Embattled Indonesian Church Forced to Celebrate Christmas in Private Home
Bogor. The congregation of the embattled GKI Yasmin church in Bogor was forced to move its Christmas prayers to a member’s house after Islamic groups assembled at the disputed site and threatened to challenge the sermon on Sunday.
The service was slated to start at 9 a.m. in the sealed church on Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh, but the congregants went elsewhere after members of the Indonesian Muslim Communication Forum (Forkami), the Islamic Reform Movement (Garis) and the Bogor Muslim Community (KMB) objected to that plan.
The opposition protestors came to the church in the morning and shouted to guarding police officers and members of the public order agency (Satpol PP) to expel the congregation.
“On December 23, they were given a letter stating that they are banned from holding a prayer here. The letter clearly mentioned they can’t hold the service,” Forkami head Ahmad Iman said.
Garis head Majudien threatened to deploy his members to the location in a mass Muslim gathering known as tabligh akbar should the Yasmin congregation insist on holding the service there.
Police blocked the roads around the church and diverted traffic to other roads for security reasons.
The modest Christmas service was attended by Lily Wahid and Inayah Wahid, sister and daughter of the late president Abdurrahman Wahid, as well as representatives from GP Ansor, the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim group Nahdlatul Ulama, and the Asian Muslim Action Network.
A number of veiled female Muslims were seen at the scene distributing flowers to express support for religious freedom.
Inayah said the groups who continued to pressure the Yasmin congregation didn’t represent the true spirit of Islam, saying that the Prophet Mohammed himself lived in harmony, side by side with Christians and Jews in Medina.
“Now the diversity of Indonesia can be seen at this small house,” Inayah said.
The letter issued by controversial Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto ordered Yasmin to move its service to a public building near the contested church, but the congregation refused to obey on the grounds that the building was not a worship venue.
“It seems that Diani Budiarto issued the letter to confront Yasmin’s congregation against those intolerant mass,” church spokesman Bona Sigalingging said.
The mayor earlier ordered the closure of the church, arguing that the founders had falsified signatures in the process to acquire a city permit.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the mayor must reopen the church, but the city government has continued to deny the congregation access to the building.
The central government has thus far failed to take a clear stance on the dispute.