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For Aceh's religious minorities, little room to pray

Religious minorities in Aceh face tough regulations for building facilities for worship.

By Nurdin Hasan for Khabar Southeast Asia in Banda Aceh

January 10, 2014
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In Aceh Province, Christians are a tiny minority-- just 1.2% of the population, according to 2010 census data.

  • Children walk by the Banda Aceh Methodist Church on December 7th, 2013. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

    Children walk by the Banda Aceh Methodist Church on December 7th, 2013. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

Only three churches exist in the provincial capital and although Aceh's Christian population is growing, both stringent permit requirements and pressure from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have made it hard for religious minorities to build worship places here, observers say.

In October 2012, the Banda Aceh administration ordered closed nine places of worship belonging to Christians and Buddhists, citing failure to comply with permitting laws. Six closures followed FPI demonstrations demanding the city shut down the venues.

Six months earlier, public pressure from hard-liners led to a similar move by Singkil Regency in southern Aceh, to close 17 Christian worship sites.

Zulfikar Muhammad, who heads the Coalition of Human Rights NGOs in Aceh, says these rules restrict minorities from practicing their faiths.

"If we revisit our constitution, there is no coherence to such restrictions. I see the rule as a form of an authoritarian state against minority citizens," Zulfikar told Khabar Southeast Asia.

"To worship and get together with those of the same faith is an innate basic right that cannot be prevented. The rules state that any limits on a person's ability to worship and pray are violations of human rights," he said, referring to rules implemented in 2006 and 2007 regulating how members of any religion-- including Islam-- can obtain a permit to build a house of worship.

In 2006, the Indonesian Religious Affairs and Home ministers jointly decreed that a permit required a list of 90 congregants, proof of their identities and a letter of support signed by at least 60 local residents.

One year later, Aceh's governor unveiled even more stringent permitting rules at the provincial level, requiring a minimum of 150 congregants and signatures of support from 120 residents.

"With the joint ministerial decree alone, it already was difficult to get the support of 60 residents, and obviously it would be more challenging to get the support of 120 to build houses of worship. It is impossible to fulfil," said Sondang Marbun, who directs the Christian affairs unit at the Ministry of Religious Affairs office in Aceh.

Commenting on the permit rules, Tengku Faisal Ali, the Nahdhatul Ulama (DPW NU) chairman for Aceh, rejected the suggestion intolerance in the province was growing.

"In Islam, respect for minorities is very strongly upheld. Absolutely nothing forbids non-Muslims from carrying out worship according to the requirements of their faith," he told Khabar.

"There is no law against establishing a house of worship in Aceh that meets existing legal requirements. The requirement for the support of local residents is not a form of discrimination, but a requirement that must be met be obeyed by every citizen," Tengku said.

