Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi said on Friday that he objected to a Bengkulu municipal bylaw currently under deliberation that would require all residents of the capital of southwest Sumatra’s Bengkulu Province to attend Muslim midday prayer gatherings every Friday.
“If it is only a call advising people to go to the mosque to pray, or to go to the church for the Christians, it’s fine,” he told the Jakarta Globe. “But it’s not fine if they issue a bylaw which carries sanctions. They don’t have the authority, as religious affairs are under the authority of the central government.”
Gamawan said that if the Bengkulu government passed the bylaw, his ministry would review it and decide whether it should stand or face annulment.
“We’ll study it first,” he said.
The Religious Affairs Ministry’s Bengkulu office said the bylaw would oblige resident to pray five times daily in addition to joining in public prayer on Fridays.
“Yes, the bylaw is being prepared,” Mukhlis, head of the office, told news portal Kompas.com. “The name of the bylaw is ‘Bengkuluku Religius.’ It will not only [applied] for mass prayer, but also five times [daily] prayer. There’s a tax bylaw; why not a bylaw about mass prayer?”
Mukhlis said the bylaw was part of Mayor Hemli Hasan’s plan to recast Bengkulu as a religious city.
Although though the bylaw is still under deliberation, the city has already begun phasing it in for municipal employees, who are currently required to attend public Friday prayers once per month.
Mukhlis said that the city government was still deciding whether those who failed to comply would face sanctions.
Bengkulu is not the only place to experiment with prayer requirements: Nineteen untenured employees of Riau’s Rokan Hulu district government were fired in November of 2013 because they did not show up to 5 a.m. prayers — a mandatory religious program put in place by the local government — in what the Home Affairs Ministry’s Director General for Regional Autonomy Djohermanyah Djohan called a “strange ruling.”
Pray for righteousness and justice in this nation, for government regulations that allow religious freedom.