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Indonesia's highest Islamic clerical body to issue fatwa on hoax news
Sydney Morning Herald - January 31, 2017
Fake news is a huge problem in Indonesia in the lead-up to the gubernatorial election in February, with much of it targeting the Chinese ethnicity of the current Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok.
The fatwa is further evidence that Indonesian authorities are beginning to repudiate the influence of Islamic hardliners. The man who spearheaded three massive anti-Ahok rallies last year – Rizieq Shihab – was named as a suspect on Monday night for allegedly insulting the state's ideology, Pancasila.
Hoax news has included that Indonesia is being flooded by 10 million Chinese workers, that its new currency bears an image of the banned communist hammer and sickle, that Ahok's free Human Papillomavirus vaccine program could make girls infertile and that China is waging biological warfare against Indonesia with contaminated chilli seeds.
Rizieq fanned anti-Chinese sentiment by tweeting that Indonesia was at risk of being taken over by the Chinese and becoming part of the Communist state.
According to Tempo magazine, Rizieq said the movement on social media was a form of solidarity to defend Islam after Ahok allegedly insulted the religion.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) chairman Ma'ruf Amin said he had discussed the new fatwa on hoax news with the Minister of Communication and Education, Rudiantara. He said it would state that to lie and slander is haram (forbidden).
"We asked what the government wanted and we provided [religious] guidance so that our approach will not be in opposition to government policy. We must support each other," Mr Ma'ruf said.
The MUI has come under fire recently for issuing edicts that critics claim are inciting religiously-motivated raids and having a destabilising impact on society.
The clerical body issued a "religious standpoint" on October 11 that Ahok had insulted the Koran and religious clerics when he told voters they had been deceived by his opponents who used a Koranic verse to attack him.
This led to the formation of the "National Movement to Defend [the] MUI Fatwa", a body responsible for organising three massive anti-Ahok rallies, one of which spiralled into violence.
Ahok was named as a suspect after the second rally and is now on trial for alleged blasphemy, which carries a maximum sentence of five years' jail.
The Islam Defenders Front (FPI) also visited shopping malls in Surabaya after the MUI issued a fatwa before Christmas banning Muslims from wearing religious apparel such as Santa hats and selling non-Islamic religious items.
"MUI fatwas have often been used as justification by people who are against pluralism and sometimes against democracy," the deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, told Fairfax Media.
He said a 2005 fatwa which held that the Ahmadiya community were heretical and should be banned in Indonesia had been used to persecute the sect's followers.
Police chief Tito Karnavian warned this month that fatwas were threatening security and unity in Indonesia and there needed to be improved communication between the MUI and police.
Mr Ma'ruf, who gave evidence in Ahok's blasphemy trial on Tuesday, told Fairfax Media the police had asked for religious guidance from the MUI over Ahok's statement.
"Whenever there is a movement that created unrest among the people, we were asked to issue a fatwa," he said. "We only said [Ahok] insulted, his words insulted. The situation was already tense. The [religious ruling] was actually issued so that people would not take the law into their own hands."
Mr Ma'ruf said the problem lay not with the fatwas, but with organisations who sought to enforce them by conducting raids. "If people want to help enforce them, fine, but what we oppose is if they do sweeping or beat up people, becoming violent."
He said it was important that police did not participate in meetings to decide on fatwas because they were about religious issues.
However in order to prevent chaotic situations in public when the fatwas were issued, the MUI would communicate with police so they could anticipate their release.
Mr Ma'ruf said the MUI would coordinate with police ahead of the release of the hoax news fatwa within the next two weeks.
He also said the MUI was preparing a declaration underlining its commitment to Indonesia and pluralism. "This is to make it clear that the mass organisations who join in MUI are not anti-Pancasila, are not anti-pluralism, are not [against] the 1945 Constitution."
Mr Ma'ruf said that although many Islamic groups were represented within the MUI there was almost never a dissenting opinion when it came to issuing fatwas.
The one exception was the controversial fatwa against smoking in 2009: "We argued for two days and could not come to a solid conclusion." Mr Ma'ruf said the vote was split, with those who opposed the fatwa arguing there were many people who made money from the tobacco business.