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Many survivors cling tightly to their faith



Published: Sat, January 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



They try to make sense of the tragedy and cope with what's ahead.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- When the midday call to prayers sounded, the boys put down their brooms and entered the mosque. Their feet were caked with the fetid mud left when the tsunami floods finally receded.

Side by side, six high school students Saturday touched their foreheads to the white stone floor of the Raya Baiturrahman mosque, which was once covered with bodies that had washed into the courtyard. It was the first time any of the boys had seen a corpse.

It also was when they started to pray each day. "Everything changed," said 17-year-old Takou Rizky, who was among the student volunteers cleaning the white-and-turquoise mosque in Banda Aceh, the center of international relief teams in Indonesia. "We saw the fury of God. We saw it face to face."

Common scene

It's heard across the giant arc of Indian Ocean coast ravaged by the Dec. 26 disaster: survivors digging into their faiths to try to make sense of the tragedies and cope with what's ahead. Even in an age that offers instant answers -- an offshore earthquake kicking up massive waves that wiped out more than 157,000 lives -- the timeless questions of spirituality and divinity remain intact across battered shores that touch four major religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

Some firebrands see an angry deity who sought to punish a sinful world. Others take solace in worship or by celebrating the shared bonds between the faiths. And nearly all the religious responses to the tsunami eventually flirt with a bottomless riddle: How could a gentle God let this happen?

This is a quandary as old as faith itself, said Randall O'Brien, chairman of the religion department at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who has studied issues of suffering and faith.

"This is a core theology that cuts across faiths: the idea that life is fragile and bad things can happen to good people," he said. "It's an ageless question that roars back strongly in times of crisis like this."

Presumed dead

Along the coast of western Indonesia, where entire towns were washed off the map, a construction worker named Dahlan walked 195 miles from his job site to his hometown of Banda Aceh. He arrived to find out his brother was missing and presumed dead. He now goes each day to pray at a mosque.

"I was never very religious before," said Dahlan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. "But I find I'm only really at peace these days when I'm in the mosque. There are moments I get angry, though. I ask God: Why, why, why?"

A radical Saudi cleric, Mohammad Saleh al-Munajjid, claimed the water rose to strike non-Muslim vacationers "who used to sprawl all over the beaches and in pubs overflowing with wine" during Christmas break.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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