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Members of the conservative Islamic Reformist Movement remove labels from a tent donated by the Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia. Photo: Twitter/milenial Indonesia maju

Indonesian Islamist group faces backlash for targeting church-donated tents for quake victims

  • An Islamist group ripped off labels from tents donated by a church for survivors of the Cianjur earthquake, over fears it was trying to convert Muslims
  • Islamic Reformist Movement has links to banned extremist group Islamic Defenders Front, and some members were in 2015 suspected of being affiliated with Isis
Authorities in Indonesia are urging religious tolerance, after a conservative Islamist group tore off labels from tents that were donated by a church for survivors of the Cianjur earthquake.
In a Twitter video that went viral on Saturday, a group of people, later identified as members of the conservative Islamic Reformist Movement, were seen removing labels emblazoned with the words “The Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia” from the blue tents donated by the church to support survivors of the disaster.

The shallow 5.6-magnitude quake hit Cianjur last week, killing at least 321 people as of Sunday. Some 62,000 homes were damaged and more than 73,000 people were displaced, according to the national disaster mitigation agency.

In the video, a man is heard saying “let’s destroy it”, referring to the tents. Another man, wearing a long robe and white cap, can be seen recording while smiling.

The removal of the tags underlines the lingering fear of Christianisation in the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation.

Cianjur police chief Doni Hermawan said the men dismantled the tents donated by the church in four villages, although they were not from the areas.

Doni said the police questioned the men in the video, adding that they had been reprimanded.

“Those who removed it were not the refugees. The refugees accept what is given from any group, regardless of religion,” Doni said, as cited by CNN Indonesia. “So I warned them, I made sure they would not do that again. Every [donation is given out of] humanity.”

The perpetrators told police they were concerned there was “hidden intention” behind the donation, Doni said.


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Backlash came swiftly from politicians, including West Java governor Ridwan Kamil, who has been tipped as a potential candidate in the 2024 presidential election.

“Even though we are not brothers in faith, we are still brothers in nationality and humanity,” he said in an Instagram post on Sunday. “Those who helped in the disaster came from all parties, from all classes, groups, regardless of their beliefs or religion.”

The governor also asked West Java police to investigate further to prevent similar occurrences from happening in the future.

Meanwhile Cianjur regent Herman Suherman told reporters the removal of the labels was “wrong”, but it was also “not right” for the church to label their donation as it may be perceived as insincere.

Fear of being Christianised

Alexander Arifianto, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the group may have had suspicions the tents were being used by the church to Christianise the Muslim survivors in the disaster-hit areas.

“Anti-Christianisation has been used as a narrative by right-wing Islamic groups to unite themselves in Indonesia since at least the early 1980s,” Arifianto said. “Even among moderate Islam groups, some members would sympathise with these groups when it comes to Christianisation issues.”

According to Arifianto, the Islamic Reformist Movement, or Garis, was cut from the same cloth as the now-banned conservative group, Islamic Defenders Front. Both groups were led by figures associated with Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council (DDII), a Sunni Islamic, Saudi-funded organisation that seeks to promote sharia law and Wahabism, or a puritanical movement that promote a narrow view of Islam.

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In his 2003 book Indonesian Destinies, US historian Theodore Friend described DDII as a group that “denounced conspicuous consumption, governmental corruption, Javanese mysticism, Muslim liberalism, and the economic dominance of the Chinese”. All of these were seen by the Council as “part of a larger conspiracy to Christianise Indonesia”, Friend said.

Some members of Garis have been suspected of being affiliated with Islamic State in the past. In 2015, Garis leader Chep Hernawan claimed he spent at least 1 billion rupiah (US$63,640) to send 100 Indonesians to join Isis.

Most Muslims in Indonesia practice a moderate form of Islam, and the country is officially a secular nation that mostly does not recognise sharia law, with the exception of Aceh, a conservative province in the north.