Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A new regulation in an East Java district requiring all Muslim public servants, both men and women, to recite an Islamic prayer together before they start their workday has raised a storm of criticism and protest.
For Situbondo District Chief Dadang Wigiarto, it is important that employees gather in the mosque to recite the 'Sholat berjamaah' or common prayer in the local language, except staff on holiday or menstruating women.
In response to this, a group of district officials filed a formal complaint against the regulation; saying that praying is "personal" in nature and that no one can claim the power to impose it.
Syaiful Bahri, a member of the regional assembly, is leading the fight against compulsory prayer for public officials that District Chief Dadang Wigiarto imposed on 26 August 2013.
In his view, 'Sholat' has no connection with the government and no state body "may legislate" on the subject.
The recitation of the prayer, he insists, "gives no guarantee" that public officials will carry out their jobs better. It is a real "interference", as well as an abuse of power, by higher-ranking government officials in the lives of citizens and workers.
Across the country, the practice of Sholat berjamaah is not regulated by laws or regulations. In Situbondo District, officials often meet to pray at the Al-Abror mosque, which is located within the administrative district in the city centre.
However, the district boss is convinced that praying can improve the quality of work thanks "to a sort of divine intervention by Allah."
When they leave the mosque after the daily prayer, officials are required to sign a register to show that they complied with the requirement.
Human rights activists and secularist movements are deeply critical of the rulle. Subhi, a researcher at the Wahid Institute, is one of the many voices opposed to the regulation, claiming that it is "a serious violation of human rights and the free practice of religion."
Prayer, in his view, is a "strictly personal" thing that "cannot be regulated by any rule" and should not entail any "punishment".
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Although it includes personal freedoms (including freedom of religion) among its basic constitutional principles, it has become more and more the scene of violence and abusive behaviour against minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or others.
Although Aceh is the only province in the country that enforces Islamic law, the influence of the Muslim religion is becoming more radical and extreme in the lives of citizens in many other parts of the archipelago.
Extremist groups like the Islamic Defenders Front and the Indonesian Ulema Council have led this 'Islamisation' campaign. Inspired by the Sharia, they have tried to impose their views in different domains, ranging from a ban on alcohol to restrictions in the area of sexual morality.