Muslim comedian who laughs at Islamic radicalism in Indonesia

The comedian Sakdiyah Maruf uses humor to talk about Islamic radicalism and the rights of women in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world and that punishes blasphemy with up to five years in prison.

"The terrorists are much more like Kim Kardashian than any Muslim, they publish videos online and are desperate to get attention," says the Indonesian monologueist, wearing an Islamic veil during one of her last routines.

Jokes like this have achieved the laughter and empathy of thousands of followers, although they have also placed Sakdiyah in a complicated balance between his position as a humorist, Muslim and woman of Arab descent born in a conservative family in Pekalongan, in the center of the island of Java.

88 percent of the more than 260 million people in Indonesia practice Islam, most of them moderately; However, after the democratic transition that followed the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998, the influence of extremist groups has progressively increased.

During an interview with Efe in a café in Jakarta, the considered the first Muslim comedian of Indonesia admits that the enemies that most concern him are not the people behind the growing intolerance in the archipelago, but some of his relatives.

"Unfortunately one of my biggest opponents is the person who was closest to me before, my sister, who has just joined one of those groups," says Sakdiyah, referring to the fundamentalists.

"She told me 'for God's sake please do not use fundamentalism and extremism (in your monologues) and throw away all those feminist books'", adds the monologueist of Arab descent while her husband takes care of his seven-month-old daughter in a adjoining room.

In 2015, Indonesia received the Vaclav Havel international award for creative dissidence, although she rejects the adjective "courageous" since it "validates the stereotype that Muslims are so oppressed that you have to give a prize to a Muslim just because she is a monologist. "

Even so the social pressure in Indonesia, together with the laws against blasphemy and of Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) that carry penalties of up to 5 and 6 years in jail, respectively, make it dangerous to joke about matters related to religion.

The comedian tells that during the regime of Suharto (1967-1998), time in which the Islamist groups were repressed, the humorists knew that they faced the Government, but now the pressure is exerted through an "invisible hand" that pushes to self-censorship.

In addition, Sakdiyah clarifies that his jokes are not about Islam, but "about Muslims and the way in which they practice Islam" and that "he would never ridicule the verses of the Qur'an or the message of the prophet".

After having her daughter, Indonesia says she has decided to focus her monologues more on women, partly because of the pressure towards self-censorship and partly because "I realized that from the beginning I always did this for women".

Fear, admits the comedian, is part of her profession when she receives messages that pray for the misfortune of her daughter, but also when she thinks about how God will take her profession.

"I'm scared to go against God, but we can not ask," Sakdiyah says in one of the few moments he does not joke.

Although her husband calls her "a comedian with a mission", the Indonesian dilutes part of the image of rebellion and ensures that his intention is to have "a loving conversation" with his family.

"I always saw myself as a person who found it difficult to find ways to express themselves, and I thought it was a way to find a way out, now I am 36 years old and I realize that what I really dreamed about was finding a way to enter", narrates the monologuista.

Ricardo Pérez-Solero


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