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Abstract

This study examines how Rohingya refugees in Aceh in 2015-2016 received assistance and the role of Islamic philanthropic institutions in providing aid. The paper shows that through the media, Islamic philanthropic institutions have successfully advocated for Rohingya rights and raised the issue as a religious issue so that they have collected large donations. Also, this paper finds a discrepancy between the information conveyed by the media and the reality in the field, showing significant efforts in the commodification of humanitarian aid and abuse of religion.[Artikel ini membahas bagaimana pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh periode 2015-2016 mendapatkan bantuan dan peran dari lembaga filantropi Islam dalam penyediaan bantuan tersebut. Artikel ini menjelaskan bahwa lembaga filantrofi Islam berhasil mengadvokasi hak Rohingya melalui media dan mengkaitkan dalam isu agama sehingga mendapatkan donasi yang berlipat. Selain itu dalam artikel ini juga menunjukkan ketidaksesuaian antara informasi di media dengan kenyataan di lapangan, bahkan terdapat indikasi komodifikasi bantuan kemanusiaan dan penyalahgunaan agama.]
Al-Jāmi‘ah: Journal of Islamic Studies - ISSN: 0126-012X (p); 2356-0912 (e)
Vol. 59, no. 1 (2021), pp.57-96, doi: 10.14421/ajis.2021.591.57-96
ISLAM AND HUMANITY
Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
Lindra Darnela
Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University (UIN) Yogyakarta
email: lindra.darnela@uin-suka.ac.id
Abstract
This study examines how Rohingya refugees in Aceh in 2015-2016 received
assistance and the role of Islamic philanthropic institutions in providing aid.
The paper shows that through the media, Islamic philanthropic institutions
have successfully advocated for Rohingya rights and raised the issue as a
religious issue so that they have collected large donations. Also, this paper nds
a discrepancy between the information conveyed by the media and the reality in
the eld, showing signicant efforts in the commodication of humanitarian
aid and abuse of religion.
[Artikel ini membahas bagaimana pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh periode
2015-2016 mendapatkan bantuan dan peran dari lembaga lantropi Islam
dalam penyediaan bantuan tersebut. Artikel ini menjelaskan bahwa lembaga
lantro Islam berhasil mengadvokasi hak Rohingya melalui media dan
mengkaitkan dalam isu agama sehingga mendapatkan donasi yang berlipat.
Selain itu dalam artikel ini juga menunjukkan ketidaksesuaian antara
informasi di media dengan kenyataan di lapangan, bahkan terdapat indikasi
komodikasi bantuan kemanusiaan dan penyalahgunaan agama.]
Keywords: Rohingya in Aceh, humanitarian aid, Islamic philantrophy
A. Introduction
The world recognized the term refugees in international law during
58 Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
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the First World War.1 At that time, millions of human were victims and
suffered from the conict that led to exploitation. This required them
to move to other region to avoid these adverse effects. The League
of Nations (LBB) at that time appointed Nansen as the rst High
Commissioner for Refugees affairs and published the Nansen Passport
as a rst initiative for providing assistance to refugees.2 Afterwards, the
High Commission for refugee affairs was appointed to determine a series
of legal measures at the international level in protecting refugees. Since
the appointment of the High Commissioner, the international community
has the same understanding of the term refugees, correctly the people
moving from their countries due to the suppression of human rights.3
Refugees look for other places to reside because of compulsion and
disconnection with their country due to fear and persecution.4
Although armed conicts have occurred in several countries,
according to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
Rohingya are one of the most executed minority groups in the world.
They have become victims of serious human rights violations committed
by the Military Junta and are currently evacuating to several countries,
including Indonesia. Since 2012, the number of Rohingya refugees have
1 Achmad Romsan, Pengantar Hukum Pengungsi Internasional (Jakarta: Badan
Perserikatan Bangsa-Bangsa Urusan Pengungsi-UNHCR, 2003), p. 28..
2 Edmund Jan Osmanczyk, The Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International
Relations (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1990), p. 742; Gilbert Jaeger, “On the History
of the International Protection of Refugees”, International Review of the Red Cross, vol.
83, no. 843 (2001), pp. 727–38.
3 This statement is based on the denition of refugees stated in League of
Nations, Arrangement Relating to the Issue of Identify Certicates to Russian and Armenian
Refugees, https://www.refworld.org/docid/3dd8b5802.html, accessed 19 Nov 2020;
League of Nations, Arrangement Relating to the Legal Status of Russian and Armenian Refugees,
https://www.refworld.org/docid/3dd8cde56.html, accessed 19 Nov 2020; League of
Nations, Convention Relating to the International Status of Refugees, https://www.refworld.org/
docid/3dd8b5802.html, accessed 19 Nov 2020; League of Nations, Convention concerning
the Status of Refugees Coming From Germany, https://www.refworld.org/docid/3dd8d12a4.
html, accessed 21 Nov 2020; League of Nations, Additional Protocol to the Provisional
Arrangement and to the Convention concerning the Status of Refugees Coming from Germany,
https://www.refworld.org/docid/3dd8d1fb4.html, accessed 21 Nov 2020.
4 Sukanda Husin, “UNHCR dan Perlindungan Hak Azasi Manusia”, Jurnal
Hukum, vol. 7, no. 5, p. 27.
59Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
signicantly increased.5 Since the sea geographically surrounds it with
its archipelago, Indonesia has become a transit country for refugees.6
Until 2019, Aceh was a region visited by many immigrants,7 because
geographically the area was close to Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand.
The Indonesian Government build some shelters/camps to protect
refugees in Langsa, East Aceh and North Aceh. Although some have
been relocated to other areas, Langsa Aceh still has the most number
of refugees, around, with more than 200 people, including children
and women. It received attention from various parties after the media
reported the existence and condition of Rohingya refugees.8 Various
actions were initiated, from the coercive ones, such as demonstrations9
to the responsive ones, such as providing assistance by both individuals
and institutions.
Several philanthropic institutions contribute their thoughts, energy
and property to relieve the burden of the refugees. These institutions
include UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees),
IOM (International Organization for Migration), ACT (Aksi Cepat
Tanggap), Dompet Dhuafa, Daarut Tauhiid, and the Indonesian Red
Cross. These organizations undertake to reduce the suffering of Rohingya
5 Hardi Alunaza and M. Kholit Juani, “Kebijakan Pemerintah Indonesia melalui
Sekuritisasi Migrasi Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh tahun 2012-2015”, Indonesian Perspective,
vol. 2, no. 1 (2017), p. 12.
6 Sulaiman Hamid, Lembaga Suaka dalam Hukum Internasional (Jakarta:
Rajagrando Persada, 2002), p. 39.
7 Tri Wahyuni, “UNHCR: Jumlah Pengungsi di Indonesia
Meningkat”, CNN Indonesia (29 Jul 2015), https://www.cnnindonesia.com/
nasional/20150728204221-20-68699/unhcr-jumlah-pengungsi-di-indonesia-meningkat,
accessed 26 Jan 2020.
8 Lindsay Robbins, “The Rohingya Case in Aceh: Indonesia’s Role as a
Destination for Refugees”, Towson University Journal of International Affairs, vol. LIII,
no. 2 (2020), p. 1; Anne McNevin and Antje Missbach, “Hospitality as a Horizon of
Aspiration (or, What the International Refugee Regime Can Learn from Acehnese
Fishermen)”, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 31, no. 3 (2018), pp. 296–7.
9 For example, a coercive action was carried out by unidentied people who
threw molotov cocktails at the Myanmar embassy building and sent members by
several community organizations (mass organizations) to wage ght in Myanmar, see
Adirini Pujayanti, “Indonesia dan Tragedi Kemanusiaan Rohingya”, Majalah Info Singkat
Hubungan Internasional, vol. 9, no. 17 (2017), p. 6.
60 Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
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citizens.
Several existing studies related to Rohingya refugees looked at
normative aspects, both national10 and international.11 Apart from the
political aspect,12 cultural and empirical aspects are one of the concerns
of researchers related to assisting refugees in Aceh.13 Similar to research
on Rohingya refugees, many researchers view Islamic philanthropy from
various aspects.14
From a legal point of view, Rahayu stated that Indonesia has an
obligation to protect Rohingya refugees even though Indonesia is not part
10 Khamami Zada, “The Rohingya’s Muslim Asylum Seekers in Southeast Asia:
From National to International Law Perspective”, Ahkam: Jurnal Ilmu Syariah, vol. 1, no.
17 (2017), pp. 1–24; Rahayu, Kholis Roisah, and Peni Susetyorini, “Perlindungan Hak
Asasi Manusia Pengungsi dan Pencari Suaka di Indonesia”, Masalah-Masalah Hukum,
vol. 49, no. 2 (2020), pp. 202–12; M. Riadussyah, “Tanggung Jawab Indonesia sebagai
Negara Transit bagi Pengungsi Anak Berdasarkan Hukum Internasional”, Jurnal Hukum
IUS QUIA IUSTUM, vol. 23, no. 2 (2016), pp. 330–250.
