03/23/2011, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Indonesian Ulema against flag-raising: Muhammad never did it

by Mathias Hariyadi
For the head of the MUI, the prophet never paid homage to the flag, so the practice is prohibited. He cites the case of Saudi Arabia and calls the gesture of saluting the national flag "heretical". Confusion and anger in society. Politicians - for now – choose to remain silent.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The Indonesian Ulema are against the practice of paying homage to the national flag. For the head of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), in fact, the gesture is "haram" - forbidden - because "the Prophet Muhammad never did it" and for this reason should be considered "heretical". The majority of Indonesians have reacted angrily to the latest statement by the MUI, accused of fomenting tensions and inciting internal strife. Moreover in the past the Islamic leaders have issued judgments on various issues, such as banning Facebook because "amoral" or personal questions such as yoga, smoking and the right to vote.

The controversial opinion is the work of Kiai Hajj Cholila Ridwan, current head of the MUI, and was published in the biweekly magazine (issue of March 18-April 1) Suara Islam, "The voice of Islam" in Indonesia. The statement in response to a reader’s question, who reported the case of a student friend, enraged because expelled from a school for failing to respect the flag-raising.

In Indonesia it is common practice to honour the flag and the gesture is performed at least once a month, both in public and private schools, attended by all pupils. The children salute the symbol and sing the national anthem Indonesia Raya.

The head of MUI has declared the practise "haram", referring to what is happening in Saudi Arabia since 2003, where the local Arab Muslims are not obliged to pay homage to the flag, while the national anthem is played, during official ceremonies. Kiai Hajj Cholila Ridwan adds that this act was never preformed by the Prophet Mohammed and therefore is considered a "heretical practice."

On the contrary, we must "submit to full compliance with the doctrine of Allah" rather than submit to the "old" traditions - like flag-raising -  which were introduced and promoted by infidels. "The flag - said the leader of the Ulema - is made of inanimate material and does not demand our respect. It is far more civilized and healthy, in contrast, to salute humans."

The majority of Indonesians, especially among civil society, have reacted with anger, confusion and dismay at the MUI’s latest stance. Government officials and the ruling class at present have not yet expressed an opinion on the controversy, preferring to remain silent rather than contribute to fomenting tensions.

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