Reader Comments
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    • Dan
      October 9, 2014 @ 09:10:12AM
    • I apologize if the worship of my brothers, sisters and myself are disrupting the lives of Muslims. I reiterate, our only purpose is to worship. If there are those who act to influence Muslims to convert into Christianity, then that is wrong. In my opinion, there are enough Christians in the world and Indonesia specifically and there is no need for any additional congregations or followers, especially if it makes a Muslim to commit apostasy. I truly don't approve, if there are Christians who make people convert, please report them to the police. I take exception to Christianity being spread to people who do not have religion, for instance, in the forests, be my guest. I strongly condemn the actions of Christians who try to influence Muslims to convert but I hope that religious life in Aceh be given freedom. I see that churches in Banda Aceh must be closed off with iron sheeting so that worship cannot be seen. I think this is very discriminatory. Non-Muslims do not feel as though they are governing Muslims. The last survey showed that Muslims make up 89%, Christians make up 7%. There is a large difference in numbers so in what way are they governing? We Indonesian Christians only want to worship God. To FPI, please don't attack Christians during worship. Respect our worship, learn that Prophet Muhammad SAW truly respected Christians, please learn history. I only want to give clarity to what VIA said which pushed Christians into a corner. To VIA, remember that there are enough Christians and there does not need to be any additions/more followers anymore. Long live the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution.
    • via
      July 20, 2014 @ 07:07:18AM
    • Non-Muslims can say whatever they want. They say Muslims are violent, have no brains, need to be punished with tsunami, that Muslim countries are backward. But remember, in the end times it will be clearly apparent which religions are right and wrong because it is then that true life begins. Possessions are mere illusions, all who have life will feel death and it is then that a human knows the truth. This sounds cliche or make believe to you, clearly because our beliefs are different. To my fellow Muslims, stay united and do not be easily influenced by others, continue to respect non-Muslims but it does not mean you should be governed by other people.
    • Dan
      July 1, 2014 @ 04:07:07AM
    • A church is just a place, Christians can exercise their faith without a church building. I apologize for the discomfort experienced by the people of Aceh who are not happy with Christian activities in the Aceh province. Christianity is a religion of peace, to the best of my knowledge, if there is a city that cannot accept you, dust off your feet and go to another city that will. The chosen will be accepted, just like harvesting rice: only rice is harvested and the grass and weeds will be burned in the fire. I have always respected Islam and I reiterate that there are already enough Christians and we do not need new ones. The point is, we who live in the country of Indonesia must respect each other. Have a blessed fast to Muslims in Indonesia and the world. Good day.
      June 1, 2014 @ 02:06:16PM
    • The point is that the people of Aceh need to learn what it means to be a united nation, to have nationalism and human rights!
    • YufiSaragi
      April 21, 2014 @ 02:04:24PM
    • There does not seem to be any religious discrimination in Aceh. The closing of churches and temples in several places in Aceh is not intended to discriminate against those religions. It is because in the villages where those churches and temples are located, the majority of the population are Muslim. Look at places where the majority are non-Muslims, Peunayong, for instance, there is still a temple there, and it's big. I am a native of Medan and Medan is clearly different from Aceh. Medan is multicultural and religiously diverse but Aceh is special. The Dutch and Japanese were never able to control Aceh, moreover, Indonesia did not gain independence through the word Hallelujah, but Indonesia gained independence with "Allahuakbar".
    • git
      March 28, 2014 @ 02:03:52AM
    • Why is that in every debate, Muslims are so adamantly self righteous about themselves and their religion? Is there no teaching of tolerance? Also, in every debate they always refer directly to Allah or the like, that is where I see the hypocrisy.
    • suwinanto
      February 22, 2014 @ 03:02:31AM
