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Sealed-off Indonesian church can reopen – if mosque is built next door

Country/Region: Indonesia, South and East Asia

The Muslim mayor who illegally sealed off GKI Yasmin Church in Indonesia has agreed it can reopen – if a mosque is built next door.

Presidential advisors brokered the “deal” following a month-long negotiation between the church and the Bogor authorities, which ended on 2 May. 

GKI Yasmin, which has been forced to hold services on the street outside its half-constructed building or in private homes, welcomed the suggestion in principle.

Spokesman Bona Sigalingging said:

The idea has been discussed among members of our congregation. We can accept it. The most important thing for us is to have our constitutional rights guaranteed and we can go back worshipping at our church again.

Istiqlal_Mosque_Jakarta_4X3.jpg
In central Jakarta, a mosque and cathedral stand side by side
Michael J. Lowe / CC BY-SA 3.0

He drew a comparison with a site in Central Jakarta, where a cathedral and mosque stand side-by-side (pictured).

Albert Hasibuan of the Presidential Advisory Council said he was surprised that Bogor mayor Diani Budiarto had approved the idea, given that the mayor had long history of “accommodating” the aspirations of Muslim hard-liners who have been calling for the church’s closure since 2008.

Mr Hasibuan said, “Building a nearby mosque would turn the conflict into a symbol of religious tolerance.”

A peaceful solution?

It remains to be seen, however, if this move really will end the church’s difficulties; will the mayor, who previously said that a church should not be built on a street with an Islamic name, relent in his campaign against GKI Yasmin if a mosque is built alongside it? And will the neighbouring Muslim congregation allow the church to worship and witness in peace?

As well as opposition from the mayor, the church has faced hostility from local Muslims, who have rallied against them, blocked them from accessing the street where the church is situated and disrupted their outdoor services. It is unlikely that they will suddenly embrace the Christians’ presence.

GKI Yasmin’s building permit was revoked in 2008 and the church was subsequently sealed off by the Bogor authorities. The mayor has refused to comply with a Supreme Court order, made in 2010, that the church be reopened.

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