Praying is meant to be a simple act, but not in Indonesia, which proclaims itself the world’s biggest God-fearing democracy, and refuses to be called a secular nation.
This means undergoing the mind-numbing bureaucracy inherent in processes like getting a driver’s license or renewing a passport.
And even then, the freedom to worship is not guaranteed, as medieval-style pitchfork-wielding mobs give vent to the insecurity of their “majority religion”.
In Pisangan Jaya, Tangerang, Banten, congregation leader Bedali Hulu has lived in anxiety for the past two months ago, as dozens of members of Islam organizations confront him each time his congregation holds a Sunday prayer.
Even though the extremists have yet to turn violent, their actions have intimidated Bedali and the 40 members of his Jakarta Baptist Christian Church (GKBJ), leading them to pray under pressure.
“How can we pray properly if there are a bunch of people screaming threatening words outside our church while we hold Sunday prayers?” Bedali told The Jakarta Post recently.
Bedali’s church is a small house whose walls are shared with its neighbors located at the Sepatan Residence housing complex.
He says it was in 2005 when the protests against his congregation’s activities began to erupt.
“We were in another place then, still in the same village,” he said.
“Several members of Muslim groups ordered us to move because they didn’t want us praying there.
“So we moved to keep them happy, but then another group of activists came and ordered us to move once again, and here we are now.
Asun, who lives across the street from the church, told the Post on Thursday he feared the protesters than the churchgoers.
“They come every Sunday, brandishing sticks and yelling ‘Allahuakbar’,” he said. “If a brawl breaks out and our homes are damaged, who’ll take responsibility?”
Asun added most residents in the neighborhood were not bothered by the church’s presence, but were rattled by the anger it had raised.
“We agree the church should move elsewhere, because we don’t want any violence here.”
Pisangan Jaya village head Sa’adudin, however, disagreed.
“It was the local residents who told us they didn’t want any Christian-related activities in the area,” he told the Post at his office.
He added homes were not meant to be used as places of worship.
“It violates housing rules,” he said, adding the congregation should move far away from the village, and not to a residential area.
Bedali denied the congregation was violating building statutes.
“We’re not actually a church, we’re a group from the same church who pray together here because the nearest GKBJ church is in Cengkareng [in West Jakarta], which is quite far away,” he said. (bbs)