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OPINION: Attacks on Muslim minorities by radicals on the rise in Indonesia
Recent attacks against Muslims who fall outside mainstream Islamic beliefs and non-Muslims have caused great alarm among moderates who blame the violence on a fatwa issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulama against heresy, writes AMY CHEW
THE recent violent attacks against Indonesia’s tiny but peaceful Ahmadiyah Muslim sect has come to symbolise the struggle between moderates and radicals in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Ahmadiyah members have been stabbed, their surau and mosques burnt or vandalised in villages and districts across the country.
Moderate Muslim leaders and scholars blame the attacks on a fatwa issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) against heresy in November.
They warned the edict could become a powerful tool to terrorise Muslim movements which disagreed with conservative Islam and to justify attacks by radicals against Muslims who fall outside mainstream Islam.
“It (fatwa) has the potential to create conflict and violence. The word ‘deviant’ will be a powerful tool to terrorise Muslim movements,” said the Wahid Institute in its latest monthly report.
“Secondly, MUI’s fatwa on deviant sects has led to the establishment of militias,” the report added.
The Wahid Institute was founded by former president Abdurrahman Wahid to seed Islamic pluralism.
Unfortunately, the government unwittingly and inadvertently lent credence to the controversial edict when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono reportedly said he agreed with it.
“President Susilo has given legitimacy to the fatwa when he said he will abide by it,” said Ahmad Suaedy, executive director of the Wahid Institute.
“If there are deviant movements, the government should be using the Penal Code to prosecute them and not fatwa by MUI as this is a secular state as guaranteed by the Constitution,” Suaedy said.
On Dec 18, a thousand-strong mob, some armed with parang, spears and bamboo sticks, attacked Ahmadiyah homes, surau and mosques in Manis Lor village, Kuningan, West Java.
“People were beaten, had stones thrown at them but the police just stood by and did nothing. They did not arrest a single person,” eye-witness Rosidin told the New Straits Times in a telephone interview from Kuningan.
“The radicals came from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Majelis Mujahideen Indonesia (MMI),” Rosidin said.
MMI is headed by former Jemaah Islamiyah leader Abu Bakar Bashir.
In the end, the police deferred to demands made by the radicals and sealed off the Ahmadiyah mosques.
“I was so shocked. This is very unfair as it violates an individual’s right to practise his faith as guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Rosidin, who is a member of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organisation.
Vice-President Jusuf Kalla ordered the police to “get tough” on those who attacked Ahmadiyah.
“Anyone who attacked Ahmadiyah was wrong and therefore the police have to be tough,” Kalla was reported as saying by the English-language Jakarta Post.
In defence, MUI said the fatwa only served to remind Muslims of what was wrong and what was right.
“It is not a basis for violent action,” said MUI’s leader Amidhan.
But a few days later, on Dec 23, a group of 50 masked men attacked Ahmadiyah’s mos-ques and homes in the district of Majalengka, West Java.
No one was hurt in the rampage.
“The police are reluctant to act against the radicals because they are afraid of being labelled anti-Islamic,” said Suaedy.
“This group is very peaceful, prosperous and does not engage in dakwah (proselytisation). I don’t understand why people don’t permit them to exist,” said Muslim scholar Dawam Raharjo and former rector of the Islamic 45 University of Bekasi.
“There is this phenomenon of intolerance on the part of some Muslims against minorities, those who are outside mainstream Islam as well as those who are non-Muslim. The radicals have also forced several churches to close.
“The increasing radicalism is influenced by outside Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizbut Tahrir which have branches in Indonesia,” Raharjo said.
Hizbut Tahrir’s aim is to replace existing democratic, secular governments in Muslim countries with the rule of the caliphate to implement syariah.
Their numbers in Indonesia have swelled in recent years. A rally held last August drew almost 100,000 people. A similar rally in 2004 only drew about 2,000 people.
Raharjo believes the violence conducted by the radicals will backfire on them and damage the cause of Islam.
“If the radicals keep on using violence to advance their cause, people will reject them, they will have no sympathy,” said Raharjo.
“What they (radicals) are doing will only destroy Islam,” he said.
Ahmadiyah is not the only group to have been attacked. Other Muslim groups have also fallen victim to MUI’s fatwa.
Last month in Tangerang, in Greater Jakarta, a small group of Muslims who meet regularly to read the Quran and call themselves Nurul Yagin, were attacked by about 100 people.
One house was burnt and several vehicles damaged. Again, none of the attackers were detained.
“The odium of religious superstructures – whether the Roman Catholic Church, MUI or others – against beliefs outside their domain has to do with a potential loss of power,” the Jakarta Post said in a recent editorial.
“Power can only be sustained through self-righteousness and by demonising someone else.
“These clerics are not democratically-elected officials nor legislators. There is no obligation for the state to legitimise their presence or support their activities with state funding,” it said.
Following the issuance of the fatwa, MUI proposed increasing its budget to 18 trillion rupiah (RM6.3 billion) from 16 trillion rupiah (according to the Wahid Institute monthly report).
“They take a lot of funding from the government and now they produce edicts that create discord,” said an activist from a non-governmental organisation quoted in the report.
Even as radicalism increases, so has the opposition against it as the moderate Muslims fight back.
“While radicalism may have increased, liberal Islam is currently developing rapidly, especially in the State University of Islamic Studies throughout the country,” said Raharjo.
“In every campus, there is a network of young people propagating liberal, plural and secular Islam. And I believe that ultimately, the moderates will win.”