JAKARTA, Indonesia — As she stands by a pile of steaming dung, wearing a cowgirl costume and heavy make-up, a sales assistant scans a cow’s ear tag before checking its health and price information on a Samsung tablet computer.
At about $17,400, the imported Dutch cow is one of the most expensive on sale at the temporary showroom set up by businessman H Doni to meet surging demand for high-quality, healthy animals ahead of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic day of sacrifice, on Friday.
Doni, who normally sells second-hand cars from the showroom, hopes to sell 4,000 cows this year, an increase of more than 70 percent from 2011.
Customers include wealthy Muslim politicians and businessmen such as the influential Bakrie family.
All Muslims with the financial means are obliged to sacrifice an animal and share the meat during Eid al-Adha to commemorate the religious story of Abraham, who was asked by God to sacrifice his own son.
The “cow mall,” as Doni calls it, is just one example of how believers in Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, are adapting their religious practices in an era of rapid growth and social change.
“I only make a small profit margin for the Eid al-Adha business because I’m also trying to encourage other Muslims to fulfil their religious duty,” he says.
While Doni is targeting Jakarta’s fast-growing, status-conscious elite, few of Indonesia’s 200 million Muslims, who make up nearly 90 percent of the population, can afford to buy even the cheapest cow he is selling.
With nearly half of the country living on less than $2 a day, many Muslim families in Indonesia have to club together a year in advance to amass the money needed to buy a scrawny goat that has been reared on a diet of waste at a roadside shack.
To help those who cannot even stretch that far, some innovative Muslim charities have launched online campaigns to allow busy urbanites without the time to organize their own sacrifice to donate animals to the most needy in remote and poverty-stricken areas.
In a video advertisement promoting its web initiative, Dompet Dhuafa, a charity set up by Indonesia’s main Islamic newspaper, urges Muslims to buy three goats for the needy instead of a new BlackBerry, or a cow instead of an iPhone.
Andjar Radite, general manager of the Jakarta branch of the National Humanitarian Foundation (PKPU), another Islamic charity, says that 2,700 people have donated sacrificial animals via its Web site this year, an increase of 35 percent on last year.
“We have enhanced our fundraising with online campaigns and we’re seeing a whole new segment of donors who are young, professional and rich,” says Radite. “The busier people get, the harder it is to reach them through traditional means.”
Another group of young Muslims is trying to reach those too young to donate through an educational children’s game called Urban Sacrifice that tries to tap into the popularity of animal-based social networking games such as FarmVille.
Although human rights groups have warned of rising intolerance toward religious minorities, the variety of methods being used to commemorate the day of sacrifice is testament to the broad base and flexible nature of Islam in Indonesia, say religious academics.
— Financial Times