Obama’s boyhood Jakarta home district sees shift to stricter Islam

March 18, 2010
jakarta mosque

Indonesian Muslims pray at the Istiqlal Grand Mosque in Jakarta 9 March/Supri

Some things in the central Jakarta district of Matraman have barely changed since the late 1960s, when United States President Barack Obama lived and played there.  Old men train their racing pigeons on the badminton court and screaming children chase each other through the winding, grimy alleyways. But if Obama does decide to drop by his old neighborhood when he visits Indonesia next week, he may notice change around the community’s mosque.

The local mosque has become a meeting spot for members of the small but vocal Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), an extremist group famous for smashing up bars that serve alcohol and which made headlines when its followers assaulted several elderly men and women at a peaceful interfaith rally in 2008.

“Now there are so many radicals around here. We don’t agree with them but there’s definitely more than there was before,” said Ali Rully, a pensioner who was a high school student when little “Barry” Obama lived here.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation but is officially secular and has long been seen as a bastion of moderate Islam.  But the emergence of pockets of radicalism and a shift from Indonesia’s traditional form of Islam, infused with Hinduism and other influences, toward a stricter form of the religion are cause for concern for some moderate Indonesians.

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