The King of Dangdut was in tears on Monday as he explained why he asked Jakarta residents to vote for a Muslim leader.
“I was only reciting An-Nisa Surah verse 144, in which God says firmly that the faithful are banned from voting for a kafir [infidel] as their leader,” Rhoma Irama said in a press conference before being questioned by the Jakarta Election Supervisory Committee (Panwaslu Jakarta).
“Muslims who vote for a non-Muslim leader become an enemy of God,” he added.
Panwaslu Jakarta has warned people against insulting other candidates’ tribe, religion, race or group. Despite this, on July 29, during the evening prayers at Al-Isra Mosque in Tanjung Duren, West Jakarta, Rhoma spoke against voting for non-Muslims.
Rhoma urged those in attendance to choose the candidate pairing of Fauzi Bowo and Nachrowi Ramli, because they are Muslims. The comment was seen as an attack on Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, a Christian and the running mate of Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi.
Panwaslu is trying to determine whether Rhoma’s actions violated prohibitions on campaigning along ethnic and religious lines. Ramdansyah, the Panwaslu chairman, has said that even if no campaign violation could be proven, it was still wrong of Rhoma to use a religious sermon to attack another individual, particularly if the attack was along religious lines.
Rhoma maintained that there was nothing wrong with asking Muslims to vote for Muslims. He also said there was nothing wrong with reading a Koran verse in a mosque. Prior to the July 11 vote, Rhoma was one of the many celebrities who endorsed Fauzi, performing at one of the incumbent’s campaign rallies.
“All ulema should deliver sermons relevant with the current situation,” he said. “As it is election season, the messages are about choosing a leader, so it was normal to say it and it should be said.”
Hundreds of Rhoma’s fans have gathered outside the office of Pawnaslu Jakarta to show support for him.
Jokowi and Ahok won 43 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting on July 11, ahead of Fauzi and Nachrowi, who got 34 percent.
In an interview after Rhoma’s controversial sermon, Jokowi told reporters he was a big fan of the dangdut singer. Jokowi said he also liked the lyrics to the song “135 juta” (“135 million”), which carries a message about diversity and pluralism.
The lyrics say that Indonesia’s population of 135 million is made up of many different ethnic groups that must not insult one another, because together they are one nation.
“I like the message of that song, about how we value difference and do not criticize one another on ethnic or religious grounds,” he explained.