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Islamic Society ( 16 March 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Tales from the Holy Land

By Al Makin

16 Mar 2011

In Indonesia, religious piety has become a public norm. Indonesian Muslims pray five times a day, fast during Ramadhan, and perform pilgrimage (haj) to the holy land, Hijaz, a province in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, once or more in their lifetime.

No Indonesian Muslim dares to say in public that he or she has intentionally abandoned these Islamic religious rites. Those who are accused of ignoring these religious duties are usually branded as Islam KTP (Muslim by ID card). This is a form of contempt.

Mecca and Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad was born and passed away respectively, are regarded as sacrosanct. The Indonesian Muslims regard the two cities, which play a central role in their religiosity, in high regard. The Kabah in Mecca is the one direction which Muslims face during daily prayers.

During Ramadhan many TV and radios stations broadcast the tarawih (evening) prayers from the Prophet’s Medina mosque. The audience watches and listens the program attentively.

During the Haj season, many Indonesian Muslims sacrifice their properties — land, savings, farm animals, or anything else that can be sold — in order to pay for their journey to the holy land. Many Muslims have a dream of making a pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of the Prophet, regarded as a spiritual achievement.

Back home, the pictures of the Kabah and the Prophet’s mosque are often hung on the wall.

Besides ritual purposes, not only do Indonesians go to the holy land to seek for knowledge at the universities, they also go to find jobs. In terms of numbers, we export more migrant workers than scientists or students.

However, the tales from the holy land are not always wonderful. The image of the sacred cities has been tainted by some accounts of tragic events that have befallen Indonesian migrant workers.

Last year, Sumiati, a domestic worker from West Nusa Tenggara, was tortured. Her suffering was described to have been worse than “slavery” (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 18, 2010). More detailed accounts, which are too horrible to be recounted here, are abundant on the Internet.

Various Indonesian media reported that many Indonesian workers are stranded under the bridge in Jeddah. Their dream of finding work in the holy land ended up in such a place where they stayed during the days and nights. Some were then sent home.

Eny Binti Katma, a domestic worker from Sukabumi, West Java, who was accused of killing a baby, faces the death penalty. So does Darsem from Subang West Java, who was charged with the murder of his master, who wanted to rape her.

Beheading is a common practice in Saudi Arabia, which has a record in discrimination against women, religious minorities and human rights violations, among which are those related to the abuse of Indonesian domestic workers. House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Marzuki Alie once put it that “the torture has humiliated us as a nation” (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 20, 2010).

The holy status of Hijaz should not prevent the Indonesian Muslims, and particularly the government, from speaking of what befell their fellow citizens abroad. In the name of humanity and human rights a concrete step should be taken to save Darsem from execution and to prevent similar violence from occurring. To deal with the issue, besides collecting coins to pay the ransom of death penalty, as “Migrant Care” Indonesia did, diplomatic and political pressure should be on the table.

Yes, Arabic is a sacred language, by which God in the Scripture speaks to us. Muslims believe that an angle guards every Arabic letter. But, not all of those who speak the language, like some of us, commit good deeds. Some, just like some of us, violate the divine law.

Although the Muslims’ direction of prayers is the Kabah in Mecca, it is hard to take the holy land as an example of democracy and human rights. By contrast, whereas other Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Indonesia, have advanced in blending democracy, secularization, and local Islamic characters, the kingdom remains kingdom.

An ongoing wave of democratic protests in the Middle East has hit Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. The sacred land remains sacred.

Source: The Jakarta Post