Jakarta – Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan visited Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab on Tuesday evening, hours after the firebrand cleric returned from his self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.
The meeting was first made public by Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) deputy secretary-general Tengku Zulkarnain, who posted a photo of the encounter on his Instagram account.
In the picture, Anies is seen sitting next to Rizieq, Tengku and Rizieq's son in law, Hanif Al-Athos.
The pair did not discuss politics as they were only "catching up" with each other, Tengku said. "We were just chatting and catching up while having tea, just like any other friends," Tengku said on Wednesday.
The meeting, which took place in Rizieq's house in Petamburan, Tanah Abang, Central Jakarta, lasted only about an hour as Anies did not want to disturb Rizieq, who was still tired after his long journey, he added.
Prior to leaving for Mecca for umrah (minor haj) in 2017, Rizieq was believed to have played a large role in Anies' gubernatorial victory over incumbent Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent.
The controversial cleric was a key figure behind a series of sectarian rallies organized by Islamist groups to demand Ahok's imprisonment for blasphemy in the months leading up to election day.
Anies, who is widely seen to have ridden the Islamist wave to win the 2017 gubernatorial election, visited the FPI headquarters and met with Rizieq during his campaign, sparking criticism from both detractors as well as his more progressive supporters.
The meeting on Tuesday evening came amid complaints from Petamburan district head Setiyono of the difficulties he faced urging Rizieq to comply with a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, which is part of the country's pandemic protocol.
Setiyono said thousands of people had been visiting Rizieq's residence since Tuesday, making it impossible for him to self-quarantine.
"It's difficult. The most we can do [is to ensure] that Rizieq and his guests wear masks and follow health protocols," he said as quoted by kompas.com.
Large crowds marked Rizieq's homecoming on Tuesday, with thousands of people crowding Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, and the FPI headquarters in Petamburan, causing traffic jams and halting airport operations.
Authorities said traffic stretched 7 kilometers to Soekarno-Hatta airport and around 28 flights were disturbed.
Rizieq was embroiled in several legal cases when he fled the country in 2017 to Saudi Arabia, where he remained for more than three years.
The two most infamous cases for which the National Police had named him a suspect were a pornography case and a case for insulting state ideology Pancasila. The police have dropped their investigation for both. (nal)