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In Angry Waves, the Devout See an Angry God

The cafe owner, Haji Nawawi, 45, who pulls down his shutters three times a day for prayers, agreed. He suggested that the disaster could persuade people to intensify their observance of the faith that, except for some Chinese Buddhists and central Sumatran Christians, nearly all of them share.

"Before the tsunami, all the people were full of bad conduct," he said. "Boys were sitting close to the girls. There was corruption in the government. This was God's punishment."


H. Asma, 50, cries as she stands near her home in Banda Aceh, which was destroyed by the tsunami. (Dimas Ardian -- Getty Images)

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A number of people interviewed Tuesday in Banda Aceh shared Nawawi's convictions.

"We have to make a lot of changes in our lives, and this is God's way of letting us know," said Hetty Meutia Dewy, an agriculture student at Bogor University and a member of the Islamic Association of Students. "The imams have said it was a warning. They said God loves the Aceh people, but the tsunami was a warning to be better people.

Neva Zarlinda, an 18-year-old high school student camped beside Baitush Shakhir Mosque, said she also viewed the disaster as a warning from God and, as a result, planned to be more observant.

"I hope that I will pray more now, because I have done a lot of wrong things," she said, hanging around the government-provided tent where she, her mother, her father and her five siblings have taken up residence. "I seldom prayed. God willing, I will pray more."

Despite her resolution, Zarlinda did not bother with the head scarf worn by many Aceh women.

The Islamic Defender Front, a militant group that flew volunteers in from Jakarta to help in the relief effort, said its members were the first to clear bodies and debris from the gleaming white Baiturhahman Mosque, the main symbol of Islam in Aceh, which rises from a broad esplanade in Banda Aceh's city center.

"The mosques are central for Muslims," said Mohammed Maksouni, 36, a leader of the group, explaining why refugees instinctively flowed into mosques after they fled the wave. "And also, the houses were destroyed but the mosques were left standing."

Ansufri Sabow, 34, another member and college lecturer on mathematics and Islamic studies, said the tsunami could "cleanse the sins of the people" as well as caution them.

"God has warned us," he said. "Wake up. Wake up. Wake up."

The Islamic Defender Front has made a name for itself in Jakarta by trashing bars during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Although it has no known links to Indonesia's underground Islamic terrorist movement, the group has criticized U.S. and other Western influence in the country.

Sabow specified, however, that he welcomed the U.S. Navy helicopters working out of Banda Aceh to deliver food and relief supplies to isolated refugees. "If they come here to give food, give aid, no problem," he said. "Aid, not AIDS."


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