The Jakarta Post
A group of Muslim clerics in Aceh has challenged Indonesian presidential candidates to undergo a Quran reading test as a way to determine the best figure to lead the country with the largest Muslim population.
The campaign teams of the incumbent, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, have responded differently to the idea from Indonesia’s conservative westernmost province, which implements the sharia.
The team of President Jokowi said the incumbent was ready for the test.
Alo Raban, a campaign official with the Jokowi campaign in Aceh, said the President was willing to go to the province for the test.
“I have contacted the national team, which said he and [running mate cleric Ma’ruf Amin] will take up the invitation for the test,” Ali said, as quoted by kompas.com.
The team’s deputy chairman, Abdul Kadir Karding, said Jokowi did not mind taking the test should the public demand it.
“The Quranic reading test has been initiated by ulemas and Acehnese people for the presidential candidates. The idea comes from the people,” Karding said Thursday.
Aceh, the only Indonesian province to impose the sharia, as mandated by a 1999 law on Aceh's status as a special region, is one of 10 provinces of the country's 34 where Jokowi failed to get a majority in the 2014 presidential election, which saw him run against Prabowo.
Jokowi visited the province in December and met the ulemas, promising them to move ahead with the deliberation of a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) and religious education bill that would allow the government to allocate more funds to pesantren and Quran teachers.
On the other hand, Prabowo’s campaign team, which is backed by two Islam-based parties – the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Mandate Party (PAN) – said such a test was not needed, or if it did happen, the organizers should show evidence that they were experts in reading the Quran.
“[The organizers] should prove that they’re really qualified. They must have certifications showing that they are capable of reading the Quran,” team official Hidayat Nur Wahid, also a PKS senior executive, said.
Gerindra Party executive Andre Rosiade claimed that Prabowo, the party’s chairman, was not refusing to take the test but was “not the type to show off his religious life”.
The group of Muslim clerics, the Aceh Clerics Council, challenged both tickets to read the Quran in a test set to be held at Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh on Jan. 15. The group said it had sent invitations for the event to both campaign teams.
Separately, the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) warned that such a test should be based on agreement between the two camps.
“If both camps agree to the test, we’ll support it, but if one of them doesn’t, then we should not force it to be held,” MUI secretary-general Anwar Abbas said.