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Lawmakers grill religion minister over controversial remarks, program

Jakarta Post - September 8, 2020

Ghina Ghaliya, Jakarta – Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi has found himself in hot water again as lawmakers question him over his controversial remarks on radicalism and the ministry's preacher certification program.

In a working meeting on Tuesday, lawmakers of House of Representatives Commission VIII overseeing religious affairs asked him about his recent remarks about the spread of radical teachings among civil servants and society through "good-looking" hafiz (Quran memorizers).

Chairman of the commission Yandri Susanto lambasted Fachrul, saying the minister was too ignorant for saying such remarks, putting the hafiz on a par with radicals.

"I personally told my children to speak Arabic and memorize the Quran. The government can't accuse them of being radicals," the National Mandate Party (PAN) politician said.

Deputy chairman of the commission Ace Hasan Syadzily of the Golkar Party also criticized Fachrul for the insensitive remarks, arguing that Fachrul had failed to see social media as one of the platforms used to spread radicalism in Indonesia.

"If this was being discussed comprehensively, I think it would not be a problem, but don't make controversial remarks like that," he said.

Fachrul said earlier this month during a virtual webinar held by the Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry that "good-looking" people had spread radicalism through educational institutions and houses of worship.

He argued that he did not know the aforementioned event was open to the public. The retired military general also claimed his statement had come from his knowledge about intelligence work, which he said often involved attractive and smart people to socialize with residents in carrying out their operations.

"That's how intelligence agencies work [...] they assign good-looking and clever people to certain communities," Fachrul said, adding that houses of worship should always do a background check on preachers they want to invite.

Other lawmakers also criticized Fachrul for coming up with the "certified preachers" plan for all religions, a program initiated by Vice President Ma'ruf Amin.

The ministry's program will involve the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the National Defense Institute (Lemhanas), the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education (BPIP), the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) and other mass organizations.

Hidayat Nur Wahid of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) called on Fachrul to scrap the plan and end the controversies surrounding the program. "The House has never discussed the program with the ministry. We haven't agreed on that," he said.

In response to the critics, Fachrul explained that the government would not ban preachers who had not yet participated in the certification program.

He said the program was voluntary and aimed to promote nationalism and spread positive messages of rahmatan lil alamin (blessing for the whole universe) through moderate Islam.

He further said the ministry would ensure that the program could be welcomed by many parties. "We want everyone to accept the program, because the purpose is good for the people and the nation in the future," Fachrul said in the hearing.

Prior to this, the minister had been under fire several times for a number of controversial statements and policies, including a proposed plan to ban the wearing of the niqab in government institutions, the issuance of a ministerial regulation that requires Quran study groups to be registered with the ministry and the sudden haj cancellation over COVID-19 concerns.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/09/08/lawmakers-grill-religion-minister-over-controversial-remarks-program.html