Fri, 05 Dec 2003

Jakarta hosts international Koran reading contest

Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Participants from 45 countries are expected to compete in an international Koran reading contest from Saturday through until Monday next week, the first competition since the event was recently declared two-yearly.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs Arifin Nurdin said on Thursday Indonesia was named the host of the inaugural biennial competition for its achievement in a number of international Koran reading contests in the past.

"We have won numerous international Koran recital competitions, but have never played host to such an event, despite the fact that Indonesia is the country in the world with the largest Muslim population. Even the Philippines managed to host one," Arifin said.

He said the government expected to promote Islam as a champion of peace through the competition, which will be held at Jakarta's Istiqlal Grand Mosque.

"We are keen to show the world that Islam is warmhearted, relieving and peaceful," said Arifin, also the spokesman for the event's organizing committee.

Minister of Religious Affairs Said Agil Husin Almunawar had said previously the international event should demonstrate that Indonesia was safe despite a series of terrorist attacks in the country over the past year.

Arifin said 25 countries from five continents had confirmed their participation in the event, which will shave Rp 2.5 billion (US$294,000) off the state budget.

All participants and delegations will stay at Borobudur Hotel in Central Jakarta, located near the Istiqlal Mosque.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri is scheduled to open the event and Vice President Hamzah Haz is slated to close it.

Participants will be divided into two gender categories plus an English translation category.

Indonesia will be represented by winners of this year's national Koran reading competition.

The chairman of the event's organizing committee, Taufiq Kamil, said the winner of each division would receive US$3,000 in cash, with second place receiving $2,000 and third $1,000.