11 Zezen Zaenal Mutaqin, “The Rohingya Refugee Crisis and Human Rights:
What Should ASEAN Do?”, Asia-Pacic Journal on Human Rights and the Law, vol. 19,
no. 1 (2018), pp. 1–26; Ketut Arianta, Dewa Gede Sudika Mangku, and Ni Putu Rai
Yuliartini, “Perlindungan Hukum Bagi Kaum Etnis Rohingya Dalam Perspektif Hak
Asasi Manusia International”, Jurnal Komunitas Yustisia, vol. 3, no. 2 (2020), pp. 166–76.
12 Asep Setiawan and Hamka, “Role of Indonesian Humanitarian Diplomacy
toward Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar”, presented at the 2nd International Conference
on Social Sciences, ICSS (Jakarta, 5 Nov 2019).
13 Robbins, “The Rohingya Case in Aceh”; Antje Missbach, “Asylum Seekers’
and Refugees’ Decision-Making in Transit in Indonesia: The Need for In-depth and
Longitudinal Research”, Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities
and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia, vol. 175, no. 4 (2019), pp. 419–45.
14 Hilman Latief, “Philanthropy and ‘Muslim Citizenship’ in Post-Suharto
Indonesia”, Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 5, no. 2 (2016), pp. 269–86; Kaja Borchgrevink,
“NGOization of Islamic Charity: Claiming Legitimacy in Changing Institutional
Contexts”, VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprot Organizations, vol.
31, no. 5 (2020), pp. 1049–62; Jamal Krafess, “The Inuence of the Muslim Religion in
Humanitarian Aid’, International Review of the Red Cross, vol. 87, no. 858 (2005), pp. 327–42;
Chusnan Jusuf, “Filantropi Modern Untuk Pembangunan Sosial”, Sosio Konsepsia, vol.
12, no. 1 (2007), pp. 74–80; Asep Saepudin Jahar, “Developing Islamic Philanthropy
for Human Rights: The Indonesian Experience”, presented at the 1st International
Conference of Law and Justice-Good Governance and Human Rights in Muslim
Countries: Experiences and Challenges, vol. 162 (Jakarta: 7 Nov 2017).
61Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
of the country that ratied the 1951 Refugee Status Convention.15 This
obligation also applies to child refugees.16 Moreover, Zada considers that
legally the Indonesian Government has obeyed customary international
law, regional law, and national law in fullling the rights and protecting
Rohingya refugees.17
Similar to the states, ASEAN as an international organization has
an obligation to protect Rohingya refugees. Mutaqin stated that ASEAN
must prioritize the existence of a workable framework to deal with the
refugee crisis.18 Meanwhile, Arianta viewed that legal protection for the
Rohingya ethnic group has generally been regulated in international
instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.19 From
the political side, Setiawan saw the diplomacy of Indonesia towards the
suffering of the Rohingya as a proactive policy in maintaining world
order and peace, in addition to being one of the constitutional mandates.20
In the perspective of culture, Novialdi, for example, argues
that Aceh has failed to provide protection and security for Rohingya
refugees, especially in the area of the Bireun Joint Activity Center. A large
number of escaped refugees from the shelter is one piece of evidence.21
However, Malahayati saw the large acceptance of the Indonesian people
for the presence of refugees for various reasons.22 This condition is
15 Rahayu, Roisah, and Susetyorini, “Perlindungan Hak Asasi Manusia Pengungsi
Dan Pencari Suaka Di Indonesia”, pp. 202–3.
16 Riadussyah stated that Indonesia has a normative responsibility as a transit
country, even though it is not a party in the 1951 refugee convention and the 1967
protocol. Indonesia in this case is bound by the convention on children’s rights to provide
protection to children who become refugees. Riadussyah, “Tanggung Jawab Indonesia
sebagai Negara Transit bagi Pengungsi Anak Berdasarkan Hukum Internasional”, p. 230.
17 Zada, “The Rohingya’s Muslim Asylum Seekers in Southeast Asia”, pp. 1–21.
18 Mutaqin, “The Rohingya Refugee Crisis and Human Rights”.
19 Arianta, Mangku, and Yuliartini, “Perlindungan Hukum Bagi Kaum Etnis
Rohingya Dalam Perspektif Hak Asasi Manusia International”, p. 166.
20 Setiawan and Hamka, “Role of Indonesian Humanitarian Diplomacy toward
Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar”, p. 1.
21 Risky Novialdi, “The Failure of Providing Human Security For Rohingya
Refugees (Case Study: Escaping Rohingya Refugees from Shelter in Skb Bireuen, Aceh
Province)”, Indonesian Journal of Peace and Security Studies (IJPSS), vol. 2, no. 1 (2020), p. 49.
22 Malahayati Rahman found that most of the community (87,6%) accepted
Rohingya refugees to return to Aceh, 10,9% refused, and 1,5% abstained. Indonesians
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different from the response of the government and other countries
which are currently implementing anti-migrant23 and anti-asylum
policies.24 Related to this issue, Robin found that the volunteerism of
the Acehnese people was due to religious motives. As Muslims, they feel
obliged to help.25 Setiawan found that the large public involvement was
due to the condition of the Rohingya as oppressed Muslims26 and as
minority refugees, therefore it has invited great solidarity in Indonesia.27
Indonesian government’s position in this proposition is only facilitating
the aspirations of the people to help the Rohingya.28 This is in line with
Borchgrevink’s statement that religious motivation (being a good Muslim)
is one of the important reasons for social workers in helping Rohingya
refugees. On the other hand, Miscbah argues that religion is not the only
concern the Acehnese have. He found that some of the interviewed
shermen provided assistance for humanitarian reasons. They believe
that whoever is in the ocean must be helped even if they are in difcult
circumstances. They believe that by helping other human beings, God
will make it easier for them to sh in the sea.29
On the side of philanthropy, several studies have looked at the
aspects of changing the status of Islamic philanthropic institutions, from
take Rohingya refugees based on religious thoughts (44%), humanitarian reasons (35%),
reasons of morality (14%), legality (3%), and others (4%). Meanwhile, those who reject
the Rohingya refugees nd economic, social, health and regulatory problems. See
Malahayati Rahman, “Community’s Perspectives on the Attendance of Rohingyas in
Aceh”, presented at the International Conference on Social Science, Political Science,
and Humanities (ICoSPOLHUM), vol. 495 (Aceh, 4 Nov 2020), p. 128.
23 Robbins, “The Rohingya Case in Aceh”, p. 1.
24 McNevin and Missbach, “Hospitality as a Horizon of Aspiration (or, What
the International Refugee Regime Can Learn from Acehnese Fishermen)”, p. 293.
25 Robbins, ‘The Rohingya Case in Aceh’, p. 13.
26 Setiawan and Hamka, ‘Role of Indonesian Humanitarian Diplomacy toward
Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar’, p. 1.
27 McNevin and Missbach, ‘Hospitality as a Horizon of Aspiration (or, What
the International Refugee Regime Can Learn from Acehnese Fishermen)’, pp. 296–7.
28 Setiawan and Hamka, ‘Role of Indonesian Humanitarian Diplomacy toward
Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar’, pp. 1–13.
29 Missbach, Asylum Seekers’ and Refugees’ Decision-Making in Transit in
Indonesia’, pp. 419–45.
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Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
volunteering to becoming a profession,30 from traditional philanthropic
to social justice model.31 Regarding this, Krafests stated that in Islam
the concept of protecting refugees had been taught by the Prophet
Muhammad by concept ansor and muhajirin.32
To anticipate the deviation of objectives and aid mechanisms,
some experts suggest the existence of clear mechanisms and concepts.
For instance, Hilman Latif asserted that the donation distribution must
be accompanied by the visibility and accountability of these institutions.33
According to Latief, this aims to maintain the public trust of these
institutions and the philanthropic atmosphere, not caritas.34 In this
regard, it needs to be noted that some studies nd that the problem of
accountability and capability is evident in a number of philanthropic
organizations.35 Nur kholis, for an example, stated that not all zakat
organisations that focus on ZIS (Zakat, Infaq, and Alms), work optimally
due to the diferences of the capabilities in managing organisation
possessed by inter-agency organs and to also a lack of transparency
30 Borchgrevink, “NGOization of Islamic Charity”, p. 5.
31 Amelia Fauzia, Faith and the State: A History of Islamic Philanthropy in Indonesia
(Leiden: Brill, 2013).
32 Krafess, “The Inuence of the Muslim Religion in Humanitarian Aid”, p. 334.
33 Hilman Latief, Akuntabilitas Lembaga Filantropi Islam”, IBTimes.id (21
Dec 2019), https://ibtimes.id/hilman-latief-akuntabilitas-lembaga-lantropi-islam/,
accessed 25 Jan 2020.
