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Not all rejection of the mainstream lifestyle is a form of radicalization, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) said, as it defends a group of students who were filmed covering their ears to block out the sound of music.

A video went viral yesterday showing a group of santri (Islamic boarding school students) seated in a hall as they were waiting to get their COVID-19 jabs. What was described as “Western music” (Jeremy Zucker’s comethru to be exact) can be faintly heard playing at the venue, and every santri at the hall made sure to prevent the tune from invading their ears.

“Praise Allah, in this hall, they are playing music. But look, our santri are covering their eyes so they don’t listen to the music,” the person who recorded the video, who appears to be their teacher, said.

It’s unclear where and when the video was taken, but it has raised concerns in the country that the children are being exposed to a radical interpretation of Islam due to their seemingly steadfast refusal to immerse in a different lifestyle to their own.

But MUI, the highest Islamic clerical body in the nation, has dismissed the concerns, suggesting that it’s more likely the children chose to cover their ears not because they are prohibited from listening to music, but because they don’t want tunes to distract them from their singular focus of memorizing the Quran and other holy texts.

“These santri are concerned about memorizing the Quran to the point that they don’t want anything to distract them from their focus. One of them is from music. Other sounds too, not just music,” MUI Deputy Secretary General M Ziyad said today.

“So this begs the question, were the vaccination organizers aware who the participants were? They should have respected the santri — the Quran memorizers — by turning off the music.”

Ziyad added that not all interpretations of Islam forbid followers from listening to music as the religion’s leaders have different takes on the subject.

“Don’t say, ‘oh, they’re ISIS’ or ‘oh, they’re Taliban’ [because they don’t listen to music],” Ziyad said.

Amid the debate surrounding the video, perhaps those who weren’t affected by the controversy were the students themselves, who some say deserve credit as they demonstrated themselves to be the tolerant ones by not imposing their strict beliefs on others.

“[The santri] were kind and polite. They didn’t aggressively demand that the loudspeaker be burned or stage an anti-music protest. Why can’t we respect that?” the tweet above reads.

Read the latest news on Coconuts Jakarta

This article, MUI says Islamic school students who covered their ears to block out music not radicalized, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia’s leading alternative media company.

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