The Jakarta Post
Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi found himself in hot water during a hearing with the House of Representatives on Thursday, as lawmakers on Commission VIII overseeing religious affairs criticized him for not consulting with the House before deciding to cancel the 2020 haj pilgrimage over coronavirus concerns.
The minister announced earlier this month that Indonesia would prevent haj departures to Saudi Arabia this year, a decision that affected hundreds of thousands of would-be pilgrims in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. Indonesia has the largest haj pilgrim quota of any country.
John Kennedy Azis of the Golkar Party – a political party in President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's ruling coalition – questioned Fachrul's sudden announcement of the policy on June 2, saying there had been no pressure for the central government to announce it immediately without consulting the legislative body.
"There was no external pressure that we would be fined if we didn’t decide [on haj departures] quickly. Why couldn't you wait for just two days? Why so sudden?" John said, referring to a planned House hearing with the government on the matter scheduled for June 4.
The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with Saudi Arabia's indefinite suspension of haj and umrah (minor haj), were cited as reasons behind the government's decision to cancel this year's haj departure. Fachrul previously said the conditions had left the government without enough time to prepare visas and protective measures.
Indonesia initially planned to send about 221,000 people on the annual pilgrimage, and nearly 180,000 people had already paid for the journey, Religious Affairs Ministry data shows. The government said the pilgrims would be placed on next year's haj.
Fachrul said at the time of the cancellation that he had communicated with the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the House regarding the cancellation, but some lawmakers quickly fired back, saying he had not done so.
John said to Fachrul – a retired military general – that he had made numerous controversial moves as a minister.
The politician cited his past controversial support of a ban on the niqab in government compounds – a statement that Fachrul later backtracked from – and his past announcement of a plan to repatriate 689 people who had joined the Islamic State (IS) movement in the Middle East.
He warned Fachrul that the House could use its interpellation and inquiry rights against him or could write a letter to the President if he continued his controversies. "Don't underestimate us at the House [...] This should be the last [controversial move]."
John also highlighted a plan floated by Aceh to get their own, separate haj quota. The provincial administration was reportedly considering issuing a qanun (regulation) on the matter based on Law No. 44/1999 on Aceh’s special autonomy.
"Regions are trying to apply for haj quotas themselves. If that happens, then where's the government?" he said.
Muhammad Husni of the Gerindra Party said Fachrul had violated Law No. 8/2019 on the haj and umrah, which stipulated that matters related to haj funds should not be decided unilaterally by the government but should include the House.
"Logically speaking, we should decide on the cancellation together. The Minister said that he had coordinated with House Commission VIII but we never knew that," Husni said.
In response to the criticism, Fachrul apologized to the lawmakers during Thursday's hearing, saying the cancellation decision was not made by his ministry but by himself as a minister.
"I personally apologize to the leaders and all members of the House Commission VIII for this incident," said Fachrul.
The minister explained that at that time, he felt obliged to announce the cancellation as soon as possible because it had exceeded the June 1 deadline for the government to announce the year's haj departure date.
Indonesia initially expected Saudi Arabia to announce its final decision on the haj pilgrimage – which attracts millions of Muslims annually from around the world – on May 13. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the 2020 haj into doubt as Saudi authorities have yet to announce any decision about whether they will accept haj pilgrims this year.
"We needed to quickly give certainty to the pilgrims who had been waiting for the announcement," he said.