Muslim militants' burning of churches, persecution of Christians in Indonesia spurred by imams' jihad order

Indonesian police try to lift and take away a crying Christian woman while others can only weep at the sight as their church at the Siompin village in Aceh Singkil, Aceh province, was demolished on Oct. 19, 2015.Reuters

Indonesian imams have ordered jihad against Christians living in the Aceh region, giving Muslim militants the mandate to attack and burn churches and driving away many members of minority groups to bordering provinces, according to a report.

Gatestone Institute's report titled "The Indonesia Jihad on Christian Churches'' said violence in the Sharia-law governed region began in October with Islamic leaders calling on Muslims to torch area churches, Fox News said.

"We will not stop hunting Christians and burning churches. Christians are Allah's enemies," one Islamic leader said, according to the report.

Indonesia, where about 90 percent of its 250 million people are Muslim, was once seen as an example that a large Muslim majority can live in relative peace alongside Christian and Hindu minority groups.

At the heart of the Indonesian city of Manado, for example, stands a 153-foot statue of an open-armed Jesus, an odd sight in a region under siege by Muslim mobs.

Last October, hundreds of Muslims paraded in the streets of the city wielding machetes and torching churches, including one in Suka Makmur. "The group of Muslim hard-liners had apparently had enough of their Christian neighbors' open display of faith," the report said, as quoted by Foreign Policy magazine.

The violent clashes displaced a total 8,000 Christians in Aceh and killed a Muslim attacker who was shot in the head, it said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in attempts to ease tension, has tweeted: "Stop violence in Aceh Singkil. Any act of violence, whatever the reasons behind it, not to mention if it is related to religion and faith, will kill diversity —Jkw."

The head of the local chapter of the hard-line group Islamic Defenders Front told Reuters he was demanding the closure of 10 more churches because they lacked proper permits.

The think tank's report said the church attacks are not limited to Aceh. Muslim mobs in other areas have also demanded that local authorities block new churches from being built, and at times, have taken it upon themselves to stop Christians from establishing houses of worship.

The report cited a widely reported incident on Christmas Day, 2012, in which Christians gathered on an empty lot in Bekasi — nearly 1,500 miles south of Aceh, where they hoped to build.

Even though the church had filed the necessary paperwork, the church was shut down after hundreds of Muslims, including women and children, threw rotten eggs, rocks, and plastic bags filled with urine and faeces at the Christians assembled on the lot.

"We are constantly having to change our location because our existence appears to be unwanted, and we have to hide so that we are not intimidated by intolerant groups," a church spokesman told the think tank, adding police authorities were even part of the attacks.

Moderate Muslims, meanwhile, are said to be cautious of the growing extremist trends as many outsiders have mushroomed into the Jakarta suburb in search of work, bringing with them their own religions, traditions and values.

"That has made conservative Islamic clerics nervous. Some have used sermons to warn their flock to be on the lookout for signs of proselytisation,'' it said.

The shift also reportedly reflects a greater problem in Indonesia, which is struggling to stamp out extremist movements without losing the support of moderates, who condemn violence but are sensitive to perceptions that the government is subservient to the West, said Fox News.