34 Caritas is understood as short-term assistance with physical assistance,
while philanthropy is long-term assistance by looking at the root of the problem and
continuing by formulating solutions to reduce the space of injustice and poverty. See
Amelia Fauzia, “Islamic Philanthropy in Indonesia: Modernization, Islamization, and
Social Justice”, Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, vol. 10, no. 2 (2017), p. 225.
Caritas is also understood as a traditional form of philanthropy which means caring
in a compassionate frame. Therefore, the assistance provided will lead to the widening
of the social gap, because caritas will only increase the prestige or status of the aid
provider. Whereas, modern philanthropy seeks to see the basis of problems and turn
them into the basis for status updates, structures, policies, or whatever it is to bridge
the disparity in status in society. See Jusuf, “Filantropi Modern Untuk Pembangunan
Sosial”, pp. 74–5.
35 Nur Kholis et al., “Potret Filantropi Islam di Propinsi Daerah Istimewa
Yogyakarta”, La_Riba: Jurnal Ekonomi Islam, vol. 7, no. 1 (2013), p. 62.
64 Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
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and accountability in its management and reporting.36 Meanwhile, as
Hunsaker and Hanz statement, the goals of philanthroc institution are
two faced; striving to create benets for the community, and seeking to
build a good image in the public.37 Therefore, Chusnan Jusuf suggested
the need to improve the quality of transparency and accountability in
the management and reporting of Community grants.38
Apart from capability issues, coordination is very imperative. This
coordination aims that every institution can perform maximally and
achieve their objectives.39 Schemell and Eberwein stated that assisting
guarantees integrity and enhances the essence of philanthropy.40
Philanthropy is one of the most fundamental obligations prescribed
in Islam.41 It is highly encouraged and emphasized in the Qur’an and
Hadith as the noblest way of spending the wealth for the sake of Allah
and helping the needy. This way should be the common practice of every
Muslim.42 The concept of philantropy is found in Qur’an 9: 60 which
states that the eight parties are entitled to enjoy religious almsgivings.43
In this case, the Qur’an teaches us to create justice in terms of the
distribution of wealth. In this regard, the Qur’an also indicates th at the
wealth of Muslims must be distributed to the poor, not only among the
36 Ibid., p. 70.
37 John Hunsaker and Brenda Hanzl, Understanding Social Justice Philanthropy
(Washington: NCRP, 2003), pp. 8–9.
38 Jusuf, “Filantropi Modern Untuk Pembangunan Sosial”, p. 70.
39 Arfa Wulandari Tambunan and Hermini Susiatiningsih, “Kerja Sama UNHCR
dan IOM dalam Menangani Pencari Suaka dan Pengungsi Etnis Rohingya di Indonesia”,
Journal of International Relations, vol. 5, no. 2 (2019), p. 343.
40 Wolf-Dieter Eberwein and Yves Schemeil, “Coalesce or Collapse: Mandate
Enlargement and the Expansion of International Organizations”, presented at the
World International Studies Conference (Istanbul, 24 Aug 2005), p. 4.
41 Salwa Amirah Awang et al., “The Concept of Charity in Islam: An Analysis
on the Verses of Qur'an and Hadith”, Jurnal Usuluddin, vol. 45, no. 1 (2017), pp. 141–72.
42 Ibid., p. 141.
43 They eight parties are: the poor/al-fuqara; the needy and very poor/al-masakin;
administrators/amylin; those whose hearts are made to incline (truth)/mu’allafah
qulubuhum; those in bondage/riqab; in debt/gharimin; ght in the cause of God/sabilillah;
and travelers/Ibn Sabil. Jonathan Benthall, “Financial Worship: The Qur'anic Injunction
to Almsgiving”, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 5, no. 1 (1999), p. 36.
65Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
rich.44 Indeed, Bensaid stated that charitable giving is not just a means
of spiritual purication, but also as a tool for building socio-economic
sustainability,45 and social reforms resulting in the wellbeing of an
individual and society in the world and hereafter.46 In the history, the
Prophet Muhammad established a golden rule for the care of refugees. He
established the principle of brotherhood between «ansar» (the inhabitants
of Medina) and «muhajirun» (refugees from Mecca). According to this
pact, each «ansar» should protect one «muhajir».47
Latief established that the ethical spirit of Islam to help the
Indonesian economy was increasingly evident after independence.
However, according to him this becomes a paradox for prot institutions
such as banks.48 The practice of generosity which is very massive
among Muslims resulted the drastic increase in aid funds,49 and this
also happened in 2015-2016 when hundreds of Rohingya refugees
arrived in Aceh. Various islamic organisations participated in assisting
refugees in Aceh. Dompet Dhuafa, for example, at that time was one
of the institutions involved in assisting in Aceh. Some communities like
Indonesia Community in Japan trust in Dompet Dhuafa to distribute
their fund.50 The Green Action Synergy did the same, they deposit their
money to Dompet Dhuafa for distribution. Others Islamic philanthropy
such as Ummah Charity, the Aceh Dhuafa Solidarity Community, Aksi
Cepat Tanggap intervened in this humanitarian action. Now, in 2021,
these philanthropic organisations still collect money to assist Rohingya
44 Jahar, “Developing Islamic Philanthropy for Human Rights”, 162: 1.
45 Benaouda Bensaid and Fadila Grine, “Ethico-Spiritual Dimensions of
Charity: An Islamic Perspective”, Middle-East Journal of Scientic Research, vol. 13, no.
Special Issue of Economics (2013), pp. 171–2.
46 Awang et al., “The Concept of Charity in Islam”.
47 Krafess, “The Inuence of the Muslim Religion in Humanitarian Aid”, p. 334.
48 Eberwein and Schemeil, “Coalesce or Collapse: Mandate Enlargement and
the Expansion of International Organizations”, pp. 189–90.
49 Latief, “Philanthropy and ‘Muslim Citizenship’ in Post-Suharto Indonesia”,
pp. 269–86.
50 “Bantu Rohingya, Masyarakat Indonesia di Jepang Salurkan Donasi ke
Dompet Dhuafa”, Dompet Dhuafa, http://dompetdhuafa.org/id/berita/detail/bantu-
rohingya--masyarakat-indonesia-di-jepang-salurkan-donasi-ke-dompet-dhuafa, accessed
20 Feb 2021.
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refugees.51
This study examines the practices of aid provision by Islamic
philanthropic institutions to Rohingya refugees in Aceh. It investigates
how the Islamic institutions manage and run their programs of providing
aid to the refugees and what have drived them to offer the aid. Displaying
the conditions of the refugees before and after being accommodated
and the information on the artual practice of aid provision by those
institutions within 2015 and 2016, this paper seeks to see how they
attempt to collect donations and use religion as to attract more parties
to donate.
This paper is based on eld research conducted in Aceh. Primary
data collection was carried out for one week in 2016. The data used
to analyze this study gained from interviews with some stakeholders
who take part on aid provision in the shelter: the staffs and Head of
the Aceh Provincial Social Service, NGos’s activis from the American
Friend Service Committee, Ruman Aceh and Balai Suro Aceh. An
interview was also conducted with one of the Indonesian Red Cross
staff who was neutral in observing both in terms of the policy as well
as implementation in the eld, he is also work as Director of the Aceh
Community. Furthermore, the secondary data were collected from several
sources, such as Core Humanitarian Standart and Annual Report of
United Nations, as well as data on aid provision obtained from media.
All data and sources of information were conrmed by some references
of the issue of philanthropy. Therefore, this study emphasized the
sociological aspects.
B. The Entrance of Rohingya Refugees into Indonesia
The Rohingya refugees began entering Aceh waters in 2013 when
the conict began in Myanmar. Neither Aceh nor Indonesia is their
leading destination. According to Ruman Aceh,52 they settle in this
51 Anggara Wikan Prasetya, “Dompet Dhuafa Ikut Terjun Langsung Selamatkan
Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh Utara”, KOMPAS.com (29 Jun 2020), https://nasional.
kompas.com/read/2020/06/29/17212251/dompet-dhuafa-ikut-terjun-langsung-
selamatkan-pengungsi-rohingya-di-aceh, accessed 20 Feb 2021.
52 RUMAN (Rumoh Baca Aneuk Nanggro) Aceh is a community of Aceh
children's reading houses founded by Ahmad Arif. Ahmad Arif, “Mengenal Khidmah
RUMAN Aceh (Bagian Pertama) & raquo”, dialeksis.com, https://dialeksis.com/aceh/
67Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
region because they were stranded after a long time aboard the ship.53
Previously, the Rohingya refugees sailed to Malaysia and Thailand to
seek protection. They were not welcomed by the community and local
government, and therefore they continued their voyage and nally settled
in Aceh waters.54 At that time, several places that became the entrance
to Aceh for Rohingya refugees were coastal areas such as Kuala Pesisir,
Langsa, Tamiyah, Bireun Bayeun, East Aceh and North Aceh.55
When their boats entered the Aceh waters, there was a debate
between the Government and the Aceh people, most of them are
shermen. The Aceh Government and the Central Government did not
accept the disembarkment of the Rohingya refugees, but the shermen
and the residents forced to accept them.56 The Central Government
objected the idea of accepting them because of the territorial issue,
foreign nationals crossing Indonesia’s borders.57 This is a critical factor
when viewed from a legal standpoint since it relates to state sovereignty.58
mengenal-khidmah-ruman-aceh-bagian-pertama/, accessed 26 Feb 2020.
