CAIRO – A decision to fire 19 employees in Indonesia’s western district of Riau for missing congregational prayers has reignited calls to review the religious bylaw applied in the district.
“This is clearly a strange ruling, because a matter for God has become a matter for the district head,” Djohermanyah Djohan, the Home Affairs Ministry’s director general for regional autonomy, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday, December 30.
The uproar followed the district decision to sack 19 employees from their posts after missing Fajr prayer last November.
The decision was based on the mandatory religious program that obligates all male Muslim public servants to join Zuhr and `Asr congregational prayers at the main mosque at the Islamic Center at Pasir Pengaraian, the capital of the district.
The religious program also includes joining Fajr prayer on Friday, along with fasting on Monday and Thursday.
Located in the oil rich province of Riau, Rokan Hulu's employees are also required to attend the Qur`an study group which is held every Wednesday evening, according to the district's religious program.
The nineteen workers were dismissed after missing the Fajr congregational prayer on Friday November 8, which coincided with the surprise visit by Ahmad, the Democratic Party head of Rokan Hulu district, to the mosque.
The dismissed workers were affiliates of Rokan Hulu secretariat, irrigation agency, culture and tourism agency, mining and energy agency and communication and information agency.
Culminating with the dismissal of the employees, the mandatory program has drawn much of criticism for the Indonesian officials citing the tolerance of the Islamic instructions.
“If that was a mere call, it would not be a problem,” said Gamawan Fauzi, Home Affairs Minister.
“But if there are sanctions, then the rule needs to be reviewed.”
Regional leaders are not allowed to interfere with people's religious practices under Law No 23/2004, Fauzi added.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim state with Muslims making up around 90 percent of its 240-million population.
Performing prayers in congregation is a confirmed Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Many hadiths discuss the virtue and importance of performing prayer in congregation.
Islam teach Muslims to be tolerant at all levels — individuals, groups, and states.
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