Achmad Ibrahim / AP
A bus passes the 100-year-old banyan tree that was cut back by an Islamic youth group. On Tuesday the tree still stood strong.
updated 10/4/2006 5:38:02 AM ET 2006-10-04T09:38:02

A hard-line Muslim youth group chopped up a 100-year-old banyan tree in central Jakarta to prove it did not have mystical powers, as rumors had led some locals to believe, officials said Tuesday.

Islam is a strongly monotheistic religion and believing in any power other than God is considered a grave sin. Hard-liners in Indonesia often criticize other Muslims in the country for still practicing Hindu, Buddhist and animist rituals that predate Islam’s arrival in the archipelago.

The sprawling tree’s branches were hacked away Sunday, leaving just its trunk, said Sarwo Handayani, head of the city’s park agency. The trunk was still standing but was badly disfigured.

Earlier, rumors had spread that cutting down the tree would bring bad luck because it was spared during a tree-felling drive to make way for a new bus lane in central Jakarta, she said. The rumors gained strength after people left offerings at the tree’s base, she said.

Handayani dismissed the rumors as nonsense, saying officials did not remove the tree because the bus lane could be routed around it.

“This was an outrageous act,” she said of the damage to the tree, adding that the city had reported it to police on Monday as an act of vandalism.

The head of the Muslim youth group acknowledged attacking the banyan, saying it did so to prove that there was nothing mystical about it.

“Surely, no one can believe that a tree is more powerful than a human,” Zainal Arifin was quoted as saying by the Detik.Com news Web site. “We did this to propagate Islam.”

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