“Now I don’t get sent anything,” Siraj said. He is glad to be out of the firing line, at least for the moment, but is appalled that it took the beheading of a 54-year-old Indonesian grandmother to quiet abuse by supporters of Saudi-style Islam.
The beheading of Ruyati binti Satubi — executed in June for the killing of an allegedly abusive Saudi employer — stirred such revulsion here that even the most strictly observant Indonesian Muslims now ask how the guardians of Islam’s most sacred sites can be so heedless of their faith’s call for compassion.
At least 20 Indonesians, nearly all women, are on death row in the Persian Gulf kingdom.
While few doubt that Satubi stabbed her boss, the mother of three is widely viewed as a martyr — the victim of a harsh and often xenophobic justice and social system rooted in Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi creed, a highly dogmatic and intolerant strand of Islam that, in its most extreme forms, helped provide the theological underpinnings for jihadi militants.
“Some Indonesians began to think that Wahhabism is the true teaching of Islam, but thanks to God, there has been a change of thinking,” said Siraj, who heads Nahdlatul Ulama, an organization with about 50 million members and 28,000 Islamic boarding schools.
The beheading, which triggered protests outside the Saudi Embassy and elsewhere, “has had a good influence” by accelerating a backlash against harsh imported strains of Islam, Siraj said.
“Mecca is a holy place, but the people who live there are very uncivilized,” said the executed maid’s daughter, Een Nuraeni, who prays regularly and wears a veil pulled tightly over her hair. “There is nothing in Islamic law that says you can torture or rape your housemaid.”
Her mother, desperate for money, had worked for three families in Saudi Arabia since taking her first job there in 1998. On trips home, Nuraeni said, she complained of being spat at in the face, beaten, deprived of food and other mistreatment, but kept going back “for the sake of her children.”
Migrant Care, an Indonesian group that lobbies on behalf of workers abroad, said it has this year already received 6,500 reports of violence, sexual harassment, rape and other abuses against Indonesians in Saudi Arabia. Eighty percent of the more than 1.2 million Indonesians working there are women, mostly maids.
Indonesia’s government, complaining that it received no advance notice of Satubi’s execution, recalled its ambassador from Riyadh and announced a moratorium from Aug. 1 on labor exports to the Gulf kingdom. Police set up a special unit at Jakarta’s main airport to enforce the order.