    • Who are we in the eyes of Allah? Allah created the sun for all mankind and even bad people enjoy the sunshine. So why do we presume to exceed Allah's power?
    • iwansalman
      February 18, 2014 @ 11:02:20AM
    • Aceh is indeed different, but it has always been number one when it comes to crazy.
    • Frankie
      February 18, 2014 @ 07:02:07AM
    • Reading the comments of people from Aceh reflects strong fanaticism, holding on to one's faith without awareness of other faiths. That is indicative of the frailty of the faith itself, therefore they are afraid of being influenced by other faiths. Faith towards God should be foremost, you must believe that God Himself watches over His people and faith, without concern for the activities of His people.
    • scaner
      February 19, 2015 @ 06:02:14AM
    • fake evidence
    • riski ramadhan
      February 16, 2014 @ 10:02:37PM
    • Aceh is the chamber of Mecca. The development of a region hinges on women. Maintain the integrity of the women of Aceh so that they are not easily influenced by other countries.
    • ijal
      February 16, 2014 @ 12:02:08AM
    • That is what I am hoping for, that all the people of Aceh to come together and wipe out all churches in Aceh. Don't let our Islam be destroyed.
    • hue
      March 28, 2014 @ 02:03:41AM
    • That means that your religion has no tolerance, there is only the pursuit of victory. It is no wonder Aceh was struck by a tsunami. Where is there a country in the world, with a Muslim population, that is advanced? This is because they don't use their brains.
    • Jauhari
      February 14, 2014 @ 05:02:31AM
    • Such a fuss over religion. Do more charity work, that's the right thing to do.
    • boy
      February 13, 2014 @ 10:02:34AM
    • I hope that the Pidie regional government do not give out permits to build churches so easily. Amen, don't bought and sold religion with money.
    • asamson
      February 13, 2014 @ 08:02:58AM
    • Sorry, before 1908 (Boedi Oetomo), the Islamic Trade Union (SDI) had already been established. It was politically active in 1905 but was then dissolved by the Dutch. Then, in 1911 came its successor, the Islamic Union (SI), which had grown to 2 million members by 1919. H. Agus Salim, Tamar Djaya, Ridwan Said, Anwar Harjono, Ahmad Mansyur Surya Negara and Adabi Darban had once said that the day the Islamic Trade Union was founded is the day that should have been declared as "National Revival Day", not the founding day of Boedi Oetomo in 1908 because Boedi Oetomo only encompassed the island of Java, and, even more specifically, the Javanese nobility in 1908. The Islamic Trade Union, on the other hand, had branches all over Indonesia and was therefore more deserving of the title "National". But, the secular nationalists, non-nationalist historians, and "neutral" historians who wrote made-to-order historical accounts have obfuscated these things. The nationalists distorted these things because they were afraid. The principle of the SDI was Islam, and the secular nationalists were most afraid of Islam and can be said to have been Islamophobic. What is going on? There are so many historical distortions.
    • Kevin
      February 12, 2014 @ 04:02:48AM
    • Aceh is known for being the Chamber of Mecca. Aceh is known for its marijuana fields. Aceh is known for its Islamic sharia. Aceh is known for being the biggest distributor of marijuana leaves in Southeast Asia.
    • asamson
      February 15, 2014 @ 01:02:10PM
    • Aceh is becoming tainted by the machinations in the central government, by secularists with communist leanings, by people claiming to be Muslim but only so far as their ID cards indicate, in other words, not observant. Remember Jogjakarta before it became a special region served as the central government's punching bag, the sultanate was put in a state of confusion, was unable to govern its own territory and was disoriented. Therefore, Aceh must be revitalized according to its culture and history, away from the sickness and problems. Naturally, the medicine must be administered at the correct dosage if we wish for recovery.
    • mekar
      February 19, 2014 @ 04:02:53AM
    • Aceh needs to grow a brain, all over Aceh there are marijuana dealers and terrorists.
    • firman
      September 22, 2014 @ 12:09:25PM
    • Just enjoy what we people of Aceh are doing until you can longer speak. Okay, keep talking, like barking dogs.
    • aulia
      February 12, 2014 @ 03:02:31AM
