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Home Worldwide Indonesia Ahmadiyah and the …
Ahmadiyah and the vulgarization of Islam

Opinion July 27, 2005 

Ahmadiyah and the vulgarization of Islam

Ahmad Najib Burhani, Jakarta

The recent attack on the Mubarok campus, a compound used by the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) in Bogor on Friday on July 8, by a swarm of brutes calling themselves the Indonesian Muslim Solidarity (GUII) adds an extensive list of grievous events related to Muslim tolerance and religious freedom in Indonesia.

This case creates the face of Islam, which is nowadays often portrayed in a very ugly way, and becomes more horrific and scarring. Draconian attitudes manifested by some Muslims are not merely directed toward non-Muslims. It is also directed at their fellow Muslims, who have a different understanding of religious belief, so they also act harshly.

Some questions that frequently occur are the following: Is Islam really a non-humanistic religion? Or, this is only an accusation or misperception addressed to Islam. How about the immoral deeds conducted by some of its followers? Is the theology of terror, as mentioned in AF Fanani & A Amirrachman’s article, Dialog, understanding the best ways to end theological terror? (The Jakarta Post, July 22), truly embedded in Islam?

Is vandalism or terrorism a characteristic of Arabic people, as insinuated in Sutiono’s article, Stop Equating Islam with the Arab World, (The Post, July 22), which should be separated from Islam? Are the cruel attitudes rising from certain religious doctrines or are they emerging from tradition and culture of Muslim society?

For some Muslim apologists, as mentioned by Khaled Abou el Fadl (2003), the easiest rhetorical answers for these questions are the following: It is unfair to intermingle Islam with the deeds of its adherence. Islamic doctrines and teachings should also be seen as a separate matter from Muslim culture and tradition. Any person from any religion could conduct violence and radical acts, not solely Muslims.

By separating Islamic doctrines and teachings from Muslim people — similarly for other religions — it would be clearly seen that Islam absolutely never teaches or calls its followers to do acts against humanity.

Another interesting answer, as mentioned in Karen Amstrong’s article, Blame the politics, not the religion of Islam (The Post, July 13) is by attributing responsibility for a bad deed to the local or international government policy.

These answers, in my view, do not satisfy people’s curiosity about the relation between Islam and some of its followers who often conduct violent actions. It is completely impossible for a terrorist suspect like Heri Kurniawan (“Heri Golun“) to suddenly say, without any hesitation, to his family that he is going to wage jihad (by carrying out a suicide bombing in front of Australian Embassy in Jakarta).

To a certain degree, the act of some people to attack JAI’s compound is similar to Heri’s deed. It is undoubtedly not possible for the members of the FPI (Front Pembela Islam) or the LPPI (Lembaga Penelitian dan Pengkajian Islam) to spontaneously be convinced that JAI is deviating from the truth and misled, and so should be raided.

Because of poverty, a number of people bravely kill themselves intentionally. However, to carry out a suicide bombing, poverty is not a strong reason to arouse people’s desire to do so. Behind poverty, there are of course some strong ideological reasons convincing the suicide bomber that his deed would be rewarded in heaven; he would get a title, syahid (martyr). Without neglecting that some of the attackers were blind followers or had a personal interest, it has been assumed that the attackers on JAI’s compound got some indoctrination before their deed was done in God’s name.

It is said that one of the roots of religious violence or terrorism is the teaching of hate toward “others” and a monopoly of the entitlements of truth. There is a difference between “us” and “them”. This kind of belief grows rapidly in the modern, globalization age. In short, it is not merely the texts or the interpretation of holy texts that produces vandals or terrorists, but also this context.

The holy texts can be used or manipulated as divine justification for a certain non-humanistic action whenever the context gives ground or support to this effort. However, if we continuously receive the ideology of hatred, small or only superficial incidents around us could also give rise to more vandals and terrorists.

Poverty is a fertile ground for nurturing radicalism. This is a place where someone can easily find people ready to be influenced or directed into violent actions. Local or international policy could be also a good impetus for militant acts. However, solely relying on economic and political reasoning does not really give us an answer about the violent attack conducted by a group of Muslims against their fellow Muslims in West Java. This attack can only be seen from theological and ideological perspectives, spreading radical teaching among Muslims.

The attack on the JAI compound in Parung, near Bogor is a unique case; it was not against people from a different religion or associated with American symbols. This shows that the monopoly of truth is not only pertinent in intra-religion, but also within religion or inter-religion. These Muslims apparently believed that it was okay to assault other Muslims because of a difference of opinion.

JAI has been attacked, tomorrow it could be the JIL (Liberal Islam Network), and then the day after tomorrow the JIMM (Muhammadiyah Youth Intellectual Network) or UIN (State Islamic University) Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta. Just like Ahmadiyah, which was accused of being “esat dan menyesatkan (off track and misled), members of JIL and JIMM are often called infidels by some fundamentalist Muslims.

The Koran contains the words of Allah with multiple interpretations. This holy book has many voices, “polyphonic”. The true interpretation belongs to Allah himself. If an interpreter says that his interpretation is the only right interpretation, he hijacks Allah’s authority. Imprisoned by authoritarianism, someone would speak, attack and kill in God’s name. In fact, authoritarianism is considered to be heresy (syirk), the highest sin in Islam.

The writer is a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), and an activist with Pemuda Muhammadiyah. He can be reached at:

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