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Jakarta Partygoers Beware: A Religious Leader Is Stopping by Your Nightclubs to Give Sermons

For 14 years, a cleric named Gus Miftah has been delivering religious sermons at nightclubs around Yogyakarta and Bali. Now, it’s Jakarta’s turn, thanks to a blessing from the governor.

by Ikhwan Hastanto; translated by Jade Poa
26 July 2019, 5:38am

Image via Wikimedia Commons (L), Disco ball via Pixabay (R)

Imagine you dancing with your friends in a club, with the music pounding. Your vision is blurry, it’s 2am, and out of the crowd comes… a cleric.

That scene could soon be a reality. Last Tuesday, Gus Miftah, a 37-year-old Muslim cleric, pulled aside Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan after prayer at Fatahillah mosque to inform him that he would be visiting various Jakarta nightclubs and delivering religious sermons.

“God willing, on August 8, I will begin my sermons at a Jakarta nightclub. I have received the owner’s and Baswedan’s permission so that can bring God to more nightlife centers,” Miftah told local media.

Baswedan responded to the prospect by saying the door was wide open for such activities because what Miftah planned to do was in accordance with Jakartans’ rights.

“Yes, it’s a right, we don’t need permission. There’s no such thing as a permit to preach. It’s allowed, definitely allowed. We are thankful, and we hope Gus Miftah will guide us,” Baswedan told Tirto.

As a cleric, Miftah’s methods are slightly unconventional. He has a penchant for reaching out to marginalized people, sex workers, and nightlife enthusiasts – wherever they may be.

And he’s been doing it for 14 years. Last year, a video of him leading a prayer at a Bali night club went viral. The scene looks admittedly odd: club frequenters all dressed up, their nights cut short so they could attentively listen to a sermon.

He said what drives him is the pure desire to help people become closer to God. He also said nightlife workers who have taken part in his sermons have experienced abuse, with some even asking him to douse their workplace with holy water.

It appears Gus Miftah’s ambitions are in line with those of the Jakarta government: to build a sharia tourism industry, which has been of particular interest under the leadership of Baswedan. Jakarta vice governor Sandiaga Uno once stated that by 2020, Jakarta should be a beacon of halal (permissible) tourism, with a revenue target of Rp 30 trillion (US$2.15 million).

Like any other religious figure, Miftah also has his fair share of critics. K.H. Muhyiddin, a prominent figure of the Indonesian Ulema Council, said Miftah’s intentions are good, but he isn’t going about it the right way. “His mistake is that he’s visiting these places in person and being exposed to scantily-dressed clubgoers. Such treachery,” Muhyiddin told Tempo.

Muhyiddin said there are conditions that need to be met before one can preach, one of which is that the attendees must be dressed modestly. He said rather than preaching to girls in skimpy dresses, his sermons would be more effective if delivered through video or text. Muhyiddin continued that Miftah should find another audience altogether, because countless people need enlightenment more than nightclub frequenters.

According to the Entertainment Industry Entrepreneurial Association, there are an estimated 4,000 nightclubs in Jakarta, which in 2017 was a Rp 4 trillion (US$286 million) industry.

We have yet to find out which club he’ll be visiting on his nightlife tour in the capital – or if he’ll do a pilgrimage to all.

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.