53 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016).
54 Ms. Siti and Ms. Rita, interview (4 Dec 2016); Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh),
interview (5 Dec 2016); Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview
(5 Dec 2016).
55 Yanyan Rahmat, Head of the Aceh Provincial Social Service, interview (5
Dec 2016).
56 Serambi TV, “Ratusan Rohingya Diselamatkan Nelayan Aceh” (2015),
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=468GDjKfbF4, accessed 22 May 2016; Rizky
Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016).
57 Khairil Razali, Director of the Aceh Community Center, interview (5 Dec
2016).
58 Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States
(Montevideo Convention) states that the State as a subject of international law must
have several elements, including 1) a permanent population; 2) a dened territory;
3) government; 4) capacity to enter into relations with the other states. The fourth
element is an element that is owned by the State as a subject of international law which
distinguishes it from other international law subjects. The sovereignty of the State
is divided into two, including internal sovereignty and external sovereignty. Internal
sovereignty is the highest power the State has to regulate internal or internal problems.
Whereas, external sovereignty is the power of the State to regulate international relations,
both bilateral and multilateral. See I. Wayan Parthiana, Pengantar Hukum Internasional
(Bandung: Mandar Maju, 2003), p. 60; Khaidir Anwar, Hukum Internasional II (Bandar
Lampung: Universitas Lampung, 2011), p. 30.
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Despite the debate, nally, their boat was pulled by the shermen with the
desire to help them. The problem was escalated by the lack of response
from the Indonesian government to protect them. However, due to
humanitarian reasons, the immigrants were nally rescued from several
ships which at the time were almost sinking due to engine failure and
excess passengers.59
The Aceh Fishermen’s Association insisted on helping the
refugees.60 They took the initiative to pull the ship to dock and rescue
the people. The Aceh society then gave much aids in the form of
clothes, rice, eggs and other basic needs.61 The people contributed as
many resources as possible, while they themselves lacked the power to
comply with all the needs of the Rohingya Refugees.62 After the media
began to preach about the existence of the Rohingyas, the government
and other humanitarian agencies, both national and international, began
to help them.63 The existence of the refugees received sympathy from
various parties because of the support of the generosity of the Aceh
people. They help without considering the legal basis for their actions.64
Although the lacks of the legality of national law, the Aceh people would
like to continue to help the refugees and give assistance with pleasure
based on Aceh’s customary law. They believe that in case anyone need
59 Ofcial NET News, “Penyelamatan Pengungsi Rohingya oleh Nelayan
Indonesia”, IMS (2015), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAkuR6K2A, accessed
27 Apr 2017.
60 Khairil Razali, Director of the Aceh Community Center, interview (5 Dec
2016).
61 Interview with Usman Abdullah, Mayor of Langsa in Aiman, KOMPASTV,
“Solidaritas Warga Langsa Terhadap Pengungsi Rohingya” (2015), https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=sL1DE6_lc_8, accessed 22 Apr 2017.
62 Robbins, “The Rohingya Case in Aceh”, pp. 1–13.
63 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016); Ahmad Arif Ginting,
Qatar Charity, interview (5 Dec 2016); Robbins, ‘The Rohingya Case in Aceh’, p. 1.
64 One of the problems faced is that Indonesia has no legal protection in dealing
with refugees. Indonesia is not part of the country that signed the Vienna Convention
1951 and its Protocol 1967 on the Status of Refugees. Yudhistira Dwi Putra, “Masalah
Pengungsi Rohingya di Indonesia Telah Dipetakan, Ini Uraiannya!”, Okezone Nasional (5
Sep 2017), https://nasional.okezone.com/read/2017/09/04/337/1769032/masalah-
pengungsi-rohingya-di-indonesia-telah-dipetakan-ini-uraiannya, accessed 26 Feb 2020;
Yanyan Rahmat, Head of the Aceh Provincial Social Service, interview (5 Dec 2016).
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Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
shelp at sea, the living creatures are obliged to be helped.65 The people
of Aceh provide assistance to the refugees with warm hospitality despite
the various risks they face.66
The quality of the refugee’s boat could not accommodate many
passengers. This means that as they come in very large quantities, there
is no place to sleep on their backs. They can only sit with their legs
bent and cannot stretch them when they get off the boat. At the time
of docking, they were cold and starving because they ran out of food
stocks along the way. According to them, they faced persecution from
the Bangladeshis, the guards on the ship. It is also common for children
to get a punch because they whine for food or drink.67 This problem
started while the refugees were still in Myanmar.
When the Rohingya wanted to get out of Myanmar, they were
often extorted. For example, to have space on a ship, they were asked to
pay some money with the promise of compensation for work abroad.
However, instead of getting a job, they were mistreated with most of
them diverted to ship brokers. In general, the brokers provide minimal
space on the ship with a load exceeding capacity, getting into the ocean
without any guarantee and safety protection.68 Some of the Bangladeshi
brokers followed the immigrants’ ship intending to make them more
displaced. For instance, in the middle of the ocean, the brokers damaged
or shut down the engines and then left.69
65 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016);
Missbach, “Asylum Seekers’ and Refugees’ Decision-Making in Transit in Indonesia”,
p. 419.
66 McNevin and Missbach, “Hospitality as a Horizon of Aspiration (or, What
the International Refugee Regime Can Learn from Acehnese Fishermen)”, p. 293.
67 KOMPASTV, “Mereka yang Terbuang(2015), https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=l6hXJnnB3sU, accessed 13 May 2016; KOMPASTV, “Dokter di Pengungsian
Rohingya” (2015), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc6kCWeok3s, accessed 13 Jun
2016; KOMPASTV, “Kesaksian Pengungsi Rohingya” (2015), https://www.youtube.
com/watch?v=8T3xkzGRvOY, accessed 14 Jun 2016.
68 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016);
Norma Manalu, Balai Suro Aceh, interview (5 Dec 2016).
69 “Those Who Wasted”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6hXJnnB3sU,
access on June 13, 2016, “Rescuing Rohing ya Refugees by Indonesian Fishermen”, https://
www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAkuR6K2A, accessed 27 May 2016; and “Testimony of
Rohingya Refugees”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T3xkzGRvOY, accessed 14
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The Rohingya immigrants followed all the crew’s instructions
irrespective of the compulsion. They have no desire to return to Myanmar
because of feeling insecure and lacking the right to live.70 Although
Indonesia is not their destination, they feel secure and are accepted by
the people of Aceh.71
C. Practices, Forms and Problems of Protection
1. Aid Provision by Islamic Philantropic Organizations and Others
Once they received assistance from the shermen, their presence
was welcomed by the Indonesian government and received support
from various circles, ranging from local, national and international
communities. The local community at that time, which consisted of
shermen, students, and the Aceh Alliance Cares Rohingya, provided
assistance in the form of food, clothing and other emergency needs.72
Various national philanthropic organizations, including Islamic-
based organizations, and international organizations also paid attention
by working on diplomatic pathways and giving donations to Rohingya
refugees. The assistance came from international institutions, such as
IOM (International Organization for Migration) and UNHCR (United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). However, support from
national institutions came from the Social Service, the Indonesian Red
Cross, Ruman Aceh, and the Ofce for Women’s Empowerment and
Child Protection (KP3A). The assistance from Islamic philanthropic
institutions came from Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT), Dompet Dhuafa, Pos
June 2016. KOMPASTV, “Mereka yang Terbuang”; Ofcial NET News, “Penyelamatan
Pengungsi Rohingya oleh Nelayan Indonesia”, IMS; KOMPASTV, Kesaksian Pengungsi
Rohingya.
70 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Situation of Human Rights of
Rohingya Muslims and other Minorities in Myanmar, Annual Report, no. A/HRC/32/18
(Geneva: UN, 2016).
71 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016);
Norma Manalu, Balai Suro Aceh, interview (5 Dec 2016).
72 Denny Armandhanu, “Bantuan untuk Rohingya dari Warga Aceh
Menggunung”, CNN Internasional (20 May 2015), https://www.cnnindonesia.com/
internasional/20150520094352-106-54411/bantuan-untuk-rohingya-dari-warga-aceh-
menggunung, accessed 31 Dec 2019.
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Keadilan Peduli Umat, Rumah Zakat, Baznas, Baitul Mal Hidayatullah,
and Daarut Tauhiid and others institutions.
