‘Mobile mosque’ makes praying easier in gridlocked Jakarta


Kiki Siregar

AS THE call to prayer rang out across the Indonesian capital, Sutikno faced a dilemma — the devout Muslim needed to set off through Jakarta’s notorious traffic to pick up his wife but did not want to miss out on worshipping.

However, for him and others juggling the demands of hectic, 21st century life and piety in the crowded capital of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, a solution has just pulled up.

The “mosque-mobile” started cruising through Jakarta in June as the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan drew to a close, aiming to ensure Muslims did not miss out on prayers by setting up in busy places, such as near festivals and sports events.

Sutikno, a middle-aged office worker who like many Indonesians goes by one name, came across the van parked between a sports stadium and shopping malls, and it proved a godsend.

“I was supposed to go to a mosque that is quite far away but then I saw this one,” he told AFP.

“I just parked my car and performed my prayers here. I can save time and go and pick up my wife faster.”

The green and white van has been specially adapted to become a mobile place of worship. At prayer time, the sides of the vehicle open up and a small stage is extended, from which the imam preaches.

Prayer rugs are rolled out in front of the van, with space for up to 100 people, and a handful can worship inside the vehicle. It also provides special robes for women and a tank of water for the faithful to ritually cleanse themselves before praying.

The mosque started operating in Jakarta with a team of four in the final week of Ramadhan, a month of fasting and piety, but plans to continue afterwards.

The van offers its services between 3pm and 7pm for two prayer sessions, at a time traffic is bad as millions flood out of downtown areas and head back to satellite cities. Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day.

During Ramadhan, the crew running the Jakarta “mosque-mobile” also serve snacks to people stuck in gridlock when it is time to break their fast.

The van is run by the Archipelago Mosque Foundation, an organisation that sets up and maintains mosques, with funding provided by Adira Sharia, a group that provides Islamic-compliant financing for motor vehicles.

“We were concerned that there was a lack of places of worship at crowded spots such as music concerts, festivals and football games. Sometimes people intend to pray, but because there are no facilities, they skip it,” said Hamzah Fatdri, director of the mosque foundation.

The Jakarta mosque-on-wheels has hit the streets after the foundation launched a mobile place of worship in the city of Bandung, southeast of the capital on the main island of Java.


The Bandung mosque proved a success, offering prayer sessions at 50 different locations in its first year of operation, and the foundation hopes the van in the capital — which is slightly larger than the Bandung model — can do even better.

Indonesia is already home to some 800,000 mosques, including a large number in Jakarta and other major cities.

But with many people stuck in gridlock at prayer time — particularly during Ramadhan — and ad hoc festivals and sports events typically failing to provide facilities for praying, the foundation believes the “mobile-mosque” will be a great help.

It is the latest innovation to offer relief to residents of Indonesia’s booming but overcrowded, traffic-choked cities, where hundreds of new vehicles are hitting the roads every day as the middle class rapidly expands due to strong economic growth.

Motorbike taxi-hailing apps that whisk passengers quickly through the gridlock have been a chief beneficiary, and have expanded their businesses into other areas such as food delivery and courier services.

Still, some worshippers were not immediately taken by the mosque-on-wheels.

“Maybe because this was a new experience, I felt a bit awkward and embarrassed to pray in an open, public space,” student Mahtashal Harbi said after worshipping for the first time at the Jakarta van.

Tuesday, July 6, 2016



Shamsi Ali: The rise and fall of a New York imam

Shamsi Ali

Shamsi Ali


AN IMAM once regarded as one of New York’s leading religious figures had a sudden fall from grace. So what does the story of one man’s attempt to adapt Islam to modern America tell us, asks Sune Engel Rasmussen.

Before the controversy that cut him down, Shamsi Ali was the leading figure of moderate Islam in New York, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

For a decade, the biggest mosque in New York, the Islamic Cultural Center on 96th Street in East Harlem, was his stage. Here, the diminutive Indonesian with a brusque demeanour praised democracy and vigorously condemned extremism, to thousands of worshippers. Outside the mosque, he taught the FBI and congressmen in Washington about inter-religious co-existence.

He befriended presidents too. In the days after 11 September 2001, the city of New York picked him to represent the Muslim community on President George W Bush’s interfaith visit to Ground Zero. Another president, Bill Clinton, wrote the foreword to the new memoir, Sons Of Abraham, that Ali co-authored with a Jewish rabbi he counts among his close friends.

