JAKARTA, Indonesia — Growing up in a conservative Muslim household in rural West Sumatra, Alexander Aan hid a dark secret beginning at age 9: He did not believe in God. His feelings only hardened as he got older and he faked his way through daily prayers, Islamic holidays and the fasting month of Ramadan.
He stopped praying in 2008, when he was 26, and he finally told his parents and three younger siblings that he was an atheist — a rare revelation in a country like Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. They responded with disappointment and expressions of hope that he would return to Islam.
But Mr. Aan neither returned to Islam nor confined his secret to his family, and he ended up in prison after running afoul of a 2008 law restricting electronic communications. He had joined an atheist Facebook group started by Indonesians living in the Netherlands, and in 2011 he began posting commentaries outlining why he did not think God existed.
“When I saw, with my own eyes, poor people, people on television caught up in war, people who were hungry or ill, it made me uncomfortable,” Mr. Aan, now 32, said in an interview. “What is the meaning of this? As a Muslim, I had questioned God — what is the meaning of God?” He was released on parole on Jan. 27 after serving more than 19 months on a charge of inciting religious hatred.
The political party of one of Indonesia’s presidential hopefuls on Thursday denied accusations by academics and rights activists that its manifesto risks creating “religious fascism” in the predominantly Muslim country.
According to the Diversity Movement for a Qualified General Election, a network of more than 35 organizations across the country, the religion section of the Gerindra Party’s manifesto stipulates that the government has an obligation to control the freedom to practice religious faith.
It also says the government is obliged to protect the teachings of “pure” religions recognized by the state from all kinds of defamation and deviation.
These religions include Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Hinduism.
However, this poses a threat to minority sects such as Shia and Ahmadiyah Muslims, the coalition says.
By Alan Morison
PHUKET: Brunei is a dot on the map of Borneo, the smallest member of Asean and one of the smallest countries in the world. From May 1, it is adopting criminal shariah law.
There was a time when Brunei made international headlines because the Sultan of Brunei once ranked as world's richest man. His brother Jefri made news for spending the money in profligate fashion as fast as Brunei was able to make it from vast oil reserves.
Perhaps the next time Brunei makes news will be when a thief loses an arm or an adultress is stoned to death. Just why Brunei has chosen to adopt shariah law is a mystery.
Eight years ago, when I was part of a team that helped start a daily broadsheet newspaper there for the Sultan's 60th birthday, Brunei did not seem a place of extremes, but of moderation.