International Institutions (UNHCR and IOM) played a signicant
role in determining refugee status and seeking placement in a third
country. Although Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention,
UNHCR still intervened to assist and cooperated with the Government
by making temporary shelters. The IOM was tasked with the responsibility
of handling refugees’ entry points. This is often carried out by securitizing
the refugee path.73 The institution intervened to ensure the eligibility
standards for refugees are met. It also provided public kitchens as well
sanitation, and for daily management, IOM assigned all them to the
District and Provincial Social Service. In other words, IOM and UNHCR
are specically responsible for determining the status of refugees and
striving to provide basic services and seeking resettlement measures,
leaving the rest to other institutions, including the government.74
The Provincial and District Social Service in Aceh is responsible for
ensuring the refugees live in built-up detention based on instructions from
the Central Ofce in Jakarta. The reason is because the Provincial Social
Service at that time did not have sectoral policies related to refugees and
also the issue of refugees is the authority of the Central Ofce.75 This
is in line with the mayor of Langsa assertion that everything carried out
was based on instructions from the centre because Rohingya were not
Indonesian citizens.76 However, the issue of Rohingya refugees is not
handled only by the government. Some non-governmental organizations
are also involved in helping protect the Rohingya refugees.
The Dompet Dhuafa at that time helped provide goods and
services to the refugees. Their assistance was conrmed by the Aceh
Provincial Social Service.77 A similar role was carried out by Pos Keadilan
73 Alunaza and Juani, “Kebijakan Pemerintah Indonesia melalui Sekuritisasi
Migrasi Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh tahun 2012-2015”, p. 12.
74 Rizka Argadianti Rachmah and Zico Efraindio Pestalozzi, Hidup yang
Terabaikan: Laporan Penelitian Nasib Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh (Jakarta: LBH Jakarta,
2016), p. 9.
75 Yanyan Rahmat, Head of the Aceh Provincial Social Service, interview (5
Dec 2016).
76 KOMPASTV, “Solidaritas Warga Langsa Terhadap Pengungsi Rohingya.
77 Ms. Siti and Ms. Rita, interview (4 Dec 2016).
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Peduli Umat, Rumah Zakat, Baznas, Baitul Mal Hidayatullah, Daarut
Tauhiid, and ACT. Apart from the infrastructure and food supply
provided, some activities are also carried out through private institutions
such as mass circumcision, pregnancy and health checks78 Medicin Sans
Frontier also provides clinical psychological consultation at the Bayeun
and Langsa shelters.79
Protection and assistance is also given to women and children.
This is carried out by KP3A (the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment
and Child Protection). Some programs are carried out to full children’s
and women’s rights, for example granting access for children to receive
education while in barracks.80 They learn to read and write81 with the
help of translators from refugees with limited Malay or English language
skills prociency.82
Several institutions are involved in education assistance. For
instance, Daarut Tauhiid is one of the Islamic philanthropic institutions
tasked with teaching and assisting children during the evacuation. Dompet
Dhuafa also provides English and Indonesian language lessons for young
refugees.83 In addition to education, other forms of assistance were
also given family recovery. This was carried out by several institutions,
including the Indonesian Red Cross by reconnecting separated families
both between barracks and among countries.84 The Acehnese residents,
including the shermen that previously helped the Rohingya also
78 Interview Ahmad Arif Ginting, Qatar Charity, 5 December 2016, Aceh.
79 Rachmah and Pestalozzi, Hidup yang Terabaikan: Laporan Penelitian Nasib
Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh, p. 25.
80 Rizki Akbar Hasan, “UNHCR: Indonesia Patut Dicontoh Soal Penanganan
Pengungsi Internasional”, liputan6.com (17 Jul 2019), https://www.liputan6.com/
global/read/4015215/unhcr-indonesia-patut-dicontoh-soal-penanganan-pengungsi-
internasional, accessed 23 Dec 2019.
81 KOMPASTV, “Pesantren Kilat Untuk Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh” (2015),
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-eA03dq9D8, accessed 13 Jun 2016.
82 KOMPASTV, “Dokter di Pengungsian Rohingya.
83 Uyang, “Asah Keterampilan Pengungsi Rohingya dengan School for
Refugees”, Dompet Dhuafa, http://www.dompetdhuafa.org/id/berita/detail/asah-
keterampilan-pengungsi-rohingya-dengan-school-for-refugees, accessed 11 Jun 2016.
84 Khairil Razali, Director of the Aceh Community Center, interview (5 Dec
2016).
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Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
participated in the restoring family. Many refugee families are in Malaysia
could communicate with those in Aceh through the shermen as
intermediaries85 and the Indonesian Red Cross.86 The central government
also took the initiative to do resettlement. This move was problematic
since Myanmar soldiers killed some teenagers’ families before they
are successfully escaping.87 All the institutions attempt to provide the
assistance in accordance with their respective capabilities.
2. Problems and Shortcomings
Based on the role of each institution, there are some shortcomings
in implementations. For instance, the public kitchen formed by IOM
cannot full the needs of the refugees, mainly due to the unavailability
of cookware. The IOM standard which provides a one-day of 50,000
Rupiah per person seems to be inappropriate. This is because the menu
provided is not in accordance with the needs of the refugees in terms of
price, taste and serving, such as the provision of rice that has not been
completely cooked.88 As a result, much food is wasted.
The other shortcoming is in health services. Initially, the health
service was quite good in overcoming the diseases that many refugees
suffered when they got off the ship, such as diarrhea, dizziness, nausea
and malnutrition for children. There were health ofcers in the shelter.
Whenever the refugees needed medical care, the doctor and the medical
ofcer were always there, provide regular health services. 89 But over the
next few months, the service decreased. The health services accorded to
refugees is reduced after some months. However, around two months
later the ofcers were no longer in the shelter; they only left their phone
numbers to be contacted. There were no more regular health checks,90
85 KOMPASTV, “Kronologis Diselamatkannya Pengungsi Rohingya (2015),
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TtbRVv6kOM, accessed 13 Jun 2016.
86 Khairil Razali, Director of the Aceh Community Center, interview (5 Dec
2016).
87 KOMPASTV, “Dokter di Pengungsian Rohingya”.
88 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016).
89 KOMPASTV, “Dokter di Pengungsian Rohingya.”
90 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016).
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and therefore, refugees were reluctant to check their health.91
Several other problems emerged one of which is more about the
impact of of the presence of Rohingya refugees on people of Aceh.
The Acehnese started to feel jealous to the refugees. As discussed earlier,
the refugees received a very good response from the Acehnese people,
but several years later jealousy arose from some of the surrounding
community because the refugees continued to achieve assistance from
the government and philanthropic institutions, especially regarding
food, while the community, who are also often in the same need, did not
obtain the aid.92 Amnesty International reported that an Aceh woman
complained to a non-governmental organization (NGO) worker that the
standard of living in the Blang Adoe Integrated Community Shelter was
better than that of local people.93 In fact, Novialdi stated that the presence
of refugees would lead the clashes of cultural, social, and economic in
Acehnese society, and it would create new sources of conict in society94
Within this situation, refugees became entrapped. They have
unclear status whether they will be transferred to a third country
as international refugees or not. This has then become one way for
trafcking to commit by trafckers, some organized groups of people
and agents with the promise of turning Rohingya refugees into workers
in Malaysia. The refugees were sent to Batam and became victims of
trafcking.95 In several shelters such as in East Aceh, some refugees escape
at night. Some refugees who ed to Malaysia said that they paid the agent
1,500 ringgit. The money was sent by their husbands, parents or their
91 Rachmah and Pestalozzi, Hidup yang Terabaikan: Laporan Penelitian Nasib
Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh, p. 36.
92 Khairil Razali, Director of the Aceh Community Center, interview (5 Dec
2016); Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016).
93 Amnesty International, Deadly Journeys: The Refugees and Trafcking Crisis ini
Southeast Asia (London: Amnesty International Ltd, 2015), p. 40.
94 Novialdi, “The Failure of Providing Human Security For Rohingya Refugees
(Case Study”, p. 60.
95 Suaka, “Rilis Pers SUAKA: Kasus Pengungsi Menjadi Gigolo di Batam
Murni Kriminalitas”, (8 Sep 2016), https://suaka.or.id/2016/09/08/rilis-pers-suaka-
kasus-pengungsi-menjadi-gigolo-di-batam-murni-kriminalitas/, accessed 8 Jan 2020.
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Family in Malaysia.96 Most of them left the camp because they wanted
to be with their families in Malaysia. It is also because of the economic
motive that their families in Myanmar expect money to pay travel debts,
as well as for daily necessities in Rohingya camps in their home country.97
Refugees who leave the camps in Aceh tend to use the services
of human trafcking agents who have been operating to smuggle illegal
migrant workers to Malaysia.98 Witnesses informed that they were picked
up by truck to Medan and sold for 5 million rupiah. Many wished to run
away on their own way, but it is very difcult for refugees to get out from
shelter since they have security guard.99 Within this situation, the presence
of trafcking agents around the shelters is an inevitable.100 Though, many
were fortunate and are able to leave in easy and legal way. Refugees who
have received a UNHCR card have access to enter and leave the shelter.
