Preacher's boarding school gets youths off the street and into Islam

JAKARTA (Reuters) - In a rented three-storey building in Jakarta, Indonesian cleric Halim Ambiya has built his own Islamic boarding school that aims to help street youth return to the faith.

His programme, Tasawuf Underground, has helped more than 120 people since it was launched in 2016, with all of its students recruited from the streets. "Tasawuf" or "Tasawwuf" is the Arabic term for Sufism, a mystical form of Islam.

"'Let's go', I said. I teach them the 'map' to return home," Halim told Reuters.

The 46-year-old spends days zig-zagging through Jakarta's bustling streets to find students. The search is not easy, he said, as many street youth, especially the younger ones, don't always want to talk.

At least 30 former street youths are now studying at Tasawuf Underground, where they learn how to pray, read and write, study the Koran and get vocational training. Halim has opened a laundry and fabric-printing business in the same building to help with the students' income.

At the shop, they learn new skills and stay off the street, he said.

"The punksters, street youths, aren't capable of doing a routine job, so we teach them to become an entrepreneur, and they can become their own boss," Halim said.

Trian Anugrah, 30, said entering the Islamic school was a life-changing event. Not only did he learn to pray, but he was eventually accepted into university.

The former street busker in Jakarta is now enrolled in law school while continuing his studies at the Islamic school.

His mother was amazed by the transformation.

"I'm very pleased. Now he prays when he comes home, and sometimes he reads the Koran," said his mother, Maimunah, who goes by one name.

But Halim is not satisfied. In his spare time, he also teaches Islamic knowledge to former drug addicts at a government-run rehabilitation facility.

And "graduates" like Trian help Halim encourage more street youths to join the Tasawuf Underground.

"Those youths who are corrected have all become my friends, and have provided huge help to me in terms of recruitment because they know the streets better," Halim said.

(Writing by Angie Teo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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