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Bandung scholar defends freedom of religion
Yuli Tri Suwarni, The Jakarta Post, Bandung
Two years ago, before the recent attack on the Muslim Ahmadiyah group, 230 members of the “Prophet Hut” Christian sect were forcibly removed by police from a church in Bale Endah, Bandung.
After dispersing the group, police arrested and sent to trial the sect’s leader, Mangapin Sibuea, who was later sentenced to two years’ jail after being found guilty of denigrating Christianity.
The sect, which was outlawed in 2000, had quietly continued its religious activities. It is one of some 120 faiths and religious sects that are still banned in West Java.
“We issued that ban in order to prevent a religion (Christianity) from being besmirched,” said Teten Setiawan, the chief of the intelligence and social affairs division of the West Java Prosecutor’s Office.
Teten said the division was still closely monitoring 13 non-banned religious sects, including the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI), the group that was attacked in Bogor last week when it tried to conduct a religious service.
Ahmadiyah, which began in Pakistan in the 19th century, is a controversial offshoot of Islam, with followers believing in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ and the existence of another prophet, Gulam Ahmad Khan, after traditional Islam’s last messenger of God, Muhammad.
Teten said monitoring the group was necessary to ensure public order.
Other non-traditional religious sects could be found in Cianjur, Sukabumi, Bogor and Kuningan, he said.
However, Sunan Gunung Djati Islamic Institute lecturer Affif Muhammad, an expert on modern Islamic thought, said banning groups and unnecessarily monitoring their followers was a violation. People should have the right to practice their religion without fear of persecution, he said.
There was nothing wrong with the growing number of faiths and religious groups in the country.
“One thing that people are not supposed to be allowed to do is to force other people (to abandon their faiths) or to impose their faiths on them; certainly not if they resort to violence.”
Affif regretted that the differences between faiths and sects had intensified in recent years, something he blamed on a narrow, bigoted view of religion.
He called on the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) to step in an manage the conflicts responsibly. “MUI must disseminate the idea that people should accept the differences among religious sects and different faiths. It should also work to promote concepts of religious pluralism within society.”
The idea of religious tolerance should also be taught in the nation’s schools, he said.