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In Indonesia, Calls for Quran Test for Presidential Hopefuls Draw Ire


FILE - A man reads the Koran at Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta, July 24, 2012.

A recent call for a Quran test in Aceh province for Indonesian presidential candidates is facing strong criticism by Muslim scholars, who say the move would undermine racial unity.

On Saturday, the Council of Preachers Association in Aceh sent an invitation to both presidential candidates in the April 2019 vote — incumbent Joko Widodo and opponent Prabowo Subianto — to attend a Quran recitation test in the capital of Aceh province on January 15. The chairman of that council, Marsyuddin Ishak, told VOA that the test is important to reveal the true image of the presidential candidates as well as continue a tradition in their province, the only one that implement the Sharia-law in Indonesia.

FILE - Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center right, walks and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin during a ceremony marking the kick off of the campaign period for next year's election in Jakarta, Sept. 23, 2018.
FILE - Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center right, walks and his running mate Ma'ruf Amin during a ceremony marking the kick off of the campaign period for next year's election in Jakarta, Sept. 23, 2018.

Quran recitation is a requirement to compete in local elections in Aceh.

" Our leaders in here — the governor, the member of parliament and other councils — are all tested to read the Quran. The next president will be our leader too, so we want to know their capability in reading Quran as our local leaders in here,” said Marsyuddin.

However, former president of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, Dr. Komaruddin Hidayat, told VOA that the test is unnecessary and exaggerates the importance of religion.

“I really regret it. Our lives must be based on a constitution. Understanding and learning more about our religion is important, but it doesn’t mean that we fail our live if we can’t read the Quran," he said.

"Religion never became the standard to graduate from school or to get a job. I give you another example : if we want to test an airplane pilot, we test his knowledge on the airplane not about his ability to read the Quran. The same case with the presidential election.”

He adds that it’s better if any test was based on the candidates’ sensitivity to people of different religions and how will he fight for the rights of minorities.

Dr. Rumadi Ahmad, an official with the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, told VOA that the Quran recitation test is a clear example of politicizing religion.

“This is an exaggeration of religion in politics. We don’t have to use the capability to read the Quran as an issue in the coming election. This is a clear tendency to politicize religion. It’s dangerous and will arouse hatred among people of various races and religions in the country,” said Rumadi.

FILE - A worker looks checks printing paper for the Koran near the Sunan Ampel mosque in Surabaya, Indonesia East Java province, July 27, 2011.
FILE - A worker looks checks printing paper for the Koran near the Sunan Ampel mosque in Surabaya, Indonesia East Java province, July 27, 2011.

The invitation that was sent to both presidential candidates asks them to read Al-Fatiha (the first surah in Quran) and then another surah that will be determined by the organizer.

According to Marsyuddin Ishak, Joko Widodo's team has replied to the invitation by saying that they will consider it and discuss it further. Prabowo has not replied.

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