Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Hunters’ tally mosques in world’s biggest Muslim nation

‘Hunters’ tally mosques in world’s biggest Muslim nation

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Suada mosque in Mamuju, Indonesia. afp

‘Hunters’ tally mosques in world’s biggest Muslim nation

As prayers wrap up at Suada mosque, worshippers turn their attention outside where Fakhry Affan steers a drone high above, snapping pictures of the building tucked in a corner of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island.

Affan leads a government team of some 1,000 mosque hunters who have spent years visiting every corner of the 5,000 km (3,100 mi) long archipelago to answer one question: how many mosques are there in the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation?

“Only God knows exactly how many mosques there are in Indonesia,” former vice president Jusuf Kalla quipped recently.

“Some say around one million and people will take it for granted.”

So far, Affan’s team has registered 554,152 mosques and the census – which kicked off in 2013 – is only about 75 per cent done, Affan says.

Earlier government estimates pegged the total at more than 740,000 nationwide.

Nearly 90 per cent of Indonesia’s 260 million people are Muslim and it is home to Jakarta’s Istiqlal mosque, Southeast Asia’s biggest with room for 200,000 worshippers.

So it’s a Herculean task for Affan and his team at the religious affairs ministry as it scours a country of some 17,000 islands, where new mosques are going up all the time.

Monitoring radicalism

After getting key information about Mamuju city’s 3,000 capacity Suada mosque – including building permit and mosque committee details – Affan uploads his drone pictures to a bulging online database.

“We did it manually in the past, but now we’re going digital,” he said.

The government is also planning to launch an Android-based app called Info Masjid (Mosque Info) so Muslims can use their smartphone to find the nearest place of worship.

Nur Salim Ismal, who attends the Suada mosque, hopes the move online will bring greater transparency.

“Mosques manage huge amounts of money from worshippers and it should be clear how it’s being used,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Kubah Mas (Gold Dome) mosque, which uses real gold leaves, is seen on the outskirt of Jakarta. afp

‘Endless job’

But the mosque hunt isn’t just a counting exercise – it’s also a way to keep an eye on radicalism.

“Radical ideology can mushroom anywhere and mosques are one of the easiest places for it to spread,” Affan said.

“Why? Because you don’t need to invite people to the mosque, they’ll come anyway.

“We want to ensure that all imams and [mosque] committees are moderate because Islam in Indonesia is moderate,” he added.

Indonesia’s long-held reputation for tolerant pluralism has been tested in recent years.

Muslim hardliners are becoming increasingly vocal in public and the country is home to dozens of extremist groups loyal to Islamic State group’s violent ideology.

In 2018, Indonesia’s intelligence agency said it had found dozens of mosques that catered to government workers spreading radicalism and calling for violence against non-Muslims – in one Jakarta neighbourhood alone.

The alarming figures came several months after Indonesia’s second-biggest city Surabaya was rocked by a wave of suicide bombings carried out by families at churches during Sunday services, killing a dozen people.

Members of an IS-loyal group tried to assassinate Indonesia’s chief security minister last year, while in November a militant suicide bomber killed himself and injured six others during an attack at a police station.

Indonesia’s new vice-president Ma’ruf Amin, a cleric-turned-politician, has said the government would start certifying preachers and mosque congregations nationwide to stamp out militants in their ranks.

“There is potential for mosques to be prone to radicalism if they’re not monitored,” said Ali Munhanif, an expert on political Islam at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta

“The government has a responsibility to keep its eye on all mosques in Indonesia.”

In the tally so far, the team has counted 258,958 large mosques and another 295,194 smaller ones, which fit 40 people or fewer.

Affan and his team hope to finish the initial round of counting this year.

“But this is an endless job and it’ll never be finished,” he said.

“It’s pretty rare for a mosque to close down, but one thing is for sure: the number of new ones will keep going up.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • NA, Senate set for bill on ‘emergency’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested the Senate to convene an extraordinary meeting to review the draft law that aims to put the Kingdom in a state of emergency after the bill reached the National Assembly (NA) on Friday. The draft law, which was approved

  • Temporarily laid-off workers to get just $70

    Prime Minister Hun Sen announced changes in the allowances for temporarily laid-off garment workers from receiving 60 per cent of the minimum wage to a flat $70 because factories cannot pay, he said. Workers will also not be required to attend training courses after more than 100 factories

  • Tourists can now prolong their stay

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said tourists holding Visa T and arriving in the Kingdom after January 1 will be allowed to prolong their stay until they are able to return home. The decision comes as Cambodia and most countries take measures to

  • PM: Law likely next week

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the draft law aiming to place the Kingdom in a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to be approved after the Khmer New Year, though he said there is a slim chance of enforcement given the current