Day of Arrival in Banda Aceh

Category: Asia, World Affairs Topics: Banda Aceh, Indonesia Views: 11305

Tsunami shattered building in
Banda Aceh

It is believed that the world discovered the spicy islands beginning from ACEH, pronounced as Acheh in the Acehnese language. It is said that ACEH is an acronym of their ethnic composition, i.e. Arab, Chinese, European and Hindi.

Muslim traders from Arabia and later from India established their trade route with Banda Aceh as their port of entry. With trade, came Islam into Indonesia and the province of Aceh became Aceh Dar-es-Salam (the gate to peace).

It is estimated that the area lost 30% to 40% of the pre-tsunami population of over 400,000. From the approximate twenty square kilometers, a third of Banda Aceh has been completely wiped off, while another third remains under water and mud. Yet, with hundreds of mosques, schools and markets, Banda Aceh DaresSalam continues to maintain its distinctly unique historical position in Indonesia.

The Indonesian independence movement is said to have originated from the fiercely independent minded Acehnese. Their unique character remains unchanged. After independence from the Dutch, the Acehnese preferred to remain autonomous and give away their due share to the rest of the Indonesia. In reciprocity, the newly emerged Government of Indonesia (Gen. Sukarno at the time) let Aceh establish Islamic law, as the law of the land.

The Tsunami changed "everything," particularly in the city of Banda Aceh. It was a quiet little town with many beautiful beaches (Ujong Batee, Lam Puuk and Lhok Nga) with their clean blue waters, white sands and sunsets. 

Quietly, a wise man Azmi makes his confession to me, that he misses the serenity and purity in the quietness of Banda Aceh. But, he said the overwhelming presence of others is necessary and appreciated.

An ocean of destruction. Banda Aceh

The earthquake and Tsunami generated rubble of Banda Aceh is left "as is." The rebuilding master plan, expected to top $4.5 billion over five years, assuming the promised international aid is realized. The money is scheduled to be released late March. The plan is expected to comprise of (a) redistribution of land to the survivors, (b) rebuilding the infrastructure in the devastated areas, and, most importantly (c) programs to rehabilitate the survivors to their pre-Tsunami position.

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June 23, 2004: The pristine Banda Aceh shoreline before Tsunami. 

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December 28, 2004: 2 Kilometer shoreline of Banda Aceh wiped out after Tsunami. 

The people of Aceh have their own plans. Bahar, a 50-year-old survivor, and a geologist by profession, has lost his entire family including his elderly parents, wife and three children. He is now leading the rebuilding efforts of a self-contained temporary village for the survivors of his washed away beach village, Ulee Lheu. He is also organizing a rally on the one-hundredth day at the very shore where tragedy engulfed thousands of his fellow villagers to make a statement of their will and determination. Bahar says, "there's nothing around, I'm the old man and I got to work."

The Bait-ur-Rahman Grand Mosque, one of the most outstanding landmarks in the capital city, best demonstrates the character of the Acehnese people. The old mosque that stood there before it was burnt down at the beginning of the Aceh War, was rebuilt in 1875, taking its present shape after a number of renovations and expansions. The Acehnese continue to remain in modestly built homes but their commitment to make their house of worship the best says it all.

Dr. Azzman Ismail, the Chief Imam of Bait-ur-Rahman Mosque confirms at least 50 mosques, 100 musholas (room set aside in public place for religious duties) and more than 75 pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) have suffered destruction in his city of Banda Aceh.

My Garuda Airlines flight to Banda Aceh has its own unique memories. My on board neighbor was a hijab clad World Health Organization official, Dr. Rossi. Across the aisle was a young man, who I later came to know as Yusri. After having lost all family members and getting severely injured his left eye, Yusri was returning to his native town of Banda Aceh for the first time from Jakarta after a two month treatment. 

Everyone in the plane was leaning toward the window to catch a glimpse of the green Banda Aceh landscape. I was trying to catch the expressions of Yusri who was quietly wiping his tears. My feelings paralleled my first glimpse of Kaba in Makkah and entering the town of our beloved Prophet. There, in awe of Majesty and Mercy and here in humility for the humanity.

