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
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
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
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.