They use this privilege to sell groceries in the shelter. Again, however
they remain powerless as drug agents take advantage of this position to
turn the refugees into agents selling marijuana at the shelter.101
Another problem is concerned with the gender issue. In order to
provide protection for women, the Indonesian government separates
the needs of men and women.102 However, the Indonesian government
does not pay attention to psychological recovery, especially to those
96 Nurdin Hasan, “Rohingya di Aceh: Makan, Tidur dan Shalat”, Benar News,
https://www.benarnews.org/indonesian/berita/rohingya-di-aceh-04292016151819.
html, accessed 20 Feb 2020.
97 Tim Yayasan Geutanyoë, Hidup dalam Penantian: Setahun Pengungsi Rohingya di
Aceh (Yogyakarta: The Geutanyoë Foundation, 2015), pp. 12–3.
98 Ibid., p. 17.
99 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016).
100 Such condition continues to recent years. In 2020, for an exemple, police
discovered one of the committed trafckings. See Raynaldo Ghiffari Lubabah, “Polisi
Ungkap Penyelundupan Imigran Rohingya di Aceh, Empat Pelaku Diamankan”, merdeka.
com (27 Oct 2020), https://www.merdeka.com/peristiwa/polisi-ungkap-penyelundupan-
imigran-rohingya-di-aceh-empat-pelaku-diamankan.html, accessed 6 Mar 2021; Winsyah
Purba, “Ini Para Pelaku Human Trafcking Etnis Rohingya di Aceh”, TransBisnis (23
Nov 2020), https://transbisnis.com/2020/11/23/ini-para-pelaku-human-trafcking-
etnis-rohingya-di-aceh/, accessed 6 Mar 2021.
101 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016).
102 Yanyan Rahmat, Head of the Aceh Provincial Social Service, interview (5
Dec 2016).
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raped and impregnated while on board.103 As a result, the women who
experienced sexual violence looked gloomy and lethargic. Furthermore,
they are obliged to wear the hijab as the Acehnese women in general. In
this case, the government and philanthropic organizations did not use
the victim’s perspective when providing assistance.
The limited psychosocial support service has made the refugees
obtain the trauma of violence which can be seen in the patterns
of communication and social relations among refugees. Geutanyoë
foundation found an increase in the number of cases of domestic
violence in camps, as well as the number of suicide attempts carried
out by refugee women.104 The sustainability of the humanitarian
action constitutes also a problematic issue. In general, philanthropic
organizations prioritize emergency assistance such as clothing, food,
teaching, and other temporary assistance. The refugees needed these items
at that time, but because the aid was not well managed and eventually piled
up, these items were worthless. This picture shows that the provision of
assistance is highly dependent on “the sectoral ego” of each institution
that is competing for existence. In other words, this assistance is very far
from the aspect of responsiveness and emphasizes the electability of the
institution to build public legitimacy. Meanwhile, the assistance that the
refugees really need is not only for primary needs, but also for secondary
needs such as access to information and having a forum for participation
in decision-making, especially it impact on themselves. They require their
needs met both physically and mentally. They also expect the fulllment
of their rights as citizens as well as human rights.
In the perspective of sustainable development, this humanitarian
action did not show compatibility with this concept. The absence of this
concept in the mentoring practice was proven in 2012-2016. So far, all
agencies have only contributed in the context of emergency response,
and most people have followed the pattern. There are no arrangements
for providing assistance after the emergency period.105
103 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016).
104 Tim Yayasan Geutanyoë, Hidup dalam Penantian: Setahun Pengungsi Rohingya
di Aceh, p. 13.
105 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016);
Norma Manalu, Balai Suro Aceh, interview (5 Dec 2016).
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As a result, UNHCR protested to the government and reminded
it not to provide the same assistance. Even though at that time, the
Social Service had accommodated 104 refugees in Aceh Raya in 2015
for 2 months,106 while the Provincial Government also helped refugees
during the emergency period, which was for approximately 7 days.107
The consequence of the absence of the distribution and mechanism
for providing assistance, after 3 months the aid began to decrease and
the refugees received food below IOM standards.108 Whereas previously,
when the refugees came to Aceh, (especially to the North Aceh area) they
received high solidarity from various parties so the food and logistics
were abundant. According to PMI’s ofcer, the refugees tended to be
picky about food.109
D. The Commodication of Aid and the Abuses of Religion
1. (Islamic) Religion as Tool for Aid Induction
Apart from the absence of good concepts and mechanisms of
assisting, there were other problems relating to the intentions and goals of
philanthropic institutions. Other than the community, several international
and national philanthropic institutions are involved in the protection of
Rohingya refugees in Aceh. Some of these institutions include United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International
Organization for Migration (IOM), Aksi Cepat Tanggap (ACT), Dompet
Dhuafa, Daarut Tauhiid and the Indonesian Red Cross. There are also
local institutions that regularly accompany and provide assistance to
refugees, including Ruman Aceh. These institutions intensively report
the progress of their assistance in Aceh both in local and national media,
as well as on their own institutional websites. However, there are many
discrepancies between the news in the media and what is carried out
106 Ms. Siti and Ms. Rita, interview (4 Dec 2016).
107 Yanyan Rahmat, Head of the Aceh Provincial Social Service, interview (5
Dec 2016).
108 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016);
Norma Manalu, Balai Suro Aceh, interview (5 Dec 2016).
109 Khairil Razali, Director of the Aceh Community Center, interview (5 Dec
2016).
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practically by some of these institutions.110
The provision of assistance by large institutions such as UNHCR
and IOM is in line with their programs and SOPs. This means that what
is carried out is part of their work with or without altruism. They already
have a standard mechanism for offering essential services. In providing
assistance, they adjust to the specied standards. The UNHCR and IOM
already have bilateral agreements that regulate their roles.111 For instance,
the UNHCR has to provide international protection, humanitarian
assistance and long-term solutions to refugees. Similarly, the IOM has
to ensure that refugees receive appropriate services and obtain what they
need during the migration process.112 Therefore, UNHCR and IOM carry
out the task according to the provisions.
Once the Rohingya refugees arrived at the shelter, UNHCR
collected data and determined their status, specically called Refugee
Status Determination (RSD), by interview. This process is carried out to
determine whether they are entitled to status as refugees, asylum seekers
or not.113 IOM assisted UNHCR by providing translators to facilitate
communication with the Rohingya Ethnicity. Medical assistance is also
provided along with the provision of food,114 water and hygiene training.115
Different from UNHCR and IOM, national Islamic philanthropic
organizations such as ACT, Dompet Dhuafa and Baznas116, at rst
110 Some discrepancies will be conveyed further. This statement was obtained
based on observations of assistants such as Ruman Aceh and conrmation with news
in the media.
111 Tambunan and Susiatiningsih, “Kerja Sama UNHCR dan IOM dalam
Menangani Pencari Suaka dan Pengungsi Etnis Rohingya di Indonesia”, pp. 341–50.
112 UNHCR, Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration (UN High
Commissioner for Refugees, 1997).
113 Alunaza and Juani, “Kebijakan Pemerintah Indonesia melalui Sekuritisasi
Migrasi Pengungsi Rohingya di Aceh tahun 2012-2015”, p. 14.
114 In providing food needs, refugees get the help of 50,000 rupiahs per person.
115 International Organization for Migration, “IOM Steps in to Aid New
Rohingya Boat Arrivals in Indonesia”, https://indonesia.iom.int/news/iom-steps-aid-
new-rohingya-boat-arrivals-indonesia, accessed 22 Jan 2018.
116 The national Zakat Charity Agency (BAZNAS) as the only amil zakat
institution established by the government to manage zakat, infaq and sadaqah
distribution. BAZNAS can make recommendations for the establishment of similar
79Al-Jāmi‘ah, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2021 M/1442 H
Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
time, were not philanthropic institutions that are engaged in the socio-
political eld, such as dealing with refugees. They were born from a
traditional mechanism, which were initially engaged in zakat, infaq and,
sadaqah (ZIS) as well as mosque and pesantren (Islamic boarding house).117
Later, mosques and pesantren were able to carry out transformations
in the management of ZIS and in the empowerment of the people.118
Over further development, this traditional philanthropic authority
metamorphosed into social justice philanthropy. The dynamics of
philanthropy moving from traditional mechanisms to philanthropy for
social justice has placed philanthropy as a medium for eliminating social
injustice that is rooted in poverty and social inequality. Philanthropy
bridges the gap between the rich and the poor by mobilizing the potential
of society (people). The enthusiasm of the Indonesian Muslim middle
class to be involved in the social and political life has affected the model
of Islamic philanthropy in Indonesia.119 Mosques and Pesantren are then
carried out collaboratively with social organizations, which we then know
as the Islamic philanthropic institution. These Islamic philanthropic
institutions are required to be professional institutions. Even Islamic
philanthropic organizations previously to be voluntary have currently
become NGOs. On this side, they are not only ‘doing good”, but also they
are doing it in a modern and professional Islamic way.120 In this regard,
reforms are accordingly needed in term of regulation, management and
programme.121 It is also important to emphasize that the principle of
bodies at the provincial, district or city government levels, as well as the establishment
of non-governmental amil zakat institutions, see Abdurahim, Ahim, Haez Sofyani,
and Sigit Arie Wibowo, “Membangun Good Governance di Lembaga Amil Zakat, Infaq
dan Shadaqah (LAZ): Pengalaman Dua LAZ Besar di Indonesia”,
117 Ariza Fuadi, “Towards the Discourse of Islamic Philanthropy for Social
Justice in Indonesia Ariza Fuadi”, Afkaruna: Indonesian Interdisciplinary Journal of Islamic
Studies, vol. 8, no. 2 (2012), pp. 92–102.
