Australia’s nearest neighbour, Indonesia, has a population more than ten times that of Australia[i], and almost 90% of it is Muslim. Is this a worry for the Christians living there? It shouldn’t be because Indonesia’s Constitution (Article 28E) says, “(1) Every person shall be free to choose and to practice the religion of his/her choice…. (2) Every person shall have the right to the freedom to believe his/her faith (kepercayaan), and to express his/her views and thoughts, in accordance with his/her conscience.”[ii] But that appears to ring pretty hollow in view of what Dr C van Dam writes in the following article.[iii]
Sharia Law and Church Closures in Indonesia
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim majority country. The most conservative part of the country is the Aceh province in the northern tip of Sumatra. It is here that Islam was introduced into the area in the thirteenth century and it is the most conservative Islamic part of the nation with the highest proportion of Muslims. In 1999, the government of Aceh started issuing Sharia-based regulations. The province of Aceh has 4.4 million Muslims with a mere 50,000 Protestants and 3,300 Roman Catholics. This Christian minority is at the mercy of the Muslim majority.
Raymond Ibrahim (November 11, 2015, Gatestone Institute) has chronicled some of the outrageous events that have taken place. The imams, the Muslim religious leaders, incite their congregations during their Friday sermons to demonstrate and take action against Christian churches. As a result the civil authorities in Aceh have bowed to the pressure and begun to destroy Christian churches. But even then, the government does not always act fast enough for the fired up Muslim population. On October 12, 2015 “a mob of approximately 700 Muslims, some armed with axes and machetes, torched a local church…. The Muslim mob then moved on to a second church, an act that led to violent clashes. One person, believed to be a Christian, died after being shot in the head. Several were injured, as Christians tried to defend their church against the armed mob.” About 8,000 Christians were driven from their homes and many fled to the next province. “Their fears were justified: Islamic leaders continued issuing messages and text messages saying, ‘We will not stop hunting Christians and burning churches. Christians are Allah’s enemies!’” Nothing is apparently being done to punish the perpetrators of such violence. Since 2006, more than 1,000 churches have been shut.
Although many of these churches have been in existence for a very long time, the Muslim charge that they are not registered and should therefore be destroyed is considered justified by Indonesia’s Joint Ministerial Decrees on Construction of Houses of Worship (2006). These decrees effectively make it impossible for a church to obtain a permit in a Muslim region. To obtain permission to build, a church needs to “get ‘signatures from 60 local households of a different faith,’ presumably Muslims, as well as ‘a written recommendation from the regency or municipal religious affairs office’ – that is, from the local sheikh and council of Muslim elders: the same people most likely to incite Muslims against Christians and churches during mosque gatherings. Christian activists say there are many mosques that are unregistered and built without permits, but the authorities ignore those infractions.”
The problem is not restricted to the Aceh region. Even where Islamic law is not enforced, “fully registered churches are under attack. These include the Philadelphia Protestant Church in Bekasi – nearly 1,500 miles south of Sharia-compliant Aceh. Even though it had the necessary paperwork, it too was illegally shut down in response to violent Muslim protests. On December 25, 2012, when the congregation assembled on empty land to celebrate Christmas, hundreds of Muslims, including women and children, threw rotten eggs, rocks, and plastic bags filled with urine and faeces at the Christians. Police stood by and watched.” Another example is found in Bogor where Islamic law is also not enforced. “Yet the ongoing saga of the GKI Yasmin Church there illustrates how Islamic law takes precedence over Indonesian law. In 2008, when local Muslims began complaining about the existence of the church, even though it was fully registered, the authorities obligingly closed it. In December 2010, the Indonesian Supreme Court ordered the church to be re-opened, but the mayor of Bogor, refusing to comply, kept it sealed off.”
Ibrahim typifies all this oppression as the Indonesian jihad on Christian churches. It is “taking place in varying degrees all throughout the East Asian nation and is not limited to Sharia-compliant zones such as Aceh.”
[iii] The article was published in Clarion (Canadian Reformed Magazine), February 12 2016, p. 65 and is published here with the permission of Professor emeritus Dr C van Dam.