- Dozens of religious groups have moved in to Aceh, looking
to help tsunami victims - and convert them and others, creating tensions
in the disaster area.
- The arrival of Western Christian groups with records
of aggressive preaching risks confrontation with local Muslim leaders which
could jeopardise the provision of aid to the 600,000 local people made
homeless by the disaster. The death toll in Aceh stands at around 110,000
and is expected to rise.
- Reacting to the attempts of one American group to fly
hundreds of local children to a Christian orphanage, Din Syamsuddin, head
of the Indonesian Council of Clerics, said any attempt to spread religion
under the cover of aid was wrong.
- 'The Muslim community will not remain quiet. This a clear
statement, and it is serious,' he said.
- Many survivors of the disaster are deeply traumatised
by their experience and thus, experts say, vulnerable to religious groups.
The disaster has led to a huge increase in religious sentiment. Many Acehnese
speak of the wave as a punishment from God for immorality and lax Islamic
practice, pointing out that in many villages only the mosque was left standing.
- 'I had faith but never did what I should have done,'
said Shinta Ekhsani, a 29 year-old English teacher. 'I did not pray five
times a day. I did not teach my children about Islam. I was too materialistic.
Now I have changed.'
- Most Indonesians follow a moderate strand of Islam, very
different from more hardline varieties increasingly prevalent in the Middle
East. Local Muslim groups were among the first to bring help to victims.
Aceh is Indonesia's most religiously conservative province.
- However, more radical Muslim groups started arriving
in the province within days. These include the Islamic Defenders' Front,
which has attacked bars and shops selling alcohol in Jakarta, the Indonesian
capital, and Lashkar Mujahideen, which endorses a militant ideology and
has alleged links to the killing of Christians.
- Last week, speaking outside a tent at Banda Aceh's busy
military airport under a banner reading 'Islamic Law Enforcement', Salman
al-Farizi said his group were in Aceh to give medical and food assistance,
remove corpses, evacuate refugees and to preach. 'The survivors will be
helped to spread the true word of Allah,' al-Farizi said.
- Elsewhere, groups are handing out Korans and even veils
alongside aid. Volunteers from the al-Azhar Foundation in Jakarta said
they had distributed 1,993 Korans to refugees from Lokh Nga, one of the
worst-hit villages. 'Many want to read the Koran to help them with their
trauma,' said Anwar Sani, director of the foundation.
- Some Christian groups, however, are instructing workers
not to display church names or wear crosses.
- 'We prefer to address the physical needs first,' said
William Suhanda, an Indonesian whose Christian group, 'Light of Love for
Aceh', is helping distribute food in Banda Aceh and hopes to bring 50 children
to a Christian orphanage in Jakarta. 'We also want to expose them to Christian
values... so they can see the other side, that we're about the love of
Christ,' he said.
- Mark Kosinski, an American evangelist who arrived in
Aceh from Malaysia last week, said: 'These people need food but they also
need Jesus. God is trying to awaken people and help them realise salvation
is in Christ.'
- One US Christian group was revealed last week to have
tried to airlift 300 'tsunami orphans' to a Christian children's home.
WorldHelp started raising funds for the operation until it learned that
the Indonesian government had banned non-Muslims from adopting Acehnese
- 'What we were attempting to do in finding a home for
these orphans is no different from what Mother Teresa did in placing Hindu
orphans in a Christian children's home,' said Vernon Brewer, president
- The Church of Scientology has also established a presence
in Banda Aceh, setting up a base opposite the governor's mansion. 'We are
not here to proselytise. That would be distasteful,' said Greg Churilov.
'We hope we are just seen as another relief group.'
- However, there are also opportunities for co-operation.
The US navy's high-profile effort to assist Indonesia deliver aid has helped
counter anger over the Iraq war. The Islamic Defenders' Front spent much
of this week removing corpses from collapsed homes alongside an Indonesian
Christian group. Mormons have teamed up with Islamic relief operations
to send aid to the region.
- Last week, the UN even asked Lashkar Mujahideen to unload
a plane of relief supplies because it was short of personnel.
- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited