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Indonesia minority sect fears hardline backlash
JAKARTA — LIFE for Indonesia’s Ahmadis has taken a frightening turn.
Their mosques and sympathisers have been attacked by violent militant groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), and they are under pressure to say they are not Muslim.
Near one of their onion-domed mosques in Jakarta, a lone police patrol car provides protection for the sect, even though at a Jakarta rally earlier this month, FPI supporters beat up and injured participants as they called for tolerance for Ahmadiyya.
’Of course, we are afraid and worried,’ said Mr Deden Sudjana, who handles Ahmadiyya security.
’It is very human if everybody is traumatised, especially children and women because they saw blood, how they trampled on the elderly, beat them and kicked them.’
While Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country, its constitution protects freedom of religion and it has sizeable Christian, Hindu and Buddhist communities.
But the government’s resolve to defend freedom of belief has been put to the test over Ahmadiyya, which an Ahmadi official said has about 500,000 followers in Indonesia, mainly on Java and Lombok islands.
Indonesia’s top Muslim religious council has declared Ahmadiyya a deviant sect, and hardline groups want them banned.
Earlier this week, vice president Jusuf Kalla told Reuters the government would not ban Ahmadiyya as long as its members do not preach or try to convert others.
A ministerial decree issued this week stopped short of banning the sect but warned followers could face five years in jail for tarnishing religion.
Now Indonesia’s Ahmadis are worried about a backlash from hardline groups, said Ahmadiyya spokesman Mr Shamsir Ali, speaking to Reuters in the mosque as he sat surrounded by books on Islam, pictures of the Ahmadis’ founder, and their slogan, ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’.
’There is a lot of fear in villages. Radical groups have increased their pressure on us. Overnight people have marked Ahmadiyya homes in Sukabumi area so that they can be easily identified for an attack,’ Mr Ali said.
’We will file a judicial review, maybe this week … The decree violates the constitution, especially for human rights. They want us to renounce our faith and say we are not Muslim. How can we do that? We are Muslim.’
Ahmadiyya is considered heretical by some Indonesians because followers refuse to accept the Prophet Mohammad as Islam’s final prophet, and say their founder is a prophet and messiah.
Mainstream Muslims reject Ahmadiyya’s claim that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in the 19th century in India, is a prophet and say that Ahmadis must stop describing their religion as Islam, while hardliners have demanded an outright ban.
The Ahmadis say that like all Muslims they pray five times a day, follow the Koran and go on the Haj, but the only difference is one of interpretation.
Liberal Indonesians slammed the government decision to curb the Ahmadis, saying it had caved in to pressure from hardliners, who have vowed to continue their fight for a complete ban on the group.
’The government does not follow the constitution but is instead trying to accommodate radical groups which are actually very small in number. It is dangerous for the future of religion freedom in our country,’ said Mr Luthfi Assyaukanie, coordinator of Liberal Islam Network.
’If they succeed with the Ahmadiyya case, they will start with other cases including trying to push certain teachings in Islam.’
Out of Indonesia’s population of 226 million people, about 85 per cent are Muslim, with most following a moderate form of the faith.
Some radical Islamic groups have grown in strength since 1998, when former President Suharto stepped down after 32 years of autocratic rule.
But groups such as the militant FPI, which represents the views of a tiny minority, sometimes exert far more influence on the government’s policies by using violence.
’The government has to ensure Ahmadis can live properly as common citizens,’ said Mr Syafi’i Anwar, director of the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism.
’This really damages Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate Muslim country.’ – REUTERS