STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT- Poor communication, such as likening the Muslim call to prayer to the barking of dogs, could complicate the Indonesian religious affairs minister’s push for inclusivity and religious moderation.
Since taking office in December 2020, the gaffe-prone minister, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, 47, has found himself in hot water several times.
Earlier this week, dozens of Muslims from a group called Action to Defend Islam rallied outside National Police headquarters and demanded that he – the minister of religious affairs of all people – be arrested for blasphemy for his baffling choice of words in which he compared the muezzin’s summons to prayer over loudspeakers to dogs barking.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and, in Islam, canines are considered to be unclean.
“I think bad political communication is to blame for the anger of some groups towards Minister Yaqut,” said Ujang Komarudin, a political analyst at Al Azhar University Indonesia.
It all began with a circular issued in February by Yakut’s ministry that regulated the use of loudspeakers in mosques and prayer rooms to reduce noise.
Responding to criticism about the guideline, Yaqut said last month: “If our neighbors have dogs and they all bark at the same time, don’t we think it’s a disturbance? Therefore, we have to regulate all noises so they don’t become a nuisance.”
The unflattering comparison angered many Muslims here, so much so that a former minister filed a police complaint against Yaqut, accusing him of blasphemy. But police did not pursue the case.
Yaqut’s office has rejected accusations that he was comparing the call to prayer to barking dogs.
“The minister was providing an example – an example about the importance of regulating noise,” said the spokesman for the ministry, Thobib Al Asyhar, in a statement last month.
“Muslims who live as a minority group in places where many people keep dogs will definitely be disturbed if their neighbors are intolerant,” he explained.
When President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo named Yaqut as religious affairs minister, proponents of religious freedom in this multi-faith archipelago nation welcomed his appointment. Yaqut is the former chairman of the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization.S