JAKARTA, Indonesia, December 2 (CDN) – After closing churches in West Java, South Sulawesi, Sumatra, and other provinces, hard-line Islamic organizations are now attempting to stop Christian worship in or near shopping malls.
Dozens of people from Islamic organizations demonstrated in front of the Gandaria City Mall in south Jakarta on Nov. 19, protesting worship of an unnamed church at the shopping center. After about an hour, mall management in the presence of the sector police chief spoke with demonstrators, who said they opposed the services because there is a Quranic boarding school nearby.
“In front of the mall is a Quranic school that has been there for dozens of years,” said demonstrator Hamdani, according to Poskota newspaper.
The head of the mall, identified only as Ridwan, denied that there was any church or worship service there. He told Poskota that the demonstrators were misinformed and that he had resolved the matter with them.
Jeirry Sumampouw, executive secretary of the diakonia department of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches, said that no one has the right to forbid worship in a mall. He said a mall is a public space that can be used for any purpose, including worship.
“A mall is multifunctional and can be used in any manner, as long as it is good and doesn’t disturb things,” he said. “The government must be firm with demonstrators who tried to forbid worship services at Gandaria City Mall, because if nothing is done, this can spread to other places.”
The difficulty of getting building permits for churches has caused an increase of worship in malls, Sumampouw said.
“Because of this, many churches are using malls as places of worship,” he said.
He said the state should protect every citizen that worships, especially those in malls or shopping centers.
“Mall managers are often frightened so much that they will forbid worship activities in their malls,” he added.
Citing the Quranic school as a reason to forbid worship at the Gandaria City Mall is without legal basis and highly subjective, Sumampouw said. Raw emotion without consideration of justice motivates those who wish to stop Christian worship, he said, adding that they merely oppose any appearance of Christianity.
“Remember, this is not a country of one religion only,” he said. “These motives are wrong. The reasons to forbid worship are fabricated.”
Sumampouw said opponents’ motives go beyond mere anti-Christian sentiment – there are hoodlums who are intolerant of minority religions, including those who extort money, seize land, and oppose Christians because of personal grievances.