118 Adhi Iman Sulaiman, Chusmeru Chusmeru, and Masrukin Masrukin,
“Strategy of Cooperative Islamic Boarding School As Economic Empowerment
Community”, Inferensi: Jurnal Penelitian Sosial Keagamaan, vol. 12, no. 1 (2018), pp. 25–44.
119 Fauzia, “Faith and the State”.
120 Borchgrevink, “NGOization of Islamic Charity”, p. 16.
121 Fauzia, “Islamic Philanthropy in Indonesia”.
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philanthropic social justice is charity without discrimination.122
It is denitely understandable that these Islamic philantrhopic
institutions are based on humanity and Islam, in term of philanthropic
approach called as Islamic-social justice philanthropy. Baznas has
the authority to require a good governance for Islamic philanthropic
institutions in accordance with vertical123 and horizontal124 accountability
regulations.125 In practice, some NGOs (they accompanied the Rohingya
refugees on a daily basis in the shelter) considered that the distribution
of aid provided is not relevant to the conditions of refugees.126 Some
Acehnese activists even viewed that the Rohingyas were made
projects for raising funds.127 Basing on the concepts of humanity
and ukhuwah Islamiyah, Islamic philanthropic institutions could easily
obtain humanitarian funds for Rohingya. Worse is that there is not any
supervisory institution that ensures that the funds are given according to
their intended objectives. Above all, religion and the religious (Islamic)
concept of charity are used by these institutions as an attraction to gain
public awareness. In fact, massive fundraising for the Rohingya was
carried out by various institutions like ACT. Almost every corner of the
trafc light in Yogyakarta was lled with banners of a particular Islamic
philanthropic institution.128 This, of course, is to cultivate more money
in a vast and easy way as to lead the institutions to be nancially strong
122 Amelia Fauzia, “Religious Giving in Indonesia: Studi Kasus Filantropi
Islam”, Dialog: Jurnal Penelitian dan Kajian Keagamaan, vol. XXXIII, no. 69 (2010), pp.
51–64.
123 Accountability to government or Baznas.
124 Accountability to public.
125 Ahim Abdurahim, Haez Sofyani, and Sigit Arie Wibowo, “Membangun
Good Governance di Lembaga Amil Zakat, Infaq dan Shadaqah (LAZ): Pengalaman
Dua LAZ Besar di Indonesia”, Inferensi: Jurnal Penelitian Sosial Keagamaan, vol. 12, no. 1
(2018), pp. 45–64.
126 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016); Ahmad Arif Ginting,
Qatar Charity, interview (5 Dec 2016); Ruwaida, the American Friend Service
Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016); Khairil Razali, Director of the Aceh Community
Center, interview (5 Dec 2016).
127 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016); Ahmad Arif Ginting,
Qatar Charity, interview (5 Dec 2016).
128 The writer’s observations throughout 2015 and 2016 in Yogyakarta.
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Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
institutions and to accompany refugee in loner period.129
2. Evidence of Religious Abuses
Nothing is wrong to use Islamic concept to raise funds for refugees.
Even Islam teaches to share with all human beings in the name of God
(ibadah) to earn reward. Not only the obligation to pay zakat but also
other pillars of Islam emphasize the crucial of sharing the wealth for
mankind, such as fasting, which teaches the existence of dyah for those
who cannot pay their fast due to illness or because of breastfeeding.130 In
the obligation of Hajj, Islam teaches to pay dams or nes that must be
issued by someone who has violated the prohibitions on the obligatory
Hajj. The offender must slaughter sacricial animals and distribute
them to the poor or give alms to the poor, according to the types of
prohibitions.131 Of course, qurban has the same spirit to care for others.132
All these pillars of Islam have the essence of humanity. However, Islam
does not allow for the abuse of worship, including the intention, purpose,
and implementations.
As stated in the previous sub-chapter, the birth of Islamic
philanthropic institutions began with the spirit of philanthropy taught in
Islamic teachings, including the pillars of Islam. Therefore, the abuse in
providing assistance by Islamic philanthropy institutions, both traditional,
and social justice, is not justied. If we observe at the implementation
of Islamic philanthropy in Aceh in 2015-2016, all assistance provided to
the Rohingya refugees appeared to be based on humanity and ukhuwah
Islamiyah.
The media has a vital role in promoting solidarity among
Muslims. The media often cite a theory that this humanitarian sentiment
comes from a form of ‘Muslim solidarity’.133 It is also used by national
philanthropic institutions to raise funds. However, many things do not
match what is reported in the media. For example, when the Eid al-Adha,
Rohingya people are supposed to be given 41 cows as reported in the
129 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016).
130 Qur’an 2:184.
131 Qur’an 2: 196.
132 Qur’an 108: 2; Qur’an 22: 36-37.
133 Robbins, “The Rohingya Case in Aceh”, p. 36.
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media, they only receive 1 cow which is even not ready for consumption.134
This case was carried out by a certain Islamic philanthropic institution
that is afliated with a regent candidate from an Islamic party. Finally, it
was discovered that the other 40 cows were used by regent candidates to
collect votes in regional head elections. Another 40 cows were distributed
in several places where the mass of the Islamic party was based.135 This
is in line with Robin’s nding that the concept of carrying the ‘Islamic
banner’ was encouraged by certain political candidates associated with an
NGO operating in Rohingya camps. This is their method to construct
support for their political agenda.136
Inappropriate reporting also occurs when there are several refugees
giving birth. The media report that they receive help from one of the
Islamic Philanthropy Institutions, even mentioning the names of mothers
giving birth and the names of their babies.137 In fact, the institute has
never been involved and has never helped the process directly. However,
most of the names reported in the media were wrong.138 Therefore, the
Islamic label and humanity are used by institutions to obtain donations
rather than focusing on handling refugees.
There are other problems in terms of religious freedom that affect
refugees. In religious matters, Rohingyas are moderate Muslims. They
tend to be solid and respect with each other despite their differences.139
However, some assistants or volunteers at the shelter often force refugees
to practice worship based on their school of thought (mazhab), including
the readings in prayer and wirid after praying.140 Apart from that, the
volunteers also instructed Rohingya women to wear the headscarf (hijab).
134 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016).
135 Ahmad Arif Ginting, Qatar Charity, interview (5 Dec 2016).
136 Robbins, “The Rohingya Case in Aceh”, p. 38.
137 Damanhuri Zuhri, “Relawan ACT Bantu Persalinan Pengungsi Rohingya
di Aceh”, Republika Online (19 Jul 2015), https://republika.co.id/berita/dunia-islam/
islam-nusantara/15/07/19/nrqt2e-relawan-act-bantu-persalinan-pengungsi-rohingya-
di-aceh, accessed 8 Jan 2020.
138 Ahmad Arif Ginting, Qatar Charity, interview (5 Dec 2016).
139 Ruwaida, the American Friend Service Committee, interview (5 Dec 2016).
140 Ibid.
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Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
They claim that wearing the hijab is an obligation for Muslim women.141
Another problem related to the abuse of authority in the name
of Islam is concerned with the residential development. At that time,
the government, international organizations and several philanthropic
organizations were involved in building shelters. The prayer room
(mushala) at that time was created with funds from UNHCR and IOM.
However, the mushala was later claimed to be a donation from an Islamic
philanthropic institution. One of the activists from Ruman Aceh at
that time witnessed one of the workers from an Islamic philanthropic
organization holding up his institutional banner in front of the mushala
in North Aceh and taking pictures.142 This can be proven in the online
media that the kind of religious claims are very incessant, especially in
relation to the construction of prayer rooms.143
The wide gap between expectations and the reality in the provision
of aid is caused not only by the lack of an appropriate mechanism for the
distribution of aid, but also due to the lack of ethic in providing aid. The
Indonesian Philanthropy Association (PFI), through holding discussions
that focus on philanthropic standards and ethical codes, highlights issues
of accountability and transparency.144 This is because these two factors
determine the level of public trust. In this case, philanthropic ethics
needs to be investigated from the process of constructing issues to the
management of the collected humanitarian aid funds. Construction issues
need to be explored since it might have a signicant effect on the level of
acceptance of the institution and be a determining point of the accuracy
of the program designed. Through the construction of this issue, there
are specic intentions that lead to commodication.
