Husin Bagis, Indonesian Ambassador to the UAE, once observed that mosque imams throughout the UAE are dominated by nationals from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia regions. “It all started from the habit of carrying out the Fajr and Maghrib prayers in congregation in a number of mosques in Abu Dhabi, I thought, why aren’t there imams from Indonesia?”
He considered this to be very unfortunate considering that Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country (90 per cent of the 270 million population) with a very large number of memorisers (hafidz) of the Koran with abilities that are not inferior to the imams of mosques in the UAE.
The presence of Indonesian imams in the UAE is expected to positively improve the image of Indonesia, which even today is associated with domestic workers by the UAE public. As a result of the intensive approach and lobbying of the Indonesian Embassy in Abu Dhabi to the UAE Government, in particular the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (Awqaf), finally in March 2017 Awqaf carried out the process of recruiting and selecting Indonesian imams to serve in the UAE. In August of the same year, Awqaf brought in 13 Indonesian imams with the status of Musyrif and spread them across six different emirates (except Dubai). Up to this day, there are 12 Indonesian imams based in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Al Dhafrah region, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah.
In 2020, the government of Indonesia and the UAE agreed to increase cooperation in the field of Islamic affairs and waqf. To that end, both parties have prepared a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Indonesian government and the UAE government on cooperation in Islamic Affairs and Endowments, which was signed on January 12, 2020 in Abu Dhabi during the visit of the Indonesian President to Abu Dhabi.
In a bilateral meeting between the President of the Republic of Indonesia and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi on the same date, Indonesia submitted a request to the UAE, conveying that it can recruit more Indonesian Imams, as many as 200 people within three years (2020 – 2022). The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi expressed his agreement to comply with the request.
The commitment stated in the MoU and strong relations between both the leaders is expected to encourage and streamline the efforts of the Indonesian government to send more imams to the UAE, who are expected to become ‘Ambassadors of the Nation’ to change Indonesia's image for the better.