Mixing prayer and Maroon 5: Students dare to face the odds

“God Forbid, Toli-Toli high school students make fun of Islamic prayer!” shouts the title of a YouTube video. I clicked the link and was amazed.

I saw five teenage girls, bangs, long hair and all, one of them in a headscarf. They wore track suits and were in a classroom, lined up like a group of dancers.

Their arms, folded in front of their solar plexus’ were in poses just like salat (daily Islamic prayers). A girl chants Arabic at a beautiful pitch until American band Maroon 5’s poppy tune “One More Night” begins. Then the group breaks into a dance.

I find the video amazing and with 500,000 clicks and counting, it seems like many others do too. But the reasons for this interest differ. While Islamic vigilantes say: “How dare they?!”, pressuring the school principal to expel them and call for them to be jailed for blasphemy, I say: “How daring!”

Challenging authority, especially when that said authority rules heaven and earth, is not for the faint hearted.

The girls’ dance, switching turns between mimicking Islamic prayer and dancing to a song about “making love for one more night”, has a mischievous quality in it and they would be lying to themselves if they say it did not.

Juxtaposing the sacred and the profane is sacrilegious. However, they most probably did not intend to provoke.

Perhaps it was just for the laughs and the thrill, like when the class clown mimics the most feared teacher. They are testing the boundaries, knocking down the door that is the exit of innocence. What is it like on the other side?

They have shown incredible guts, unknowingly practicing a Nietzschean rejection of religious authority. Some, if not most of us have done it before: playing tag between girls and boys in the mosque before prayer, slipping in funny words in our Koran recitation, stealing sleep during the priest’s sermon or secretly bringing an iPod to mass. We know it is wrong, but we cannot help it. We are only human after all.

The difference between the girls’ mischief and the mischief of others lies in a smartphone, Internet connection and a lack of sensible judgment about posting it online.

The dance we see on YouTube shows two things. First, it shows a performance that reflects the lives of Indonesian Muslim teenage girls in a globalized world.

The girls took two things that are close to the lives: their daily religious rituals and pop music, and created their own version of art. Media studies majors might say they are practicing bricolage, creating something from various elements of their lives.

Second, it shows a lack of understanding of Indonesia’s youth about the power of the Internet. In Indonesia, with conservative, moralistic laws in place such as the Anti-Pornography Law, Internet Transaction Law and the Blasphemy Law, uploading information to the Internet can change someone’s life.

It is unwise to store incriminating materials on your hardrive. Unless one plans on making a political statement like Pussy Riot, then it is best to keep it to yourself.

The uproar from Islamic hard-liners as the video went viral did not come as a surprise.

This is Indonesia after all, a country where cops are on friendly terms with Islamic vigilantes, where Sunni mobs can chase away Shia minorities by burning their houses and get away with it, and where people have to hold their mass on the street because the majority does not allow the minority a place for worship.

But should the girls be sacrificed because their dance offends some people? Should these individuals, who are supposed to be preparing for their national exams, pay with their futures for the silly mistake of putting their mischievous dance on YouTube? Do the pious seriously consider dancing girls so dangerous to have them imprisoned?

The Blasphemy Law, once unsuccessfully challenged by activists at the Constitutional Court, has notoriously impinged on the rights of our religious minorities.

Now, it is going to be used to crush the futures of these young girls. The Central Sulawesi office of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) wisely said that the girls should not be expelled and sent to prison, but the girls’ school principal said he felt forced to expel them because the Muslim community was angry.

We cannot dismiss the role of parents and teachers in this conundrum. The reason why the students got into this mess in the first place is due to poor education.

Whether you view that teachers have not taught the students proper religious morals or whether they failed to teach the girls the consequences of posting stuff on the Internet, adults have a part in the mishap.

Instead of taking responsibility for his students’ future, the principal has stepped aside and allowed these girls to swim into a predatory ocean. It seems the principal lost his guts amid the uproar, but he could learn something about courage from the young girls he was supposed to educate and mentor.

Prodita Sabarini, Jakarta | Opinion | Mon, April 29 2013

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