Smoking Ban Kicks Off Muslim Congress

Yogyakarta — Forget talk on how to deal with radical groups. A smoking ban was the main issue when delegates started arriving for the 46th national congress of the country’s second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, on Friday night.

The facts that millions nationwide are addicted to smoking, including Muhammadiyah members, and that Indonesia has the world’s fifth-highest rate of cigarette consumption did not deter the committee from banning smoking at the congress.

Organizing committee chairman Zamroni told the Jakarta Globe that in line with the organization’s edict in March, the congress would be smoke-free.

‘This is the first time that participants are not allowed to smoke during the event,’ he said.

‘We are holding the caucus at the UMY [Muhammadiyah University Yogyakarta] building, which is totally smoke-free,’ Zamroni said.

The committee said that about a million followers from across the archipelago were gathering for the meeting, which will continue until Thursday.

A sea of Muhammadiyah flags, posters and billboards have turned Yogyakarta’s main streets green.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is scheduled to open the congress live on Saturday via teleconference from Medina, Saudi Arabia, where he is on a minor hajj pilgrimage.

Congress deputy chairman Haryadi Suyuti said two satellites had been rented for the teleconference and 1.2 million watts of electricity made ready.

The opening ceremony will be held at the Mandala Krida Stadium, which can accommodate only 13,500 guests.

Fifteen large screens have been set up at several strategic points of the city, including the city square, the Jogja Expo Center and UMY.

After the opening, most of the congress proceedings will be held at UMY.

The central board will report its progress and problems during the past five years in the first day of the congress.

Zamroni said the idea of banning cigarettes during this year’s congress was one of the organization’s efforts to remind its followers of the serious consequences of smoking.

A Muhammadiyah edict in March declared smoking a bad habit, comparing it to suicide, and outlawed it. ‘We hope that all participants will abide by the regulation,’ Zamroni said.

The congress is also expected to urge the government to ratify the World Heath Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control immediately.

Yunahar Ilyas, chairman of the Muhammadiyah fatwa committee, told the Globe that the number of Muhammadiyah followers who smoked was negligible. ‘I am sure not many of us are smokers,’ he said.

Widyastuti, one of the leaders of Aisyiyah, the women’s wing of Muhammadiyah, said she expected that participants would follow the call.

‘Although this is still a controversy, we hope that participants respect the edict,’ she said. ‘We are trying to build a healthy congress environment.’

She said that the organizers would remind the congress of it periodically.

‘It will not surprise me if not all members follow the edict,’ the academic said.

Azyumardi said that even Islam still viewed smoking as makruh, undesirable, and only recommended against it.

Sessions of a congress of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization, in Makassar in March were mostly conducted in a haze of cigarette smoke.

Cigarette smoking is bad but radical groups disturbing peace and taking the law in their own hands is just lethal…Another serious dilemma that cannot be ignored too long.



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