'Halal’ tourism on Flores, a provocation for officials and Catholics
by Mathias Hariyadi

The proposal by the Tourism Bureau in Labuan Bajo has been met with harsh criticism. The town is part of the Diocese of Ruteng, where about 90 per cent of the population is Catholic. Sandiaga Uno, an Islamist-backed businessman-cum-politician, is behind the idea of Wisata Halal. For Bishop San, "The idea dishonours the pluralism of Indonesian society."

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Governor of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Province and the Catholic Church on Flores, Indonesia’s foremost Catholic Island, have reacted with indignation at the proposal to start halal tourism to comply with Islamic law.

The angry reactions by the island’s civil and Church authorities was caused by the Tourism Bureau in Labuan Bajo, Manggarai Regency. The town comes within the Diocese of Ruteng, and its population is about 90 per cent Catholic.

In Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Traditionally, its version of Islam has been moderate, open to other religions, but is now pitted against extremists who focus on Islamic symbols and teachings as well as holier-than-thou religious attitudes to oppose other communities and modern society.

Nahdlatul Ulama (Nu) and Muhammadiyah are expressions of the former, whilst a number of radical groups embody the latter, nurturing identity politics as a means to carve a political space for themselves in a country that has always been proud of its rich diversity.

Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, a businessman who became Jakarta's deputy governor in October 2017 thanks to the support of Islamists, is the man behind halal tourism (Wisata Halal).

After a little less than a year in office, he resigned to run as a Prabowo Subianto’s running mate in the recent presidential election.

Last February, the businessman-cum-politician came up with his project during a rally in Bali, an island where more than 80 per cent of the population is Hindu.

Like in Flores and Bali, Muslims are in the minority in several of Indonesia’s 17,500 islands. For this reason, Sandiaga and his supporters want Muslim visitors to be provide with locations and food that are “pure”.

The proposal immediately met with the firm condemnation of Balinese authorities and those who oppose the differentiation, even in tourism, between Muslims and non-Muslims.

However, Shana Fatina, head of the Tourism Bureau in Labuan Bajo, an important gateway to Komodo Island, expressed support for the idea on 30 April.

East Nusa Tenggara Governor Viktor Laiskodat came out against Wisata Halal. "There is no need for this kind of label and tourism has nothing to do with religion," he said today. "There is no place for it in our province".

His statement echoes that by Mgr Silvester Tung Kiem San (picture 2), bishop of Denpasar and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Ruteng, who condemned the project.

"This initiative has already caused uneasiness in the local population. It could trigger unrest and endanger tourism in Labuan Bajo. At the same time, it (the idea of ​​halal tourism) dishonours the pluralism of Indonesian society, which is the foundation of the nation. The implementation of similar exclusive policies can eclipse our cultural, ethnic and religious diversity."

In ending his message, Bishop San makes some recommendations. For him, the local population must be involved in the tourism industry through programmes of environmental protection, and foreign investors must be controlled.

Thus, tourism must be promoted for the “common good, with respect for human dignity and social justice", and disputes must be solved wisely. As a local saying goes, a “Good discussion to find a common solution that promotes social justice must be carried out in the spirit of equality, honesty and brotherhood (lonto léok, réjé lélé, bantang cama).