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By Amina Rasul
Last week in Jakarta, members of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) attacked a peaceful rally for religious tolerance. Members of the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, took part in the rally together with Christians and Ahmadiyah followers. With bamboo sticks and stones, the FPI viciously attacked hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, injuring dozens including Dr Syafi’i Anwar of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP).
I was aghast to hear that Syafi’i Anwar and the peaceful demonstrators had been hurt by that mob. A good friend, Syafi’i has been a brave and steadfast advocate for pluralism and tolerance. He has been in forefront of efforts to strengthen cooperation between and among Muslim democrats in the Southeast Asian region, a leader in the organization of the Southeast Asian Forum for Islam and Democracy (Seafid). He visited Jolo, Sulu, after the first Seafid meeting held in Manila on December 2007. He was distraught after seeing for himself the abject poverty in my province. He had the impression that our lives had improved after the signing of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement.
What was the clash all about? It was about the Ahmadiyah in particular, and about religious freedom in general.
Who are the Ahmadiyah? Why do they generate such hostility? The Ahmadiyah is a religious sect founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani in 1889 in East Punjab, India. While mainstream Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, the Ahmadiyah believe their founder is another prophet of Islam, sent to revitalize our faith. This idea, rejected by the Muslim majority, is considered deviant and blasphemous.
There are an estimated 10 million Ahmadiyah followers worldwide, with half a million in Indonesia. Indonesian Attorney General Whishnu Subroto had banned the Ahmadiyah from practising in the country. Many Indonesian Muslim leaders, including Syafii Anwar, protest that the ban violates Indonesian law.
Most of Indonesian Muslims have not opposed Ahmadiyah, although they strongly disagree with the latter’s belief. NU, led by former President Abdurrahman Wahid, and Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia led by Din Syamsuddin, have not protested against the Ahmadiyah. The demand to ban has come from radical Islamic groups. Why did the government succumb to the radical few?
In an interview on April, Syafi’I Anwar said the ban was “definitely against human rights, against our constitution, and against religious teaching as well. Why, because the government should be maintaining religious freedom in Indonesia. Unfortunately the government seems to be siding with the Islamic radical groups who ban Ahmadiyah. I strongly believe that internationally this kind of decision would be counter-productive for Indonesia as perceived of a moderate Muslim.”
Why can’t the Ahmadiyah practice their faith, objectionable though it may be to most Muslims, when the Holy Qur’an recognizes the existence of other religions and the right of men and women to practice their chosen faith?
“Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion,” [The Holy Quran, 109:6]
“Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve,” [The Holy Quran, 18:29]
“There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error,” [The Holy Quran, 2:256]
Such brutal attacks against peaceful, innocent people who were demonstrating their belief in religious tolerance must be condemned and prevented.
Unfortunately, more violence has followed that attack. On June 11, members of the NU clashed with FPI. Dozens were hurt. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has appealed for calm, directing the police to arrest the perpetrators of violent acts. Many fear that more hostilities will follow.
Former President Abdurrahman Wahid has criticized the government for being slow to act in the face of FPI’s violence. The Indonesian government, viewed as a model of homegrown democracy, must live up to its promise and protect those whose only weapon is their belief in pluralism and religious tolerance. It will be a major blow if Indonesia, with its history of multiculturalism, becomes a land where the violent radical few will hold the lives of the moderate majority hostage.
Hostages in Jolo
Moving on to the hostages in Jolo. Criminal acts like the kidnapping of the ABS-CBN team should not be tolerated. Ces Drilon and her companions are not the only victims. The Tausug of Sulu are also hostaged, suffering from the negative attention that such a high profile kidnappingbrings. I pray that this incident will not lead to another all-out war operation in Sulu.