In Indonesia, church runs afoul of Islamic street name

September 20, 2011

WELLINGTON, New Zealand

In a test case of religious intolerance in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, an Indonesian mayor is defying court rulings by pushing for a decree to block Christians from opening churches on streets with Islamic names.

Members of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church in the West Java town of Bogor are, after three years, still forced to worship on the sidewalk outside their building, protected by police.

The administration of Bogor mayor Diani Budiarto revoked the church’s building permit and sealed the building as the street had an Islamic name. The mayor’s office also alleged that church leaders had falsified signatures when obtaining the permit.

Local Muslim cleric Muhammad Mustofa, whose father is the street’s namesake, has publicly stated that he has no objection to the church. “Islam in Indonesia ... has always interacted with Buddhism, and Christianity. We are ready to live side by side with anyone,” he told the Al Jazeera news network.

Although a verdict from Indonesia’s highest court in December, backed by the National Ombudsman Commission, favored the church, Bogor has defied the order. Church spokesperson Bona Sigalingging said the mayor’s defiance was dangerous and unlawful.

“There are many churches built on streets with Islamic names, and mosques on streets with Christian names,” he told Al Jazeera on Sept. 3. “This is dangerous for the unity of Indonesia ... The mayor promised that he would abide by whatever decision was handed down by the Supreme Court.”

The United Nations has written to the Indonesian government expressing concern about increasing violence against religious minorities, specifically mentioning this case. Last year at least 30 churches were attacked or forced to close. Some were burned, and church members attacked.

Ombudsman Commission chairman Danang Girindrawardana  reportedly instructed Budiarto to annul the decision to revoke the permit in two weeks, or President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono may move to end the standoff.

However, Yudhoyono is said to be reluctant to challenge the issue of increasingly violent Islamic intolerance as he depends on Islamic support in Parliament. The Jakarta Post, in an Aug.  21 editorial, said if Bogor was to prevail, Indonesia risks sliding into anarchy. “We pray that the mayor will soon obey the law for the good of the nation,” the newspaper said.

Recent research by the Pew Research Centre found Indonesia was one of two countries that had recorded significant increases in religious restrictions, while the Associated Press reported 64 incidents of violence involving religious intolerance in Indonesia last year, up from 18 in 2009.

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