Preach it! In­done­sia’s got Ra­madan tal­ent

TV show aims to teach tol­er­ance in coun­try that has strug­gled with re­li­gious at­tacks

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kiki Sire­gar

JAKARTA: It’s a make or break mo­ment for In­done­sian high school stu­dent Pu­teri Ara and her hi­jab-clad friends as they rap about re­li­gious tol­er­ance to a cheer­ing stu­dio au­di­ence.

Can they beat a ri­val boy band singing about god’s glory or the all­girl group call­ing on view­ers to idol­ize the prophet Muhammad in­stead of Korean pop stars?

It’s all up to the judges on Ra­madan re­al­ity tele­vi­sion – a rat­ings bo­nanza watched by mil­lions across the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tion dur­ing the month­long fast­ing cel­e­bra­tion.

“Mus­lims who are fast­ing have to be ready to stand with those who don’t fast,” 16-year-old Ara belts out.

“This is my coun­try. It’s built upon dif­fer­ent re­li­gions but we’re united in peace.”

Part tal­ent show and part ser­mon, the show Syiar Anak Negeri (The Coun­try’s Chil­dren Preach) is one of a string of sim­i­lar pro­grams played dur­ing Ra­madan that fea­ture kids as young as three com­pet­ing for tele­vi­sion star­dom.

They com­pete for prizes in­clud­ing tick­ets to Is­lam’s holi­est city Mecca, cash of up to 100 mil­lion Ru­piah (about $7,200) and univer­sity schol­ar­ships. Ara’s band has worked tire­lessly on a set that meshes rap with beat­box and nasheed – vo­cal mu­sic sung a cap­pella or backed by per­cus­sion in­stru­ments.

A celebrity-stud­ded panel of judges, which also in­cludes mem­bers of the Re­li­gious Af­fairs Min­istry and In­done­sia’s top Mus­lim cleric body, de­cides who goes on to the next round.

The show fea­tur­ing Ara’s group was the brain­child of pro­ducer Ferdi Se­ti­awan, who wanted to help keep young peo­ple away from the clutches of drink­ing and drugs – as well as rad­i­cal­ism.

“Through this pro­gram we’re hop­ing they’ll de­velop a pos­i­tive spirit and val­ues,” Se­ti­awan said of the par­tic­i­pants.

“And we’re sure that when they re­turn to their re­spec­tive home­towns they’ll be­come preach­ers at school, their neigh­bor­hood or at least at home.”

In­done­sia’s rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­gious tol­er­ance was once again tested last month by a se­ries of church bomb­ings that killed a dozen Chris­tian parish­ioners dur­ing Sun­day ser­vices.

The coun­try has long strug­gled with Is­lamist mil­i­tancy, in­clud­ing the 2002 Bali bomb­ings that killed over 200 peo­ple – mostly for­eign tourists – in its worst-ever ter­ror at­tack.

But the church killings by two sui­cide bomber fam­i­lies reignited fears about In­done­sia’s lurch to­ward re­li­gious con­ser­vatism, which has handed hard­line groups un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal power.

Spot­ting this shift, TV pro­duc­ers have tapped a growing de­mand for re­li­gion-in­spired shows and mar­keted them to huge au­di­ences dur­ing Ra­madan, push­ing once-dom­i­nant soap op­eras and prank TV shows to the side­lines.

But the re­newed fo­cus on re­li­gion has also opened the door to fire­brand preach­ers who have taken to the air­waves to preach in­tol­er­ance to­ward women, mi­nor­ity groups and non-Mus­lims.

“We’ve been see­ing a lot of trou­bling preach­ers such as sex­ists and rad­i­cals,” said Muhamad Hey­chael, who works as an an­a­lyst for me­dia mon­i­tor Re­mo­tivi.

They’re not wel­come on shows like The Coun­try’s Chil­dren Preach, how­ever, and back­ers say the up­beat pro­grams could help push back against hard-lin­ers.

“This is a so­lu­tion to coun­ter­act rad­i­cal­ism and in­crease tol­er­ance,” said Nanang Syaikhu, a lec­turer in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment at Jakarta’s State Is­lamic Univer­sity.

Back in the stu­dio, Ara’s mes­sage of peace wasn’t enough reach the next round.

Her group – three girls and two boys – were in tears at the loss, but they aren’t giv­ing up on the mes­sage.

“As the younger gen­er­a­tion, we shouldn’t di­vide peo­ple by say­ing ‘Oh this per­son is a Mus­lim, this per­son is a non-Mus­lim’ and con­stantly in­sult one an­other,” Ara told AFP.

“We are dif­fer­ent but we live in the same coun­try,” she added.

“Our dif­fer­ences will unite us.”

Prizes for win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion can be tick­ets to Mecca or even cash, up to $7,200.

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