    • People of different faiths should stop pointing fingers. We are all equal, remember Unity in Diversity. For Muslims: have we been acting like Muslims? Think about this and if you haven't, then do not refer to call other people infidels. The truth is that those who refer to others as infidels are the real infidels in the eyes of Allah.
    • elsa rosalina
      February 11, 2014 @ 10:02:39AM
    • Aceh does have a Muslim majority but this just pits Christians against Muslims. The important thing, whatever the issue, is how to settle it amicably and wisely.
    • gunawan
      February 10, 2014 @ 11:02:44PM
    • You will never be able to cross the threshold into the chamber of Mecca. Do not equate Islam with other religions, it is very different, it is different but united. Do not liken Islam to other religions and do not compare the region of Aceh to other regions. Islam is absolute. We accept Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the Prophet through whom Allah has sent us His legal code.
    • muhammad jufri S.sosi
      February 9, 2014 @ 03:02:58AM
    • There is a Dayah in Bayu that has only been running for 3 months but has already been given aid. The Dayah is named Nahdlatul Ulum, Gampong Beunot, Syamtalira Bayu subdistrict, headed by Tgk. M. Yusuf Ilyas. A Dayah must run for at least 2 years and yet the North Aceh Regency government has not put forward a protest concerning this matter. The North Aceh Regency Head and the head of the Department of Islamic Sharia must be held accountable for this.
    • aneuk aceh
      February 8, 2014 @ 09:02:39PM
    • It's just a matter of time for the churches. They will be destroyed. By Aneuk Dayah.
    • amnasir
      February 8, 2014 @ 07:02:19PM
    • Only mosques allowed to be built in Aceh.
    • Bejaka
      February 8, 2014 @ 04:02:26AM
    • Aceh has always been known by people of other faiths as being Muslim. Do not lead us astray with religions that are not sanctioned by Allah.
    • masrizal
      February 8, 2014 @ 02:02:46AM
    • Non-Muslims should know their place when living in a Muslim majority region.
    • karim gayo
      February 7, 2014 @ 10:02:42PM
    • Christians should know their place and the journalist Nurdin Hasan should not keep stirring agitations in Aceh. Do not create news that threaten the unity of Indonesia. Christians have always had a place in Aceh. For example, in southeastern Aceh, Christians are free to worship in peace. So, do not presume to know the conditions in Aceh if you do not understand it.
    • Bejaka ACEH
      February 7, 2014 @ 05:02:34PM
    • Hey, Mr. Zulpikar, what is your religion, sir? If you are Muslim and a native of Aceh do not debate about other religions in Aceh. Do you know that as long as other religions continue to enter Aceh, many deviant teachings are coming here. Do you know who is behind this? God willing, you all know. But even though many try to encroach upon Islam, God willing Islam will never be defeated in the eyes of man, the prophets and Allah.
    • asamson
      February 7, 2014 @ 10:02:21AM
    • The minorities are praying to and worshiping devils, jins, ghouls, and the like who act like they are good with all their trickery. Devils, jins and ghouls are apparently good at acting, they are the ones who deserve the Citra trophy, the Oscar trophy and other trophies, not artists or actors.
    • git
      March 28, 2014 @ 02:03:36AM
    • What is the minority religion in the world? Isn't it Islam? Why can't you think?
    • endatu bansa aceh
      February 7, 2014 @ 12:02:21AM
    • Beware and stop these dangerous hypocrites, they existed even in the times of Allah's prophet (wolves in sheep's clothing).
    • asamson
      February 6, 2014 @ 09:02:39AM
    • Officials who do not know the culture and history of Aceh, and those who know of Aceh itself but do not care to understand it should be replaced by those with a creative approach to a firm and flexible Islamic law. Aceh's Islamic foundation should not be diminished but should be developed and improved to create a comprehensive Islam. Beware of minorities because they will employ any means, whether through effort, words, money and even their genitals to undermine Islam in Aceh. Remember the invaders who employed all means to destroy Islam in our country, just like the kingdoms of Demak, Ternate, Tidore, including Aceh and the other Islamic kingdoms in our country.
    • fahri
      February 4, 2014 @ 08:02:15PM
    • Christianity belongs in hell for all eternity, do not give infidels the chance to develop in an Islamic country.
    • git
      March 28, 2014 @ 02:03:19AM
    • An Islamic country? Islam also arrived from outside. There used to be no religions in the time of the kingdoms.