Shakeel Syed with orphan children in Banda Aceh. - March 2005

Banda Aceh airport was designed for receiving only a limited number of flights a day. The baggage conveyor belt at the airport was no wider than the check in counter belt at a major grocery store in America. Over one hundred flights swarmed in immediately after the Tsunami hit tapering now to about ten flights a day. Garuda alone records a tenfold increase in its cargo business from 3 tons to 30 tons a day to Banda Aceh. This excludes the myriad other governmental and non-governmental shipments pouring into Banda Aceh.

Outside the airport, there was a display of big and bigger cars with a collage of mind bogling logos on them. Our hosts (PKPU - Pos Keadilan Peduli Ummat, Center for Justice and Care for the Ummah & DD - Dompet Dhuafa, Wallet of the Poor) graciously and briskly got us in their cars to leave the airport. 

Our solemn tour began with a visit to one of the first and many mass graves (Tempat Pemakaman) barely few kilometers from the airport. This particular mass grave housed "twenty thousand victims" of earthquake and Tsunami disaster (Korban Bencana Gempa - Tsunami), buried a day after the tragedy on December 26, 2004. 

This solemn experience holds no parallel in my memory. Never in my adult life, I cried so easily. I questioned myself looking at the football field size mass grave, how do I pray for "twenty thousand people?" My imaginations led me to see a wailing seventy-year-old grandfather loosing his grip over his seven-year-old grand daughter and a newly wed Acehnese daughter frantically crying for her beloved. I cried more, until my host gently tapped my shoulder and reminded, "today is your day of arrival in Banda Aceh!" 

Shakeel Syed toured Banda Aceh, Sigli and other coastal towns of Aceh in Feb-March 2005, about two months after the Dec 26, 2004 catastrophe. He is a freelance writer on socio-political issues and can be reached at [email protected].

  Category: Asia, World Affairs
  Topics: Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Views: 11305

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Older Comments:
Thanks for the article. Our prayers are with all for the victims.

The thin response confirms how quickly Muslims forget the tragedy.

And how little or almost none attention is paid to Muslim media.

This story keeps reminding us, as we are human beings we should never forget that Allah is the only one to depend on.

Many people think they can do any thing in this world. They forgot that the world is not ours and we should always do what we have been instructed by Allah (S.W.T) without any excuse.

The epsode is a remind to all of us to look at our daily doings and know that what happened is from our Allah (S.W.T) wishes!

Dear Muslim we should pray for forgiveness to our Lord, and pray to all our dear friends who passed away during that disaster, may Allah please forgive them and award them Haven.

Iam also praying to my all friends who lost their dear ones, mAy Allah please,give them patience,courage,comfort and healthness.

May Allah please reward also all of them who are still working tirelessly in tyring to help the survivors to recover from the damages they received during the epsode.

Iam wishing you well all of you.


Yours ,
Sister In Islam.



It is amazing to me how the writer of this article totally missed the big picture. I wonder if he ever even looked at a map!

There were thousands of heavily effected tsunami areas-this is above dispute. Did the writer-or anyone-ever ask why of all the many devestated places the two singled out are Phucket in Thailand and Aceh in Indonesia? So great has been the focus on these places that all the others are almost ignored. Sems strange? The answer is obvious but is not discussed by the author. For shame!

Both Phucket and Aceh lie at the opening to the Mulacca Strait. Whoever controls these places is in a position to decide exactly who and what enters this body of water. As ALL the oil and gas from the Arabian Gulf is transported through the Mulacca Strait, it can hardly be coincidence that it is these two places most heavily in the news and now , under the guise of "humanitarian relief" is occupied by American troops. China, Japan, the "Asian Tiger" economies all depend on transit rights because without the oil tankers passing through the Mulacca Strait, their respective economies grind to a halt. Now, by gaining direct control over Phucket and Aceh, the Americans are in a position to turn the spigot on or off as siuts their interest.

I would hope that at least some readers of your articles would notice this geopolitical reality. The real aftershock of the tsumani crisis has been a dramatic dislpay and upgrade of American power. Too bad your writers missed this big part of the story.

May Allah forgive all those muslims that die in this disaster. And I pray for Allah's mercy on all the survivors. Let the survivors not relent on their determination to pass this test from Allah. He does what He wishes. He questions and cannot be questioned. He feeds and cannot be Fed. He encompaths all and cannot be encompathed. He watches over His creation all the time. He is the supreme. May He save us from the evils in ourselves and continue to guide us unto that straight path unto Himself. AMEEN.