahim Mosque, situated next to Merdeka Palace, opened to the public.
“From pedicab drivers to [Indonesian Military] generals, everybody is allowed to perform tarawih [extra prayer service] prayers in this mosque,” said Sudarjat, the secretary of the mosque’s committee, told The Jakarta Post earlier this week.
And it has been that way since the era of former president Soeharto.
The mosque is also open to the public on Fridays to allow Muslims to perform their mandatory weekly prayer. Most of the time only palace officials, members of the presidential guards (Paspampres), workers and other staff are allowed to perform their prayers in the mosque.
Earlier this week, a number of local residents living in the vicinity of the palace were allowed to perform tarawih. They mingled with Paspampres and staff working to prepare the venue for Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 17.
Donning Muslim garb, sarongs, and slippers, local residents lined up to enter the palace complex and pass through a metal detector. Bags and belongings, as well as cell phones, were checked using an X-ray scanner.
More local residents arrived in the early days of Ramadhan.
“It’s just like any other mosque in the world. They flock to mosques for tarawih only in the early days of Ramadhan. The number usually dwindles after the tenth day, when the mosque feels more spacious,” Sudarjat said.
There appears to be distance considerations for local residents wanting to pray in the 1,000-capacity mosque.
Selamet, a resident of Petojo, Tanah Abang, some two kilometers southwest of the palace, said he decided to pray at the mosque because it was the nearest to the National Monument (Monas), where he sometimes spent the afternoon waiting to break his fast.
“I spend time at Monas and I just stopped by here to pray on my way home,” he said.
A Paspampres spokesman said they would not relax security measures and sartorial standards, even with the smaller number of visitors.
“The measures are the same as any other occasion. No blue jeans and no filthy shirts. Sandals are okay, particularly leather ones, because you are coming here to pray. However, if you arrive wearing flips flops you will definitely be turned away,” said Marine First Lt. Bayhaky C. Cipta, the Paspampres commander in charge of the mosque.
He said that for joining tarawih prayers, visitors had to pass through two security checks, the first being at the entrance of the State Secretariat complex next to the presidential compound, where non-VIP visitors were allowed access to the area.
Another security check is performed on anybody entering the mosque area, located on the southwest border of the presidential compound. Several CCTV cameras are also installed around the mosque.
Bayhaky said Paspampres had dispatched non-Muslim personnel to guard the mosque during tarawih. “Some non-Muslim personnel were eager to be posted here during their time off,” he said.
Apparently, the tight security measures have not dissuaded Muslims from seeking a special experience in the mosque.
“Some groups of Muslims came all the way from Bekasi [West Java] and Lampung to experience prayer in the vicinity of the State Palace,” he said.
Built during former president Sukarno’s administration in 1961, the mosque underwent a Rp 9.8 billion (US$950,000) reconstruction early in the second term of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The project aimed to increase the capacity of the mosque as well as recalibrate the kiblat (the direction in which Muslims should face when praying).