In this photo essay, Ray Yen takes us inside Indonesia’s latest mass protest to defend Islam, which peacefully converged on Jakarta’s Istiqlal mosque on 11 February.

As night fell on 10 February, people from across Jakarta and outside the city began to make their way to the country’s capital to attend Aksi 112, the latest iteration in a series of mass mobilisations commonly referred to as Aksi Bela Islam, or Defending Islam Action.

The series of protests was sparked by a controversial statement about a verse in the Quran made by Jakarta’s incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), who’s currently facing both the gubernatorial election (taking place this Wednesday), and a drawn out blasphemy trial.

Initially, the Greater Jakarta Metropolitan Regional Police (Polda Metro Jaya) refused to issue a permit for the planned “Long March” with the rationale that it would disturb the cooling-off period of the gubernatorial election (masa tenang). After a meeting with the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs of Indonesia, Wiranto, Aksi Bela Islam’s two notable front men, the Islamic Defenders Front’s (FPI) Habib Rizieq Shihab and GNPF-MUI’s leader Ustadz Bachtiar Nasir, changed the event’s agenda to a mass Dawn Prayer at the national mosque Istiqlal.

Following are some of the images I took at Istiqlal Mosque in the early morning of 11 February.

I arrived near Istiqlal mosque around 2am. Although it was raining, people were arriving on mass.


Most people came wearing white peci or kopiah; some were in white robes while others wore t-shirts referencing the largest mass mobilisation in Indonesian history – Aksi 212, which took place on 2 December 2016 and reportedly attracted between 750,000 and 1 million attendees. If you didn’t bring your own Aksi Bela Islam paraphernalia, you could pick something up from the numerous vendors in the area.


A fried tofu seller waiting for the crowd to arrive.

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While many locals participated in the event, many came from outside of the city as well. At one point, I was with a group of FPI members from Bekasi, walking along the fences of Istiqlal looking for an entrance.


The loudspeakers drowned out all other noise in the area with prayers and speeches from inside the mosque. This became necessary as Aksi 112 attracted hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom couldn’t make it into the mosque.

The entrance of Istiqlal was bustling with activity in the wee hours of the morning.

I saw young people in kopiah and baju koko posing for a photo in front of Masjid Istiqlal holding an Ar-Rayah flag.

People used the opportunity to sell plastic bags for attendees for bringing shoes into the mosque.


A boy checking his hair using the reflective case of his iPhone.


Some areas of the mosque were almost in complete darkness – they were only dimly lit by mobile phone LCDs as people eagerly updated their social media pages with photos documenting their participation in Aksi 112.

Some people were reciting from the Quran, using the flashlight on their mobile phones to read.

I also saw a young man enthusiastically waving a flag typically reserved for the commander of a jihad while his friends used the time before the dawn prayer to rest.

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The ritual was occasionally interrupted by people taking selfies using the flash on their phones.


The crowd reacted to the arrival of the two pairs of candidates challenging Ahok in the upcoming election – Anies Baswedan and his running mate Sandiaga Uno, and Agus Yudhoyono. Thousands of people inside the mosque chanted takbir as the Muslim candidates made their way through the crowd to the front of the mosque.


“Where is Bang Sandi?”


Proud alumni of Aksi 212.


People started looking for shelter as rain started to pour down.

People continued to arrive after the dawn prayer. The nearby train station was packed with people waiting to get to Istiqlal.

Ray Yen is a PhD student at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, the Australian National University.

All photos copyright Ray Yen.