Indonesian officials order sect to return to mainstream Islam
A document signed Monday by two Cabinet ministers and the attorney general “warns and orders all Ahmadiyah followers to stop their activities” or face up to five years in prison.
Indonesia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but many in the nation of 235 million consider it offensive that the sect does not recognize Muhammad as the only prophet.
The measure falls short of the outright ban being called for by fundamentalists, but could be interpreted as a failure by the government to uphold the nation’s secular values and protect the rights of minorities.
“Our houses are being targeted and those who don’t like us feel it is acceptable to spill our blood,” Ahmadiyah spokesman Syamsir Ali told national broadcaster tvOne. “Is it still safe for us in this country?”
Ali said he hopes Indonesia doesn’t “turn out to be like governments in the Middle East” where the movement is prohibited.
Hard-liners have attacked Ahmadiyah members and torched their mosques since the government said in April it was considering banning the faith. Several dozen religious tolerance activists were beaten at a rally in Jakarta last week while police stood by.
A spokesman for the radical Islamic Defenders’ Front — which has a long record of arson, stoning and vandalism against opponents and Western targets — said the decree falls short of its demands.
“It is not enough. We will keep up the struggle until President (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) orders the disbandment of Ahmadiyah,” he said in a telephone interview.
The vast majority of Indonesia’s Muslims are moderate, but in recent years an extremist fringe has grown louder. The government, which relies on the support of Islamic parties in Parliament, has been accused of caving in to their demands.
Earlier Monday, several thousands protesters wearing white Islamic robes and caps gathered outside the presidential palace to demand that the organization be outlawed.
The religion needs to be defended “from people who want to destroy Islam’s teachings,” said demonstrator Zairin, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name. The use of violence would be justified to force reluctant Ahmadiyah members to renounce their faith and “keep Islam pure,” he said.
Ahmadiyah, established in 1889 in Punjab, India, considers its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be a prophet and messiah, counter to traditional Islamic teaching. Ahmadiyah has millions of members around the world, with an estimated 200,000 in Indonesia.
“As long as they say they are Muslim, they have to follow Islamic teaching that does not recognize the existence of another prophet after Muhammad,” Attorney General Hendarman Supanji told reporters in the capital.
Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni, one of the ministers who signed the decree, said it “is not an intervention into someone’s faith, but to maintain order and safety.”
The decree also called on radicals “to restrain from violent acts against Ahmadiyah.”