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Jakarta Post

Mosques may become battleground for 2019 election

  • Gisela Swaragita

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 7, 2018   /   10:39 am
Mosques may become battleground for 2019 election Muslims perform the Idul Fitri mass prayer at the Bandung Grand Mosque in West Java on Sunday, June 25, 2017. (JP/Arya Dipa)

Widely spread footage of a Muslim preacher telling his audience at a mosque in Surakarta, Central Java, that voting for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is haram has sparked concern about political sermons at houses of worship ahead of the 2019 election.

In the video, Sugi Nur Raharja began his sermon by saying that it was only natural for Muslims to use mosques to talk politics in election years. 

“At the time of Prophet [Muhammad], the mosque was the place to settle all kinds of problems, from businesses to politics.”

He went on to make a case against voting for Jokowi, who he said had failed as president, asking the people attending his sermon that they could leave the mosque if they supported the incumbent.

The sermon, titled “Indonesia Bangkit dari Masjid” (Indonesia Rising from the Mosque), was delivered at the Jami MUI mosque on April 29.

A video of the sermon was uploaded on Sugi’s YouTube channel and immediately sparked criticism from internet users who believed bringing politics into the mosque was wrong.

A Twitter user with the handle @AfifFuads, who identifies himself in his twitter profile as a part of the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, said he rejected the use of mosques as venues to spread hatred or provocation.

“The house of God should not be filled with profanity, especially when the preachers talk trash, erroneously and full of logical fallacies,” he said.

“Mosques should be a neutral public sphere that can be shared with anyone looking for universal kindness,” said International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) director Syafieq Hasyim.

He argued that Muslims during the time of Muhammad used the mosque for political consolidation, because Muslims were a more homogenous group. 

“When the Prophet was still alive, Muslims could easily look up to him for guidance to solve their problems,” he said.

He added that contemporary Muslims could not just ignore the fact that they live in a diverse society. “What Sugi delivered was not a religious sermon.”   

Sugi, however, had one high-profile defender: former Indonesian Military (TNI) commander and presidential hopeful Gatot Nurmantyo, one of Jokowi’s potential contenders who appeared to have backtracked on the position he held last year while serving as military chief, that holding any campaign-related activities in places of worship was prohibited under the law.

“It pains me if anyone says you should not talk about politics in mosques,” Gatot said while speaking at an event at the Gadjah Mada University Mosque in Yogyakarta on Friday, as reported by

He said the Prophet himself talked about politics in Nabawi Mosque. “What should be banned is provocation, not political talk.”

Using the pulpit at the mosque for political campaigns is not new in Indonesia, particularly after the heated Jakarta gubernatorial election last year, which pitted a Muslim candidate against a Christian.

Some Muslims in Jakarta reported that religious sermons at their mosques became increasingly political ahead of election day.

The trend forced the Religious Affairs Ministry to find ways to “standardize” religious sermons at mosques, mainly during Friday prayers. According to the ministry, the policy was devised to ensure that preachers giving Friday sermons were competent and stuck to their roles as clerics.

But the policy has been widely seen as ineffective, as the ministry lacks the resources and legal authority to enforce it. It was also later forced to soften the policy after being accused of trying to censor religious sermons.

Indobarometer political analyst Muhammad Qodari expects increased use of mosques for political campaigning in 2019.  “There is a possibility that mosques will be turned into campaign venues and used for political mobilization,” he said.

“This kind of campaign strategy was successful at the regional level last year,” he said, referring to the Jakarta election. “There are indications that the strategy will be used again at the national level.”