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Lautze Mosque a Ramadhan Favorite: Jakarta, West Java

Lao Tze’s four-story mosque on Jl. Lao Tze, Pasar Baru, in Central Jakarta, bustles with activity every Sunday during the fasting month of Ramadhan. Lao Tze mosque, named after the street on which it is located, is the only mosque that caters specifically to Chinese Muslims in Jakarta.

“At least 100 people come here to break the fast and conduct tarawih (a voluntary evening prayer performed during Ramadhan),” mosque secretary Annah said.

“Our congregation mostly consists of Chinese Muslims, but we do have a mixed attendance including different members of the community,” Annah said.

Muslims account for 85 percent of Jakarta’s 11 million population, with Chinese Muslims representing 3 percent of the Muslim population.

It was founded in 1991 by Ali Karim Oei, the son of prominent Chinese Muslim businessman Oei Tjeng Hien or Abdul Karim Oei, together with his father’s friends.

Abdul Karim was a member of the early generation of nationalists who fought for Indonesia’s independence with founding father Sukarno and prominent Muslim leader Buya Hamka.

The mosque was intentionally built in a predominantly Chinese community, to help eliminate the bad image of Islam among Chinese-Indonesians by educating them about Indonesia’s form of moderate Islam.

According to www.masjidlaotze.com website, the mosque aims to become an Islamic Center that can campaign Islamic values among the Chinese population in the country.

Aside from providing space for daily prayers, the mosque also holds Mandarin lessons and Koran readings for its congregation.

The mosque has assisted more than 1,000 Chinese Muslims with their religious conversion process over the past 16 years.

Ramadhan is the mosque’s busiest time, with at least a third of the annual conversions occurring during the fasting month.

So far this year, Lao Tze has helped 80 Chinese-Indonesians convert to Islam, according to mosque spokesperson Yusman Iriansyah.

“This foundation was really helpful when I converted to Islam,” said Hertanto Chow, a convert and regular visitor to Lao Tze Mosque.

“I just feel more comfortable learning Islam among other Chinese converts.”

Most of the converts are young, with some originating from inter-religious marriages and others joining the congregation by their own choice, Annah said.

“The problems these young people face usually come from their own families, who have low regard for Islam,” she said.

“The problem is the Dutch colonists introduced a societal strata that placed Islamic inlanders (native Indonesians) under the Chinese. They still regard converting to Islam a step down on the social ladder,” she added.

Annah said the discrimination was reflected in the lack of donations to the mosque from the community.

“We would have liked to have revamped the front of our mosque and decorated it with Chinese ornaments and the sort, this being Ramadhan and all.”

The mosque would like to celebrate more events, such as the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad, to help promote Islam in the community.

The mosque is funded mostly by donations and foundation money.

“This place is always filled with Chinese-Indonesians … I think the community assumes this place will always have money because of that,” Annah said.

However, Annah said she is grateful there is still a mosque to stand in.

“Thankfully we are still around, so we must be doing something right.”

Sobrina Rosli

(The writer is journalist from The Brunei Times. She is currently taking part in an internship program with The Jakarta Post)