Indonesian city orders top staff to 'pray or get a new job'

Jakarta (AFP) –


An Indonesian city has ordered its top civil servants to visit their local mosque for dawn prayers or risk being sacked, underscoring the growing influence of religion across the world's biggest Muslim majority country.

Senior bureaucrats in Palembang, co-host of last month's Asian Games, are now required to visit their local mosque at the crack of dawn -- and they've been warned that a smartphone app was in the works to sniff out the less-than-devout.

The order, which may be a first for Indonesia, is aimed at helping bureaucrats better relate to residents' concerns while the early wake-up call could also boost productivity, city spokesman Amiruddin Sandy told AFP.

"By praying together at dawn with regular people, we get a chance to hear from them directly," he said, adding that common complaints ranged from water not running to broken street lights.

The edict comes as Indonesian society's lurch toward religious conservatism has challenged its long-held reputation for having a tolerant brand of Islam.

Religious and sexual minorities have been subject to increasing prejudice, from authorities whipping gay people in conservative Aceh province to Christian congregations being targeted by suicide bombers earlier this year.

Health officials in Aceh have struggled to roll out a child vaccination programme over concerns the medicine contains traces of pork -- outlawed in Islam -- while the country's leader Joko Widodo drew criticism for picking a conservative Muslim cleric as his running mate in next year's presidential elections.

Palembang's new rule, which started Wednesday, applies to Muslim members of its 16,000-strong civil service although only 1,100 senior staff will risk a sacking if they skip dawn prayers.

The city's mayor plans to do some spot checking to make sure officials were complying until the local government launches a smartphone app to keep track of attendance, Sandy said.

"If we find an official disobeying the regulation we won't immediately sack him. We will summon him first and ask why he didn't go to the mosque," he said.

"If you're doing your prayers well then, God willing, everything else will be good."

About 90 percent of Indonesia's 260 million people follow Islam.

Muslims are required to pray five times a day starting from daybreak, but many do it alone rather than going to a mosque.