Although many of his conservative peers interpret the Koran to prohibit the use of music, Ali listens to rap and hangs out with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. He even shrugs, disinterested, at cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

In short, Shamsi Ali is the Muslim that liberal America wants. But he is not the leader all New York’s Muslims want. Ali is a divisive figure in New York’s Islamic community, and two years ago, the same mosque that gave him a platform to grow influential and popular, suddenly pulled the rug from under him.

Now, rather than preach to thousands at the 96th Street mosque, Ali speaks to a meagre congregation of 20 at the al-Hikmah Mosque, far out in the sticks of Queens, New York.

While his schedule is still packed with congregational duties at two mosques, and outreach activities and speaking engagements in public, the mosque that allowed him to rise to prominence at a young age no longer wants anything to do with him. The reasons for that are political, Ali says.

After years of tensions, he was quietly fired in 2011, or – depending on whom you ask – left of his own accord before he was. So quietly, in fact, that no one seems to know about it.


Tensions over how to practise Islam in the US mirror the challenges faced by any number of religions when they come to the US. Like Judaism and Christianity before it, Islam faces challenges of cultural integration, and lacks institutions to represent believers on their own terms in years of increased public suspicion against the religion.

Shamsi Ali at the Jamaica Center, Queens, New York .

Shamsi Ali at the Jamaica Center, Queens, New York .

“The lack of these institutions makes it difficult for Muslims to tell their own story, their own narrative,” says Khalid Latif, Muslim chaplain at New York University and another vocal interfaith proponent.

People who seek to integrate new religions into American society often meet as much resistance inside their communities, where prejudices against other faiths are rife, as they do from the outside, says Jose Casanova, professor at Georgetown University and one of the world’s leading scholars on sociology of religion. But if they persevere, people like Ali can make a huge difference.

“If you have leaders who commit themselves to it, then they can carry communities with them,” says Casanova.

An essential part of doing that is education, which is why religious institutions are so important, says Latif, and why Ali’s exit from the Islamic Cultural Center was such a blow to religious coexistence in New York.

“That mosque could be amazing in terms of really helping to educate and do outreach, right? But it’s not really doing that,” says Latif.


Ali likes to say he has a rebellious soul. But at the offices of the Indonesian Mission to the United Nations in New York, his first and longest remaining employer in the US, he wears the attire of American establishment.

The grey suit, lime green shirt and purple-striped tie all look slightly oversized on his lean, marathon-trained frame, as he edges forward on the couch to tell his story. It’s a journey that begins and ends with fights. Including internal ones.

Beginning at age six, when Shamsi led children from his village Tana Toa on the Indonesian island Sulawesi in fisticuffs against children from rival villages, through his teenage years of practising the Indonesian martial art, silat.

“That’s another thing I like,” he says. “I like to fight.”

The third of six children, Shamsi grew up five hours’ car drive from the nearest city. His parents had never read the Koran, but after they suggested he study it, it took him just eight months to learn it by heart. At 12, he enrolled in a pesantren, a strictly disciplined Islamic boarding school, where he quickly excelled as a top student.

“It was a jail in the beginning,” he says. “But later, I began to call it a divine jail.” At the school, he learned to sing verses from the Koran more beautifully than the other boys. And he learned to preach.

As a pre-teen, he gave sermons to the villagers, including his own mother who would superstitiously bless food by presenting it to a sacred rock. When Shamsi rebelled against that pagan custom and threw away his mother’s food, she got so scared the rock would curse the family that she fell ill for three days.

Shamsi’s view of Islam changed when at 18 he went on to study in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and found a stricter, more fundamentalist religion than he had been taught in Indonesia.

In Pakistan he married Mutiah, the 15-year-old daughter of the Islamic school’s headmaster, who three years later gave birth to their first child. A few years later, the Indonesian Ambassador to the UN heard Ali speak to a group of pilgrims in Mecca, and was so impressed with the young imam that he invited him to run a newly built Indonesian mosque in New York.


When he first landed in the US in 1996, at the age of 29, Ali was surprised to see that all Americans were not white. The first of them he saw were Asians, the cab drivers were Pakistanis, and his first neighbour and friend an elderly Irish Catholic man.

“It is not true that America is bad or worse than any Muslim countries. In fact, you find that America is better than many Muslim nations,” Ali says, explaining how the ethnic makeup of New York softened the doctrinaire Islam he had been brought up with.

“Islam for me is about justice, equality, tolerance, freedom, giving right to others, respecting the human rights. And if you don’t have these – even if you claim that you are a religious, Islamic country – that is a lie for me… Here in America, we have that.”

Yet, Ali’s liberalism has limits, and they are the ones that to him are unmistakably stipulated in the Koran. There is no way, for example, that he can approve of same-sex marriage. Centuries ago, he explains, Muslim scholars decided that homosexuality is a genetic mistake where a girl is accidentally born a boy, or vice versa.

