During the Wali Songo era, Surabaya was a major Islamic centre in Java.
Surabaya, the now second-largest city of Indonesia, was also the birthplace of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia.
Located in Surabaya is also the al-Akbar Mosque, one of the largest mosque in the world.
The irony is, Surabaya was also home to the Dolly Gang, the largest red-light district in Southeast Asia employing more than 1000 sex industry workers.
And then came Risma, the mayor of Surabaya who risked her life to shut it down and provided new means of living for the workers after all the years of talk to shut it down.
One resolute mom taking care of a city
Since Tri Rismaharini (Risma) walked into Surabaya Mayor’s office in 2001, she managed to transform the neglected city known for its cleanliness issue to become a world-class sustainable city.
Here’s what she gave to the city:
- A culture of strict discipline in cleanliness
- 327 parks with wi-fi and library
- City forests
- Open spaces for water absorption to prevent flooding
- Efficient waste management to generate electricity
- Payment of local bus tickets using plastic trash
No wonder then that Surabaya received numerous city awards at regional, national, and international levels.
Risma was also named among the world’s 50 greatest leaders by Fortune, and one of the top world mayors to receive the World Mayor Prize.
Just recently, she was elected to be the President of the United Cities Local Government (UCLG) of Asia Pacific for 2018-2020.
Impressive, right? Beyond the rhetorics of how Islam should become a life solution, Risma leads with authentic calibre, discipline and expertise and turn hopes into reality.
Humans are created by Allah to worship Him and be the vicegerent of this world.
Where Risma deferred from conventional Muslim leaders and Daies was in her focus on empowering the vicegerency rather than the passive worshipping.
Fight against the sin, not the humanity, of Dolly
Now, about the moral issue of Dolly, the red-light district of Surabaya.
Muslims must practice Nahi Munkar. But Risma dared to challenge the conventional. She asked the critical question, is it sufficient to force Dolly prostitutes to stop their activity just because it is a major sin?
Risma took the trouble to investigate the phenomenology of Dolly prostitution.
“Why are you involved with this?” Risma gently asked a 60-year-old sex industry worker.
“Because of my desperate financial need to survive, and the unfulfilled promises of the government.”
“Who are your customers?”
“The kids of SD (Sekolah Dasar – primary school) and SMP (Sekolah Menengah Pertama – junior high school); I would accept any customer even at the price of 1000 silvers (Rp1000 = RM0.30 = USD0.07).”
That conversation struck her heart so deeply that she decided to tackle Dolly in her own unorthodox way.
“If they must kill me, let them.”
The day she announced the decision to shut Dolly, she called her family members and informed them about their inheritance, in case she didn’t make it through the riot.
The people of pro-Dolly went to the street, rallying against the decision. Risma even received a bomb threat.
“Kill me if that is what they wanted. I don’t care, so long as the children of Surabaya are not ruined.”
“I’m not afraid. God will protect me.”
What concerned Risma the most was the fact that the red-light district in Surabaya was located within the residential sector.
Risma was worried that the kids of Dolly and the surrounding areas would grow in a morally depraved environment.
“I refused the scholars’ (advocacy).”
When interviewed by Channel News Asia, Risma acknowledged that the local Muslim scholars did advocate that she force-shut down Dolly much earlier, but she refused to do so.
“I don’t know how I can feed the people of Dolly (if it is shut down)?”
For Daies engrossed in conventional Da’wah, often times our view of Nahi Munkar is restricted to force stopping a sinful enterprise just so that Allah’s wrath wouldn’t fall upon everyone, That’s all.
But the prudent Risma had to think further.
She believes that the political principle of Islam is not confined to instantaneously making people religious by the abrupt halting of sinful activities, but extends beyond this confine into fulfilling people’s life needs, welfare, policy, facility, and practical system that would actually solve the problems faced, including the worldly cause to sinning.
“Once I found a way of doing it,” Risma said, “I hesitated no more.”
Nahi Munkar by shining the empowerment light
“I didn’t close Dolly without warning,” Risma said.
She began to collect relevant data. She handpicked a number of woman officers to go to Dolly every day and ask them about their involvement: the why, for how long, etc.
For the ex-Dolly residents, Risma organised skill-based training programs after the closure. They were also provided with some pocket money, food aid, and capital aid to rebuild their lives and become financially independent.
As time went by, local mosques and people also joined in and helped to gather some funds to help them out.
Risma’s idea was that in order to eradicate prostitution-for-survival Dolly residents should be empowered according to their talent.
The government went on to purchase the brothels previously used for Dolly’s sexual enterprise and turned them into shops for the manufacturing and marketing of the residents’ products.
“We’re doing fine now, revenue-wise,” the prostitutes turned workers responded. They are now shoemakers for hotels, commercial batik producers, local grocers, tempe producers, and food stall entrepreneurs.
Risma herself bought and wore the shoes manufactured by the ex-Dolly workers.
Moving forward, Risma is planning for ex-Dolly to become a tourist attraction to further empower the economy of ex-Dolly’s single mothers, through orchid growing.
What about the 889 kids under 17 years old of ex-Dolly? They got:
- A brand new Futsal court replacing what was once a place of sin
- Educational facilities
- Other sports facilities
“Keep on studying, pursue your dreams as high as the sky,” Risma left her note of advice to them.
Risma even specially requested Lion Air to employ successful youths of ex-Dolly so as to de-stigmatise Dolly and to inspire the general youth population.
Now, that is doing Nahi Munkar the prudent (hikmah) way. Aren’t we inspired?