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By Salim Osman
The Straits Times
Publication Date : 2006-03-11
Members of a minority religious sect targeted by hardline Muslim groups have been told by the Indonesian authorities to declare themselves non-Muslim if they want to practise their religion without harassment.
The Jemaah Ahmadiyah, which has some 200,000 followers in Indonesia, is seeking government protection after violent attacks on it increased in recent months.
The sect has also demanded that it be recognised as an Islamic group - a request that is unlikely to be granted as the movement, founded in India in 1898, is regarded by the religious authorities here as deviant.
Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni said that the Jemaah Ahmadiyah should declare itself as belonging to a new religion.
“If they refuse to do so, they should return to Islam by renouncing their beliefs,” he told Koran Tempo.
His remarks came in the wake of attacks on the Ahmadiyah followers in Lombok, in Nusa Tenggara Barat, last month.
About 100 Ahmadis now live as refugees in community halls in Mataram after their homes were burnt by angry mobs. Some want asylum in Canada and Australia.
A spokesman for the community, Mubarik Ahmad, told The Straits Times: “It’s ridiculous to suggest that we form a new religion. We are Muslims who pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, and believe in the same Quran.”
But the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) says that what distinguishes them is their belief that the movement’s founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad.
In Islam, the belief in Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet is fundamental, says MUI, the highest Islamic authority in the country.
Despite claiming to be Muslims, the Ahmadis do not pray behind a Muslim prayer leader who is not from their community and only attend prayer sessions at an Ahmadi mosque.
MUI fatwa chairman Kiayi Ma’ruf Amin said that the council reissued its 1984 ruling last July, repeating the stand of Muslim scholars in other parts of the world that the sect is outside the fold of Islam.
The Indonesian government has been resisting pressures to ban the Jemaah Ahmadiyah. It fears being accused of violating the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.
Muslim intellectual Dawam Rahardjo, in defence of the Ahmadis, has accused Maftuh of being unconstitutional in suggesting that the Jemaah Ahmadiyah should declare itself as a new religion.
“If the Ahmadis want to believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is a prophet, let them. After all, there are 220 million Ahmadis the world over who stick to such beliefs,” he told The Straits Times.
Liberal Muslim scholar Ulil Abshar-Abdalla said that declaring themselves as a separate religious community would not end the persecution.
“Members of the Jemaah Ahmadiyah will be banned from using clear Islamic symbols like mosques, Islamic-style prayers, fasting, pilgrimage and so forth. These are Islamic symbols which should not be used by members of another religion,” he wrote in the Kompas daily on Tuesday (Mar 7).
Both Dawam and Ulil reject MUI’s fatwa that the Ahmadis are outside the fold of Islam.