While he would accept a child of his that came to him and said he or she was homosexual, he stresses that people who identify as homosexual should live a life in celibacy, get a sex change operation, or seek therapy, he says. “In that sense, I am orthodox.”


Ali was in the heart of the Manhattan when the two planes struck the towers. Al-Qaeda’s attack on the US on 9/11 became a crucial juncture in Muslim relations with American society, and it pushed Ali to the front of the public sphere.

After having noticed his burgeoning interfaith activities, the City asked Ali to join President George W Bush at a visit to Ground Zero with a host of religious leaders. At Ground Zero, Ali asked the president to explain to the American people that Islam was not terrorism. And that plea seemed to work.

“The face of terror is not the true face of Islam. That’s not what Islam is about,” Bush said a couple of days later in a speech in Washington. “Islam is peace.”

As Muslims came under scrutiny, he says, they became forced to rethink their place in society, and that brought some good things as well.

“After September 11, the Muslims became more open, more inclusive,” he says. “They opened their houses of worships for others to come and observe and see what they’re doing. They became more aggressive in terms of introducing themselves to Americans.”

In New York, however, the oldest and largest mosque in the city, the Islamic Cultural Center on 96th Street, was not rethinking anything.

Founded by the government of Kuwait in the late 1980s, the mosque wasn’t known for its progressiveness. In 2001, its head imam Muhammad Gemeaha said in an interview that “only the Jews” were capable of carrying out the attack on World Trade Center. Later his successor, Omar Saleem Abu-Namous claimed that there was no conclusive evidence that Muslims were behind 9/11.

Capsized by the following furore, the leadership of the mosque realized it needed a spokesperson more in line with the public opinion.

Enter Shamsi Ali.

He was working with the Indonesian UN Mission and at the Al Hikmah Mosque, and a press conference he gave after 9/11, in which he stressed the importance of faiths working together, had caught the City’s attention,

The mosque offered Ali, who was steadily gaining admirers outside the Muslim community, a part-time position as assistant imam. And he quickly became the face of the mosque.


Around the same time, Ali made an unlikely ally and friend. Like Ali, Marc Schneier is a self-declared orthodox believer who has raised ire with his outreach to other communities of faith. As vice president of the World Jewish Congress and head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Schneier is also one of New York’s most influential rabbis.

“Most Muslims don’t trust Jews, and most Jews don’t trust Muslims,” says Schneier, a heavyset man of 54 with backcombed hair, in a stern, droning baritone. Recalling the time before he met Ali, he says: “I had a definitive bias in those days toward Muslims. I saw them as the enemy. They were the demons out to kill all Jews.”

Schneier’s suspicion was reciprocated. Ali, whose interfaith work had mainly been limited to working with Christians, saw Jews as the true, clandestine rulers of America, and as innately anti-Muslim.

Around the same time, Ali made an unlikely ally and friend. Like Ali, Marc Schneier is a self-declared orthodox believer who has raised ire with his outreach to other communities of faith. As vice president of the World Jewish Congress and head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Schneier is also one of New York’s most influential rabbis.

“Most Muslims don’t trust Jews, and most Jews don’t trust Muslims,” says Schneier, a heavyset man of 54 with backcombed hair, in a stern, droning baritone. Recalling the time before he met Ali, he says: “I had a definitive bias in those days toward Muslims. I saw them as the enemy. They were the demons out to kill all Jews.”

Schneier’s suspicion was reciprocated. Ali, whose interfaith work had mainly been limited to working with Christians, saw Jews as the true, clandestine rulers of America, and as innately anti-Muslim.


Around the same time, Ali made an unlikely ally and friend. Like Ali, Marc Schneier is a self-declared orthodox believer who has raised ire with his outreach to other communities of faith. As vice president of the World Jewish Congress and head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Schneier is also one of New York’s most influential rabbis.

“Most Muslims don’t trust Jews, and most Jews don’t trust Muslims,” says Schneier, a heavyset man of 54 with backcombed hair, in a stern, droning baritone. Recalling the time before he met Ali, he says: “I had a definitive bias in those days toward Muslims. I saw them as the enemy. They were the demons out to kill all Jews.”

Schneier’s suspicion was reciprocated. Ali, whose interfaith work had mainly been limited to working with Christians, saw Jews as the true, clandestine rulers of America, and as innately anti-Muslim.

As a response, opponents in another group, the Islamic Thinkers’ Society have taken to internet campaigns to denounce Ali. “Shamsi Ali is a moderate Uncle Sam Muslim who wants the Muslim community to imitate the west,” the group writes on its website.

