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Thursday, April 07, 2005

INDONESIA: Muslims, Christians Bond After Disaster

Muslims, Christians bond after disaster
By Chris Brummitt
The Associated Press


GUNUNG SITOLI, Indonesia - In the hours after a devastating earthquake shook Nias island, Farid Mushaf risked his life pulling a dead Christian neighbor from the rubble of his shop.
The 56-year-old Muslim then loaded the corpse onto the back of his truck and took it to the Santa Maria Cathedral, which is being used as a morgue by Christians.
Unlike other places in Indonesia, islanders on mostly Roman Catholic Nias have always lived in peace, an example of religious tolerance in a nation better known for interfaith clashes than harmony.
Elsewhere on this sprawling archipelago - the world’s most populous Muslim nation - religious violence, mainly between a fringe of Islamic extremists and pockets of Christians, has left thousands dead in recent years.
But Monday’s devastating earthquake has deepened the ties on Nias and forced members of different religions to help each other in ways they could never have imagined.
’’On this island, we are humans first,’’ said Mushaf, sitting outside a green-domed mosque that was flattened by the quake. ’’There are no differences.’’
Victims of the quake, which is estimated to have killed about 1,000 people on the island, are being sorted according to their faith.
The main mosque, the Santa Maria Cathedral and a Buddhist temple are all being used as makeshift morgues for victims from their respective congregations.
Flies buzzed around the corpses, some of which lay on corrugated iron Wednesday. Two days after the disaster, and with no refrigeration, the smell of death wafted from the buildings.
Outside the cathedral, bodies were laid out wrapped in white sheets. Some relatives have held vigils, lighting candles next to the heads of their loved ones.
Nias’ 450,000 people are almost 90 percent Christian, but Christians remain a tiny minority in Indonesia, which has a population of more than 238 million.
The island, where European missionaries first set foot 500 years ago, lies just off Sumatra, the country’s most staunchly Islamic region.
The Nias islanders, particularly the well-organized southern villages, initially put up strong resistance when the Dutch colonizers tried to take control. But the Dutch finally conquered the island in 1909, and then Nias slowly started to convert to Christianity.
Muslims make up almost a third of the people in Nias’ main town, Gunung Sitoli, which bore the brunt of the earthquake. Mostly traders and restaurant owners originally from elsewhere in Indonesia, they live close to the harbor where they first arrived.
The island has never seen the violence that has plagued regions in eastern Indonesia in recent years.

http://www.sltrib.com/nationworld/ci_2631668

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