Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin’s call for Muslims who plan to fast during Ramadan to respect those not fasting has come under attack from Islamic conservatives. (Antara Photo/ Fabianus Riyan Adhitama)

Minister’s Call for Mutual Respect During Ramadan Elicits Conservative Backlash

JUNE 16, 2015

Jakarta. Conservative politicians and clerics have lashed out at Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin over his seemingly benign call for mutual respect and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

Fernita Darwis, a senior member of a splinter faction of Lukman’s own party, the United Development Party (PPP), said the minister’s appeal to Muslims not to force food vendors to close during Ramadan, which starts this week, had “hurt the faithful and had a [negative] impact on the PPP.”

“We’ve had a lot of messages from clerics asking us to address this issue,” she said. “The minister must immediately cease taking positions that hurt the Muslim faithful and cause negative stigma in the community.”

Lukman, in a Twitter message on June 5, urged followers not to compel streetside food stalls, or warung, to close during Ramadan, when Muslims are obliged to fast during daylight hours.

“We have to respect the rights of those who are not required to or are not fasting,” he wrote.

In a series of follow-up tweets three days later, the minister sought to clarify his earlier remark.

“There were two things that I wanted to get across with that tweet. First, there is no need to force any warung to close during the fasting month,” he wrote.

“If there are those who close their warung voluntarily, we of course respect that. But good Muslims don’t force others to give up their source of livelihood.”

The second point, Lukman went on, was the need for mutual respect and understanding for those who were not fasting.

“We are obliged to respect the right (to access to food/drink) of those who are not fasting because they are not Muslim,” he wrote.

“We must also respect the right of Muslims who are not fasting because of [certain] conditions (traveling, illness, menstruating, pregnant, nursing).”

Lukman, who took office in June last year, has earned a reputation as being far more progressive and inclusive than his predecessors – a distinction that has drawn criticism from conservatives.

Khatibul Umam Wiranu, a member of the Democratic Party, accused Lukman of trying to curry popular support through the media through statements like his call for mutual respect.

“The way I see it, Lukman is frightened of being replaced in a reshuffle. And the only thing he can do is use the media to build up his popularity,” Khatibul said. “His performance, meanwhile, has been very unsatisfactory.”

Jazuli Jawani, a legislator from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said Lukman’s call for those who were fasting to respect those who were not was highly regrettable.

“His statement is just going to cause problems. He shouldn’t be stirring up a row in the community,” he said.

Jazuli argued that it was only natural for those “carrying out the faith” to be granted greater respect than those who were not.

“The minister’s logic is backward and he’s giving the impression that he doesn’t understand how to promote tolerance,” he said.

“When Muslims are fasting, it’s customary for followers of other religions or for Muslims who are not fasting to pay them their due respect.”

Clerics have also piled in on the issue, with one writing off the minister’s statement as “nonsense.”

“Why should the majority respect the minority?” Ali Badri Zaini, the head of the East Java chapter of the Islamic Dakwah Forum, said in Surabaya as quoted by

“The minority should respect the majority. The minister is [talking] nonsense. The Islamic faithful in East Java will never do as he instructs.”

He said it was considered customary for all warung to at least close off their façade with a tarp so as not to tempt those who were fasting.

“If this rule is overturned by the minister, then it underlines that the minister is taking sides,” Zaini said.