In 2011, the mosque on 96th Street got a new chairman, Mansour al-Otaibi, who was less enthusiastic about Ali’s interfaith work. Suddenly, Ali no longer had the protection of the leadership, but it took a political conflict of global importance to topple him.


The outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 pitted supporters of the popular protests against defenders of the autocratic order, also in New York.

Ali sympathised with the Arab protests. He also knew very well that his employer in the mosque, the government of Kuwait, a little oil rich monarchy ruled by the same family for nearly 300 years, did not.

On a Friday in February, 2011, Ali strode through the prayer hall to deliver his noon sermon. Mounting the pulpit, he overlooked several thousand people sitting on the floor. The atmosphere was filled with a sense of anticipation. At the end of his sermon, Ali fixed his eyes on the men on the floor and said, “Every human being in their lives view freedom as a necessity. Prosperity without freedom does not guarantee happiness.”

He then asked his Egyptian brothers and sisters in the mosque to join that afternoon’s protests on Times Square against the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak. The protesters in the Arab world needed their solidarity and support, he said.

After the prayer, the chairman pulled Ali aside. “This mosque doesn’t deal with politics,” he told him. But Ali replied that anti-dictatorial struggle was an inherent part of Islam. He was told he had to spend more time with his congregation and less on outreach activities, and he left the mosque.

The mosque insists that Ali was fired rather than left on his own account, but the chairman, Al-Otaibi, denies that it had anything to do with his interfaith activity.

In an email, he writes: “It was advised to [Ali] and to the other imams as well, that it was preferable not to speak about politics in sermons.”

Abdulrazak al-Amiri, who is daily director of the mosque, elaborates: “The people are coming here to pray, some of them are with the regime, some of them are against the regime. We don’t want this in our mosque.”

However, Ali claims he was squeezed out for political reasons, including his friendship with the Jews.


Since his days at the pesantren in Indonesia, Ali has thoroughly enjoyed singing verses from the Koran for masses of worshippers. On a recent afternoon, in his family’s two-story home in the low-rise jungle of Queens, he recites verses for two men in his living room.

Ali has just returned from a two-week trip to Indonesia to visit his sick father, and while there, newspapers and magazines wrote extensively about him and his interfaith work. That’s the reason the men, one of them fresh off the plane, have come – unannounced – to pray on the floor, wedged in between the coffee table and the window.

Ali and his wife Mutiah have lived here since 2004, when Ali took a job at the Jamaica Muslim Center, which is smaller than the 96th but still serves a large, predominantly Bangladeshi congregation. He also preaches to a small number of worshippers at the al-Hikmah Mosque.

Mutiah, a mild-faced woman wearing a loose-fitted dark dress and a black headscarf, serves the two men tea and plantain crisps. At 36, she is nine years Ali’s junior, but looks younger. Three of the five children run haphazardly around the living room, waving plastic swords above their heads.

The daughter of a madrasa principal, Mutiah is more conservative than her husband. “But I support him in everything he does,” she says.

His face shows the first discreet signs of middle age as he readily admits that his influence over his large congregation is diluted by all the time he spends away from it, building relationships with other faiths. Later this year, he hopes to establish his own interfaith, not-for-profit organisation which will provide a prayer room to younger worshippers. With an international tour promoting his book, this year may end up being one of the most important in his career.

“I’m sure that will be the beginning of the real journey,” he says, as he closes the front door to his house and makes the five minute stroll to the Jamaica Muslim Center.

In front of the gold-coloured pulpit, he turns his back to the crowd to lead the prayer. He then begins to sing with that striking voice that so entranced people in his pre-teens.

The loudspeakers outside the mosque carry his song through the sleepy streets, then down the hill to the busy avenue, where it dissolves and disappears in the traffic.


BBC Magazine

3 November 2013

Ali with his two daughters Maryam (left) and Malika.

Ali with his two daughters Maryam (left) and Malika.


Hundred Muslims of Tolikara in Papua evacuated after their mosque burned down

burn masjid

AT least 153 victims of conflict that occurred in Karubaga Village, Tolikara District, Papua, were evacuated to several tents set up at the Karubaga Military Headquarter on Saturday.

The people had lost their houses and stores after being burnt by a group of people during an Idul Fitri prayer on Friday.

The Papua Regional Police chief, Inspector General Yotje Mende, said the victims needed assistance, particularly clothes, since their belongings had all been razed by the fire.

