A Ramadan Election

As a working mom, I’m used to feeling an anxiety rush in the days leading up to Ramadan. But this year, a new sickening sensation welcomed me as the first day of Ramadan was quickly approaching.

I knew what caused it: the first week of Ramadan this year coincides with the last week of the presidential election season in Indonesia. By far, this year’s campaign season has been the most contentious one that Indonesia has ever seen in its history, with Indonesians divided into two political poles.

Without a doubt, each presidential candidate has his own strengths and weaknesses. But between a former military general with a questionable human rights record and a civilian candidate with a relatively clean background, it was fairly easy for me to decide where my vote should go. However, the ex-general happens to have the backing of major Islamist parties, while his opponent is backed by mainly secular-nationalist parties. This is where the decision pool gets murky in the largest Muslim-populated country in the world, especially when the Islamist parties began to play the religion card deftly. Slander campaigns spread, bringing Islam into the equation. The civilian candidate was leading the polls until rumors spread that he was a Zionist (in spite of his explicit support of Palestine’s freedom), a puppet of secular party and the Jewish-American lobbies, a prostitution promoterand much more. And this was only the start of the election’s season downward spiral.

For weeks now, social media and media outlets have turned into sewers of negativity and racist remarks. Rogue online sites suddenly gained popularity through publication of dubious “news” with provocative headlines. Even worse, these low-class write-ups are swallowed and spread by the public. What disgusted me even more was that some of the negative campaigns that circulated around were spread by people who seemed to be or were regarded by some as “religious”. Virtual fights between supporters from the two poles become commonplace. I myself finally decided to unfollow a number of my Facebook friends because I couldn’t stand their hateful remarks.

This situation becomes even more loathsome as candidates and supporters from both sides began to play the “I’m more Muslim than you” game to win voters. Some people play it more unashamedly than others. I can’t decide which is uglier: a notoriously flawed presidential candidate being compared to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), or a woman being told to take off her hijab in social media by the candidate’s follower, simply because she supported his opponent.

It horrifies me that politics can deceive people into thinking that they are waging a “holy war.” This is Indonesia, but I could see the seeds of conflicts in Egypt and Syria being sown here. What saddens me most is that we are entering Ramadan in this spirit.

I don’t deny that the negativity and ugliness that I’ve seen for weeks on end now have affected my psyche and spirit. I feel like I’m limping into the holy month. I’m torn between wanting to immerse myself in Qur’an and the sacred month on one side and worrying about the election results on the other. What would we say to the future generation if we elected leaders with questionable history on human rights in the month of Ramadan?

I glanced at my five-year-old son who was playing on the floor as I was finishing this piece.

I hope that we will do the right thing. I pray that sense and compassion will eventually win.

For more on MMW’s Ramadan series, and to read the rest of this year’s Ramadan posts, click here.


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