Nine churches and six Buddhist temples shut down under Islamist pressure in Banda Aceh
by Mathias Hariyadi
For the city's deputy mayor, the buildings were not being properly used. They lacked the proper building permit and were used for "unlawful" purposes. She pledged greater monitoring of minority activities. Local sources say that the crackdown is the result of threats from extremist groups. FPI now wants other cities and towns to do the same.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Authorities in Banda Aceh, capital of the Aceh Special Territory, ordered the closure of nine Christian home churches and six Buddhist prayer houses for alleged irregularities in their building permit. According to Deputy Mayor Hajjah Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal, the buildings were illegal because they lacked the right permit. Under the law, private homes cannot be used "for religious ceremonies or functions."
"Aceh is a special territory that enforces Sharia," she said and home churches violate the law because they lack the appropriate building permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan in Indonesian).
The issue is more complicated in the case of Christian places of worship because the latter require the agreement of a certain number of local residents and that of the local interfaith dialogue group. Under the pressure of radical Muslim groups, permits are often denied.
Deputy Mayor Djamal also wants the authorities to monitor the activities of Buddhist and Christian communities to ensure that their services are performed in the right places. This is necessary, in her view, to "maintain interfaith harmony." At the same time, "we shall not issue any new permit for other churches or vihara (Buddhist temples)."
Local Muslim extremists welcomed the decision. Yusuf Al-Qardhawy, head of the Aceh branch of the Islamic Defence Front (FPI), called on other jurisdictions to follow Banda Aceh, enforce Islamic law and stop any non-Muslim worship activity that is not approved.
He said the situation would be monitored constantly to ensure that rules are respected. Local sources note that the municipal order shutting Buddhist and Christian places of worship follows a complaint filed by Islamists concerning an "improper" use of buildings.
The province of Aceh, the westernmost of the archipelago of Indonesia, is also the only one which is subject to Sharia. Compliance is ensured by the 'morality police,' a special force that punishes violations in dress and behaviour.
In the past, a relative calm and religious harmony between the Muslim majority and "foreigners," members of various non-Islamic faiths, prevailed under the leadership of former guerrilla leader, now Governor Irwandy Yusuf.
More recently the situation has changed however. Attacks against religious minorities have started and fundamentalists has gained more power and freedom of action.
In last April's elections, Zaini Abdullah, a former guerrilla leader who lived in exile in Sweden, won promising to fight corruption and impose Islamic law.
The strict application of Sharia was one of the conditions separatist rebels imposed on Jakarta to end their armed struggle.
As a result of a recent spike in sectarian tensions, the area saw violence and attacks against Christian communities, which led to the closure of places of worship on the order of the authorities claiming that they lacked proper building permits.
This provinces are actually rich in natural resources such as Ganja, Opium, Gold and Oil....
Too bad they tolerance level are not there yet....
Wasn't a Aceh resident forum member saying just yesterday that perhaps other provinces would follow Aceh's example?
Has yet to be seen, but it's my prediction.
Yet another hit piece on Aceh. Other places close buildings, including places of worship, over zoning considerations. Somehow, those incidents (including many in the United States) are not indicative of some sort of oppressive religious state. But let's put all of this utter crap in its proper context.
Christians are rare here. There are some missionaries here, operating illegal schools. One missionary that I personally know is teaching English without so much as a high school diploma. Nice guy, great person, but it's not really a surprise that the immigrasi are unhappy with his group. There are some rather large churches here. I know of at least four in Banda Aceh, a city of only 250,000 souls or so. Considering that Aceh lays claim to being around 98% Muslim with most of the Christian minority far in the east of the province, I can't imagine that there's any need for more churches in Banda Aceh.
As to zoning, you have to keep in mind that these home churches are in residential zones. Aceh has roads only big enough for one car (maybe) in residential areas, so having a home/church is going to create a traffic nightmare for residents (curiously, the same reason why at least three masjids in the United States are being held up in their construction...).
Their information on the enforcement of morality here is wrong, and I mean stupid wrong. You don't have to maintain hijab as a non-Muslim, and the only places where it is mandatory are inside the gates of a masjid. You can see the signs outside of places like Masjid Raya Baiturrahman that read:
"You are now entering a Muslim dress area".
So, yeah, you have to cover if you enter very small spaces. If this place were half as oppressive as people claim you'd never see a waria. My neighbors wouldn't be walking around outside uncovered.
The Acehnese are hardly intolerant. I always welcome foreigners here to see just how bizarro/stupid the media reports are. You've been Hombre, tell us if you ever felt intimidated or threatened by the Acehnese? From what I've seen, they like foreigners, even foreigners who aren't Muslim.
No, not at all, I had no problems at all in Banda Aceh, but then I basically did a home-office-home routine and didn't go out looking for mischief. And no, I did not engage in any type of religious activity.
Last edited by Hombre de Maiz; 19-10-12 at 15:39.
You need to visit South Jakarta to see zoning gone crazy. In Bangka there is a Mosque almost every 100 meters, this are on small streets, alleys, they block the roads for Friday prayers and the have competitions to see who can be the loudest at Adzan. I guarantee you that few have proper permits. The Indonesian population in the area is at most 85% Muslim and the large expat community is almost 0% Muslim. I don't care if there were a million mosques, churches, temples etc.... as long as they don't bother me, but everyone should have to play by the same rules regarding permits. For Mosques they don't have to follow any rules.
And let's not forget that a handful of non-Acehnese public utility workers were injured and/or killed in attacks around the turn of the year. This was probably a thinly veiled attempt to hold the central government to ransom over the course of the electoral process which at the time had been boycotted by Partai Aceh. Party Aceh's candidate for governor--now the governor--made expanding Islamic law an objective of his administration during his campaign. During this tense period, I was prohibited by my employer from travelling outside of Banda Aceh.
But don't take it from me. It's all there in the International Crisis Group's reports.
Last edited by Hombre de Maiz; 19-10-12 at 15:38.
The Acehnese often, though not always, have strong contempt for the Javanese. They are seen as the new imperialists, and the perception is that the Javanese enjoy something akn to white privilege back home in the states. The contempt seems to be mutual, as violence occasionally occurs between the two. I'll talk about this more in a response to Hombre.
Since they're both technically "Indonesian", I don't count them as foreigners. Westerners are well liked.