141 Ibid.; Norma Manalu, Balai Suro Aceh, interview (5 Dec 2016).
142 Rizky Sopya (Ruman Aceh), interview (5 Dec 2016).
143 Calam Rahmat, “Masjid di Pengungsian Warga Rohingya Dapat Bantuan
Renovasi Rumah Yatim”, Rumah Yatim (18 May 2018), https://rumah-yatim.org/masjid-
di-pengungsian-warga-rohingya-dapat-bantuan-renovasi-rumah-yatim/, accessed 10 Jan
2021; Aksi Cepat Tanggap, “Di Aceh, Muslim Rohingya Bisa Kembali Salat Berjemaah”
(2020), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkQQvEcMoH0, accessed 10 Jan 2021.
144 YAPPIKA-ActionAid Non-Governmental Organization, Kode Etik Filantropi,
https://yappika-actionaid.or.id/Kode-Etik-Filantropi, accessed 9 Jan 2020.
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3. The Role of the Media in the Commodication of aid
Commodication is an effort to produce commercial value by
offering goods or services. Albeit the term is related to capitalism, but it
is relevant to the issue of humanitarian aid. This is because the issue of
humanitarian aid is related to donations collected from the community,
as well as the procedures for raising them. Corrigan, as quoted by
Husna, stated that currently everything has a commodity value and
needs to be packaged as well as possible for high value.145 Based on this
opinion, information therefore has a selling value when packaged with
something that touches the emotional public side. This is also carried
out by philanthropic institutions in gaining donations and legitimacy.
In practice, Islamic philanthropic institutions emphasize religious
perspectives through certain diction that frames the concept into religious
issues. Examples of this include, “Rohingya are Muslim ethnic groups
that have settled in Arakan since the sixteenth century”,146 “began the
destruction of the mosque”,147 “crimes against ethnic Rohingya Muslims
are increasing...thousands of Rohingya Muslims have ed to neighbouring
countries”.148 However, this issue is not religious, but an economic-
political problem. Anthropologically, the Rohingya are a community
that is predominantly Muslim and lives in the state of Rakhine. They are
about a million, though not the most signicant community group in
Rakhine. Most of them are Buddhist, and all communities living in the
region are culturally discriminated againts, economically exploited, and
politically eliminated by the central government, which is dominated by
Burmese ethnic. The Rohingya are considered by Rakhine residents to
be additional rivals and a threat to their own identities. This is the leading
cause of tension in the state and has resulted in several armed conicts
between the two groups. Therefore, the real victims are not only Muslim
145 Asmaul Husna, “Komodikasi Agama: Pergeseran Praktik Bisnis dan
Kemunculan Kelas Menengah Muslim”, Jurnal Komunikasi Global, vol. 7, no. 2 (2018),
p. 229.
146 Aksi Cepat Tanggap, “Tentang Rohingya, https://act.id/rohingya/,
accessed 30 Dec 2020.
147 Aksi Cepat Tanggap, “Selamatkan Rohingya, https://act.id/program/
helprohingya, accessed 30 Dec 2019.
148 Aksi Cepat Tanggap, “Tentang Rohingya.
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Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
ethnic but also the Buddhist.149
The incompleteness of information conveyed by the philanthropic
institution aims to construct the suitability of the agency’s movement
with the issue being built. Wilbr Scharamm denes information as the
name given to various processes, where the acceptance of a message
reduces the uncertainty of the recipient.150 This uncertainty is associated
with several alternatives that might be contained in the information.
Reducing uncertainty is the same as lessening the number of possible
alternatives. Information is the result of interpretation and giving meaning
to the data. In this context, the narrowness of information provided by
Islamic philanthropic institutions through its website seeks to “reduce
the uncertainty” of the readers. The intention is that the recipients of the
information should be told that this conict is purely single, for example,
a religious issue. Therefore, the philanthropic institution continues its
activities by offering solutions related to the conict happening.
Berger argued that this was a social construction to build
legitimacy,151 which is an objectication of meaning. This opinion is
based on the assumption that reality is the result of human creation or
creativity through the power of social construction on the surrounding
social world. It is a reality interconnected with human thought and the
social context in which it arises. Based on Berger’s opinion, philanthropic
institutions try to play with public emotions through religious issues.
This is because demographically the majority of Indonesia’s population
is Muslim, and culturally the obligation of zakat, charity, and sadaqah has
been rmly rooted in the traditions of Muslim community life.
149 Some writings support this statement such as Giuseppe Forino, Jason von
Meding, and Thomas Johnson, “Religion is not the only reason Rohingyas are being
forced out of Myanmar”, The Conversation (12 Sep 2017), http://theconversation.com/
religion-is-not-the-only-reason-rohingyas-are-being-forced-out-of-myanmar-83726,
accessed 12 Jan 2019; Siegfried O. Wolf, “Genocide, Exodus and Exploitation for Jihad:
the Urgent Need to Address the Rohingya Crisis,” Working Paper, no. 6 (Brussels: South
Asia Democratic Forum/SADF, 2017); “Siapa Sebenarnya Etnis Rohingya dan Enam
Hal Lain yang Harus Anda Ketahui”, BBC News Indonesia (5 Sep 2017), https://www.
bbc.com/indonesia/dunia-41149698, accessed 12 Jan 2019.
150 Wilbur Schramm, “The Nature of News”, Journalism Quarterly, vol. 26, no.
3 (1949), pp. 259–69.
151 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A
Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (London: Penguin Books, 1991), p. 183.
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The demographic and cultural aspects are further used to gain as
many donations as possible. Regardless of the management approach, this
method was chosen to maintain the life and existence of the institution.
The orientation and purpose of the institution is to become a third party
that mobilizes public funds. The institution dies and loses its existence
in case the community does not donate through the institution. This
means commodication begins from the way the institution constructs
the issue. At this level, the religious, spiritual functions are transformed
into an exchange of value using its functions as a way of life and a source
of normative principles or spiritual marketing.152
The management of humanitarian aid funds can be explored to
determine the quality of its management. According to Terry, quality
management steps can be viewed from several things, including planning,
organizing, actuating, and controlling.153 Planning relates to what to do,
where the aid should be given, and how to distribute it. Organizing
involves how much an organization has the authority to assist, as well as
the facilities and work environment needed for assistance to be given.
Actuating relates to how the organization moves the implementing organs
to work voluntarily and with good cooperation. Controlling expects
activity to match the actuating event based on a predetermined plan.154
Based on this management pattern, Islamic philanthropic
institutions function within the conventional planning patterns and
have not carried out any planning. Although the media reports on the
implementation of their programs, the facts in the eld show there are
aspects that can be merged. However, they are left to overlap and ends
up being irrelevant. For example, both the surrounding community and
Islamic philanthropic institutions provide emergency assistance. The aid
seemed wasteful, and donations that were previously expected to help
refugees did not achieve the purpose.
152 Yuswohady, Marketing to the Middle Class Muslim: Kenali Perubahannya, Pahami
Perilakunya, Petakan Strateginya (Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 2015), p. 170.
153 George R. Terry, Principles of Management (New Delhi: AITBS Publishers,
1997), pp. 14–5.
154 Ibid.
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Islam and Humanity: Commodication of Aid for Rohingya in Aceh
E. Concluding Remarks
From the discussion several conclusions are drawn. First, there
are some shortcomings in services for Rohingya refugees, especially in
the fullling their needs in shelters such as inappropriate food standards
and reduced health services. Also, Rohingya refugees are in uncertain
lives, whether they sent to a third country or no. Second, there has been
a commodication of humanitarian issues in providing assistance to
Rohingya Refugees in Aceh, 2015-2016. The existence of Rohingya
refugees is used by several Islamic philanthropic institutions to raise
donations. While such is religiously acceptable, actual practice shows
abuse of the use of (Islamic) religion. Third, that media has povital
role in augmenting the abuse. In fact, a number of websites of many
Islamic philanthropic institutions arouse public interest by claiming that
the issue of refugees is purely religious. While such this thought is also
not wrong, there is however a discrepancy between report in media and
the the amount of aid in the shelter leading us to safely argue that the
spiritual marketing and religious abuse is happening.
As this research has the specic point to examine the objective of
aid and the implementation in helping Rohingya in Aceh, our ndings
encourage further research to investigate the intention and motivation of
Islamic philanthropy in collecting funds and percentage of distribution
in aid. This study also recommends the Indonesian government to be
rightly involved in regulating and controlling philanthropy organisations
and encouraging the media and philantropic organizations to provide a
tangible information and relevant religious and international organizations
to propagate that charity is universal concept of humanity which is
compatible to Islamic teachings.
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