Devout citizens strive to take on tycoons with convenience stores
ERWIDA MAULIA, Nikkei staff writer
January 28, 2020 16:54 JST
JAKARTA — Taufan left his petrochemical job in Abu Dhabi just over a year ago to answer what he felt was his true calling. Upon returning home to Jakarta, he invested in 212 Mart, a new Indonesian convenience store chain whose all-Muslim investors say is part of an “economic jihad.”
Not to be confused with bloody holy wars waged by terrorist groups against perceived “infidels,” supporters of economic jihad say they use the literal meaning of “jihad” in Arabic — which translates to “striving” or “a meritorious struggle” — and apply it to business. “I want to invest in a shop that sides more with Muslims, which sells produce by Muslim communities, by our [small businesses],” Taufan, 53, told the Nikkei Asian Review, declining to share his surname.
The aim of this growing movement in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation is to promote compliance with Shariah — Islamic law — and enhance Muslims’ economic prowess. For decades, the Indonesian economy has been dominated by those close to power and tycoons of Chinese descent, the latter of whom are typically either Buddhists or Christians. The country’s wealth gap remains wide despite some improvement in recent years.
So Taufan joined 140 people, including some of his neighbors, who chipped in a total of around 550 million rupiah ($40,400) to open a 212 Mart in East Jakarta in late 2018.
The 212 brand is owned by the 212 Shariah Cooperative. The number in the name is derived from Dec. 2. On that date in 2016, hard-line Muslims rallied in Jakarta against then-Gov. Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian accused of blasphemy against the Quran. Months later, Ahok lost his reelection bid to a rival supported by opposition and conservative Muslim groups. He was also convicted and spent 20 months in prison.
A 212 Mart on the outskirts of Jakarta: The chain does not stock cigarettes, condoms and alcoholic beverages — all of which its investors see as un-Islamic. (Photo by Dimas Ardian)
Riding on the “positive energy” of the rallies, the cooperative has recruited 57,000 members in three years, collecting a combined 37 billion rupiah, according to Agus Siswanto, deputy head of the organization. Some of the money has gone toward 212 Mart stores, 212-brand mineral water and several fried chicken kiosks. Members have also set up local groups, like Taufan’s, to open and run their own 212 Marts.
“Let’s strive,” Siswanto said. “Let’s do jihad to build up Muslims’ economic independence, to distribute wealth more evenly. If we hadn’t started it now, when would we?”
The shops sell some of the usual convenience store fare — snacks, beverages and skin-care products from major brands. But they also sell lesser-known brands of mineral water, honey and processed meats sourced from small and mid-size enterprises that have partnered with the 212 Mart chain.
They do not stock cigarettes, condoms or alcoholic beverages — all of which the investors consider un-Islamic.