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An Indonesian Cleric Caused a Massive Spike in Selfies by Declaring Selfies a Sin

Last Sunday Indonesian author and Islamic cleric Felix Siauw tweeted a 17-point manifesto decrying selfies as a sin. In response, thousands of Indonesians took selfies with the hashtag #selfie4siauw.

A woman taking a #selfie4siauw

Last Sunday Indonesian author and Islamic cleric Felix Siauw tweeted a 17-point manifesto decrying selfies as a sin—especially for women. According to Siauw, taking a photo of oneself is prideful, ostentatious, and arrogant. Usually such a bitter, personal screed wouldn't count for much, but because Siauw is a respected young cleric with a massive Twitter following, his rant has severely pissed off many in Indonesia, a selfie-obsessed country whose Muslim population makes up roughly 88 percent of its citizens.

"[Three.] If we take a selfie, sift through and choose our best pose, and then we're awed and impressed by ourselves—worryingly, that's called PRIDE," wrote Siauw, as translated by Coconuts Jakarta, which reposted the cleric's most widely discussed Tweets last Tuesday.

"[Four.] If we take a selfie and upload it on social media, desperately hoping for view, likes, comments or whatever—we've fallen into the OSTENTATIOUS trap [sic]."

"[Five.] If we take a selfie and we feel cooler and better than others—we've fallen into the worst sin of all, ARROGANCE."

"[Nine.] These days many Muslim women are taking selfies without shame. There are usually nine frames in one photo with facial poses that are just—my goodness—where's the purity in women?"

Siauw isn't the first Islamic religious leader to hold forth on selfies. Scholars and average believers have debated how to interpret the trend in light of Islamic theology for some time now.

As early as 2013, one major Indonesian seminary weighed in, saying that all photography was unlawful under Islam, which generally opposes personal pride. But the issue really blew up in the fall of 2014 when Saudi Arabia eased its ban on bringing smart phones into the holy pilgrimage sites of Mecca, leading to a spate of selfies by pilgrims in front of holy sites like the Ka'aba, and earning the ire of countless clerics who saw this as a boastful, touristy, and selfish perversion of what they deemed a serious, contemplative, and selfless rite.

Through all this hubbub, most Islamic scholars seem to have converged on the opinion that selfies are fine, so long as they are taken sparingly as a memento rather than a brag.

"If photographs are only for personal memory ... then no problem," an anonymous Saudi professor of Islamic law told AFP during the Hajj selfie debate. "But if they are for the purpose of showing off, then they are prohibited."

"When 'selfie' becomes a habit, where one wants to selfie anywhere and anytime," Malaysian cleric Dr. Muhammad Lukman Ibrahim told the local Bernama in 2014, "then this is an act that does not benefit one in anyway and thus strongly opposed in Islam [sic]."

Siauw seems to be of the opinion that taking selfies is an inherently prideful, boastful, and outwardly focused act—that there can be no other, ethical intention. That apparently puts him in a more conservative and reactionary headspace than even some conservative Saudi clerics.

In response to Siauw's tweets, Indonesians have started a selfie-taking campaign across the nation's broad and active social media platforms, inspiring (probably to the cleric's chagrin) a host of first-time selfies out of spite. For days, the hashtag #selfie4siauw trended in Jakarta. Activists have also crawled out of the woodwork to accuse Siauw of hypocrisy, saying he recently judged a selfie contest—an allegation Siauw vehemently denies, saying he was instead giving a lecture on self-introspection. He's provided little other comment on his initial tweets or the disproportionately massive campaign that's risen up against them.

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.