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.
The Communist Party has hit out at predictions in The Telegraph that China is on course to become the world’s biggest Christian congregation, in a sign of Beijing’s deep unease at the rapid spread of Christianity within its borders.
In a recent interview with the paper, Fenggang Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, said the number of Chinese Protestants could swell to around 160 million by 2025 with the total number of Christians exceeding 247 million by 2030.
That would see China move ahead of Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the world’s biggest Christian community.
However, the prediction appears to have gone down badly in Communist Party circles, with many senior leaders fearing the impact an increasingly powerful church could have on their ability to stay in power.
'Unavoidable circumstances' delay introduction of harsh islamic laws
Brunei has postponed its implementation of harsh Islamic punishments, due to begin Tuesday, that have earned condemnation from the United Nations and sparked rare criticism at home.
The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is reflected in the pavement after heavy rain hit Bandar Seri Begawan on April 23, 2013 in Brunei.
No confirmed new date was given for the start of the punishments -- which will eventually include flogging, the severing of limbs and death by stoning -- but an official told theBrunei Times they would begin "in the very near future".
The new criminal code brings in execution by stoning as the punishment for gay sex and adultery as well as rape.
It also introduces the death penalty for defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, blasphemy and declaring oneself a non-Muslim.