    • dudin atjeh
      February 4, 2014 @ 08:02:48PM
    • Aceh, as a special region known as the chamber of Mecca, should no longer permit the construction of places of worship other than mosques.
    • ayu
      February 2, 2014 @ 11:02:11AM
    • Aceh is the chamber of Mecca. As long as we exist and as long as we know and are able, let us defend truth for the sake of us all before ministers from outside come in and try to lead future generations astray. I seek forgiveness from Allah.
    • ahmad mikala
      February 1, 2014 @ 10:02:36PM
    • Remember, my brothers, Islam is the religion sanctioned by Allah.
    • bambang
      January 31, 2014 @ 11:01:47AM
    • This is called pitting Muslims and Christians against each other.
    • ayah mac
      January 30, 2014 @ 02:01:04PM
    • In Aceh it is forbidden (Haram) to have any religion other than Islam.
    • abd rahman
      January 30, 2014 @ 09:01:06AM
    • In Indonesia we cannot deny that we pray and do what we can, however small, for the good of Muslims.
    • aneuk aceh
      January 29, 2014 @ 09:01:25PM
    • Pardon me, Zulfikar, are you a Muslim or not? Learn about religion first so that you can understand Islam before talking about human rights. Human rights is not a product of Islam, we cannot let the principles of today's generation in Aceh become damaged because of you. Aceh is different so don't compare it with other provinces.
    • farid
      January 27, 2014 @ 07:01:47AM
    • The most important thing is to report according to the facts.
    • yos
      January 27, 2014 @ 04:01:27AM
    • Do not forget, mate, the disasters of 2004. We must reflect on the fact that no creature in this world is perfect, God the Almighty Creator rules over all, not religion and not human beings.
    • pratomo hariatmono
      February 3, 2014 @ 09:02:25PM
    • Humans are Allah SWT's most perfect creation, especially when it comes to intelligence, so must Allah remind us again with His wrath? Hopefully never again. Allah is all-loving and all-compassionate.
    • ramli
      January 25, 2014 @ 09:01:51AM
    • Hey, Zulfikar, do not equate Aceh with the other provinces in Indonesia, all our descendants are Muslim. Do not spread around the news that Christianity is growing in Aceh, I do not accept it.
    • m jafar
      January 23, 2014 @ 07:01:58PM
    • There are still courageous ones to defend what is right.
    • syawaluddin pili
      January 18, 2014 @ 08:01:45AM
    • Aceh the chamber of Mecca is the adage of our parents, therefore, Allah's law must be upheld according to the Sharia and Aceh must be clean of all harmful things, learning from the past. Matters of worship are governed by law. Your way is your way, my way is mine.
    • amer
      January 17, 2014 @ 03:01:34PM
    • Assalamualaikum. On FPI, they have the right and responsibility, together with society to protect Allah's religion, what is important is that they do not disrupt non-Muslims. Every human being is equal. Muslims are not allowed to eat pork. Christians can choose whether to eat it or not, just don't spread the swine flu virus to Muslims. (We can have the same goals or not). Aceh being different is nothing new. Since 1619 Aceh has always had Arabic and Acehnese language lessons in major cities, long before "Hindunesia" became independent. Jimy Sayler, an expert on Asian history says: Aceh abides by "the rope of Allah".
    • Muhamad Daud
      February 8, 2014 @ 12:02:25AM
    • To you be your religion, and to me my religion. Let us truly abide by this. God willing...
    • Macan Merahputih
      January 15, 2014 @ 05:01:05AM
    • FPI are the instigators of trouble everywhere.
    • ayah mac
      January 30, 2014 @ 02:01:24PM
    • It is truly tiresome dealing with people who have no religion like you.
    • william Maxmillian L
      January 11, 2014 @ 04:01:14AM
    • In truth the purpose of humans in adopting various religions is but one: to go to heaven. If your destination is heaven then all the faiths could live side by side on this planet Earth. There would be no more infidels today because everyone has their own faith. Therefore there would be no need for limitations or asking for permission. Amen.
    • zikri
      February 1, 2014 @ 10:02:54AM
    • Are you certain that all religions are right? What if it was your child being turned into an infidel?
    • apasyam
      January 10, 2014 @ 03:01:25AM
    • Aceh is different from other regions. Aceh is special in matters of: 1. Education 2. Religion 3. Customs. Peumophom Hai is the pioneer of Human Rights.
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