Islamic flag burning sparks Jakarta protests 

Thousands of Muslims protested in Jakarta yesterday (Friday) after a flag linked to outlawed Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir was burned by members of Indonesia’s largest mainstream religious group.

Waving black flags with the Islamic declaration of faith, several thousand Muslims filled a major Jakarta road after Friday prayers.

A video of the Nahdlatul Ulama’s youth-wing militia burning the extremist group’s flag in October has ignited claims of blasphemy because it carried the Islamic declaration of faith.

Hizbut Tahrir, which calls for a global caliphate, is banned as a threat to national unity.

Religious and ethnic tensions are likely to rise across the archipelago ahead of April’s presidential election, in which President Joko Widodo has chosen conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin (pictured) as his vice-presidential candidate to head off criticism that he is insufficiently Islamic.

A protest was also held yesterday in Garut, West Java province, where the flag was torched after extremists allegedly infiltrated a rally organised by Nahdlatul Ulama’s youth wing.

Indonesia’s reputation for moderate Islam was undermined last year when Jakarta’s ethnic-Chinese Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was jailed for blasphemy following protests by hundreds of thousands of Muslim residents. 

Amin is planning to impose mandatory certification on all halal products next year, in a move seen as appealing to the Muslim vote.

He is chief of Indonesia’s top clerical body, the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI). Observers say the move would help the MUI to generate revenue, as it would provide the certification at a cost. 

Amin told a halal event in Yogyakarta: “Praise be to God … the halal certificate that was initially voluntary will become mandatory from 2019. Halal is my life.”

In the past, Amin has supported fatwas against secularism and railed against homosexuality.

Muslims account for around 90 per cent of Indonesia’s population of 260 million. 

Halal meat requires hand slaughtering and cutting through the jugular vein of an animal.

Lukmanul Hakim, who leads the halal certification body at the MUI, said numerous institutions and political parties needed to agree on how to pass the law.

Hakim said Amin’s election as vice president next year would accelerate the process of compulsory certification becoming law.

Only 20 per of all food permissible for Muslims to consume was currently labelled “halal”, the MUI said, meaning snacks like noodles would have to display labels under a new law. 

It is argued that the law could enable Indonesia to become an exporting hub to other Muslim markets. 

Ma’ruf Amin. Picture credit: YouTube