“We are still waiting for complete data from the Tolikara police relating to the gender and age of the victims. The officers are collecting the data,” Mende said here.

burn masjiAccording to a report from Tolikara Regent Usman Wanimbo, GIDI (Communion of Evangelical Churches in Indonesia) President Dorman Wandikbo and Papua Military Chief Major General Fransen Siahaan, at least 53 stores which were also used as houses had been burnt and the fire later spread to a mosque near the stores.

Dorman and Mende stated people did not burn the mosque. However, because the mosque and the stores were located closely the fire later engulfed the mosque.

Security officers from police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and the Indonesian Army have arrived in the district.

Mende said the additional troops are needed due to a lack of Tolikara Police personnel stationed in the district who only number 100.

Saturday, 19 july 2015




See also: http://www.globalindonesianvoices.com/21655/jokowi-on-mosque-burning-in-papua-we-must-maintain-tolerance-and-unity/

Friday sermon extols benefits of performing congregational prayers

friday prayer1Ak Md Khairuddin Pg Harun

IMAMS have called on congregants to find time to perform their obligatory prayers at mosques and prayer halls to promote a strong Muslim community.

The Friday sermon said Muslims should make use of the available places of worship to perform their daily prayers in a group instead of praying individually.

“In our country, many grand mosques have been built and made comfortable for the Muslim ummah (community) to enable them to pray. So let us all flock to the mosques and perform our fardhu (obligatory) prayers together,” said imams.

“Time and again we have seen for ourselves how people would crowd the mosques in large numbers to perform their Friday prayers or Aidil Fitri prayers,” it added.

Imams hoped the same large crowds could be seen at mosques when performing the daily prayers.

The sermon said Muslims would not lose anything when setting aside some time to pray collectively at the mosque.

“Let us join hands together and pray that we remain consistent in our worship towards Allah SWT so as to become His servants who are faithful and loved.”

The sermon also touched on the benefits of performing prayers together, including manifold rewards as opposed to those who pray alone.

Another benefit is that those who prayed collectively will be forgiven by Allah SWT for their sins. “They will reap the rewards similar to those who have performed the Haj.”

Imams went on to say that those waiting in the prayer hall to offer prayers together are regarded as having already performed the prayer itself.

The sermon added that the rewards for those who perform their obligatory prayers in a group will multiply according to the increase in number of people who join the prayers.

The sermon also touched on fardhu kifayah (collective duty), which meant that if a group of Muslims in the area carries out the congregational prayers in the mosque, the rest of the community will not be obliged to perform it, and will not be deemed sinful for doing so.

“On the other hand, if there is no one in the said area or village who performed the prayer in congregation, then the entire community would have to shoulder the consequences of having committed a grave sin,” imams said.

The Brunei Times
Saturday, December 20, 2014


10 Indonesians and an Indonesian diplomat were being ‘detained ‘ at mosque by Czech police: Indonesia

Rina Atriana

TEN Indonesians and an Indonesian diplomat were examinated and detained not to be out of the mosque by the Czech police. At that time the citizens and diplomats wanted to perform Friday prayers. But in the middle of the mosque a book review on monotheism was being held. The book review that made the whole person in the mosque were ‘detained’.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene confirmed by AFP on Tuesday ( 04/29/2014 ) gave explanations about the incident. The incident occurred on Friday (25/4/14).

Michael Tene

Michael Tene

“Czech Police raided two mosques. The visitors of the mosque should not be out until the examination is completed,” said Tene .

Tene continued that in one of the mosques there are 10 Indonesian citizens, including an Indonesian embassy staff. The Embassy who received a report immediately contacted police and Czech Foreign Ministry to allow the Indonesian citizens to leave the mosque.

“After some time all of the citizens then allowed to go home. The Embassy had conveyed a protest to the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and demanded an explanation for the incident, ” said Tene.

“The Indonesian Foreign Ministry will also submit such matters to the Czech Embassy in Jakarta,” Tene added.

Tue, April 29, 2014



Muslims in Singapore to get two new mosques by 2016

masjid sultanLee Jian Xuan

Two new mosques will be built in Woodlands and Jurong West at a cost of about $15 million each by 2016.

Two sites of about 2500 sq m each have been selected and construction will start later this year, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) on Monday at a media briefing. Both mosques can each accommodate as many as 6,000 worshippers during peak periods, it added.

The mosque in Jurong West will be built near the junction of Jalan Bahar and Jurong West Avenue 2, while the one in Woodlands will be located along Woodlands Drive 17.

Mosque-building committees have also been appointed to raise about $5 million of funds for interior furnishings and to reach out to the local Muslim communities in both areas.

The Strait Times
Tue, 17 March 2014

Masjid An-Nahdhah

Masjid An-Nahdhah