17 July 2010

MUI Facing Mecca...

One of the primary tenets of the Islamic faith is that no matter where you are in the world you are to face the holy city of Mecca when you pray. So, it is pretty important that you get your directions right. This is very much the case if you are thinking of building a new mosque and are thinking that you will have the mosque pointing in the right direction to start with.

Last time I thought about it, I thought that Mecca was in Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is generally in a north-west direction from the archipelago that is Indonesia. Nevertheless, in their infinite wisdom the talking heads at the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa that instructed Indonesian Muslims to face west when praying to Mecca. Now, my guess is that even some rudimentary geographical knowledge might lead one to suspect that facing west from Indonesia is going to have you facing Africa, probably somewhere in Somalia. By all reasonable accounts on the subject, Somalis is quite some distance from where good Muslims want to be facing when in prayer. The MUI issued the misdirected fatwa back in March.

The solution according to Cholil Ridwan of the MUI is that Muslims slightly alter the direction they are facing when they commence prayer. He was also quick to point out that there was no need to knock down any mosques that have been built facing Africa in accordance with the previous fatwa. Ridwan went on to say that it was no big deal in the sense that Allah still would have heard the people's prayers even though they were facing the wrong direction. This might be some comfort to some, but it really is not the point, is it?

The point is that the MUI is supposedly the peak body in Indonesia that has become the self-appointed authority on all things Islam. It is a little disheartening, to say the least, that as a group no-one picked up at the time in March when the original fatwa was issued that the direction was wrong, particularly when the issue is one that is so fundamental to the practice of the religion itself.

What is interesting is that Said Agil Siradj of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, suggested that this fatwa shows that the MUI does not necessarily think these things through thoroughly enough before issuing a fatwa.

The big question here is whether or not the MUI learns anything from this significant error, or whether it is just going to be business as usual with knee-jerk fatwa issuing reactions to whatever the popular issue is of the day.

In any event, it would be reasonable to suggest that the MUI has now got some work to do to restore public confidence (assuming there was any to start with) in their ability to be the arbiters of all things Islam in Indonesia. Let's face it, if they cannot get their directions right then how much confidence can one have in their interpretations of the Koran (al-Qur'an / the Holy Qu'ran)?

Story sourced from here and here.

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