Back to school - Indonesia's elderly Muslims brush up on their faith

MAGELANG, Indonesia (Reuters) - Youngsters usually throng the corridors of the Payaman Islamic boarding school in central Java, but the special classes it holds each year aim to help elderly Indonesians deepen their understanding of Islam.

It’s not your typical summer school. Since the programme kicked off in 1980, hundreds of people ranging in age from 60 to 80 on average have attended the school in the city of Magelang during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The situation here is one of my motivations,” said Nina Yanti, 69 and a recent convert to Islam, who wanted to learn more about the religion. “If we learn alongside others of the same age it’s much easier for us.”

The students pay 30,000 rupiah ($2.31) for classes that include studying and reciting the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and exploring spiritual development and guidance.

The fees are sufficient to cover electricity and water costs, while they can cook for themselves and stay nearby for up to a month.

One of the teachers at the school said it was not necessary to push students to attend.

“They sincerely come to gain knowledge, as well as practice their knowledge,” said Muhammad Tibyan, who is also the imam of the Payaman mosque.

The programme teaches Indonesia’s traditionally moderate form of the religion and in this year’s classes of 350 each, women far outnumber men, who are just 40 in all.

Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people and the majority follow a moderate form of Islam, although there is a vocal minority of hardliners, and militants have launched attacks in the past.

Writing by Ed Davies