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My Jakarta: Zafrullah Ahmad Pontoh, Ahmadiyah Indonesia Spokesman
Zack Petersen | August 05, 2010
Zafrullah Ahmad Pontoh says that as a member of Ahmadiyah, he fears for his life, but that ultimately he is under God’s protection. (JG Photo)
While most of the violence that has affected Ahmadiyah — a controversial sect that believes its founder was a prophet of Islam, a claim that contradicts the beliefs of mainstream Muslims — remains outside the capital, that doesn’t mean the nearly 10,000 members of Ahmadiyah here in Jakarta don’t feel intimidated.
What is the difference between Ahmadiyah and mainstream Islam here in Indonesia?
According to us, we are Sunnis because we understand that we follow the traditions of the holy prophet.
What differs between us and other Muslims is the interpretation of some of the verses of the holy Koran.
So in the Koran, as we understand it, there is the possibility of the coming of a prophet after the holy prophet of Islam.
What do you say to people who think members of Ahmadiyah are nonbelievers?
They are free to say that. But we believe that God accepts us as Muslims. Anyone can say anything they like.
We won’t say that they are nonbelievers because the holy prophet said that if you call a believer a nonbeliever, then you yourself are the nonbeliever.
Do you introduce yourself to people as a member of Ahmadiyah?
Yes. I just came from Sulawesi and most of my friends are not Ahmadiyah [members], but they saw the attacks in Kuningan and they said: “What kind of people would do this?”
You see, they don’t like this violence either.
Why were the people in Kuningan attacked?
What I understand is that the bupati [district chief] of Kuningan wished to close the mosque.
I understand that some people from outside Kuningan wanted the mosque closed. We had about 4,000 Ahmadiyah members there to protect the mosque in Manis Lor village.
And how do you feel about the church controversy in Bekasi?
Yesterday, I was at the House of Representatives. We are trying to gain religious freedom through dialogue not only for Ahmadiyah, but for all Indonesians.
Because Islam teaches us to live in harmony with others, and never to resort to violence.
The holy prophet never attacked nonbelievers first, he only defended and protected himself and Muslims. Islam is never spread by the sword.
How many Ahmadiyah members are there in Jakarta?
There are seven Ahmadiyah mosques here in Jakarta and around 10,000 Ahmadiyah members. Throughout Indonesia there are 500,000 Ahmadiyah members.
Do you ever fear for your safety?
As a human being, yes, but I still believe in the protection of God. I have no problem walking around the neighborhood here. I was out walking around before you came here.
Has there ever been an attack on this mosque?
The mosque has been here more than 70 years, and in 2006 some Muslims came and asked us to take down the name of the mosque, but I didn’t.
We have been trying to learn patience and love, but as human beings we have limitations, so to be patient is very hard.
I said: “Nobody can stop us from worshiping, God wants us to worship.” Nobody can tell us to stop doing what God wants us to do.
When there are clashes between Ahmadiyah and other Muslim groups, do you feel like the government gives you equal protection?
First, I should clarify that they are not clashes, but attacks. A clash means that there are two sides [fighting], but an attack is where we have to defend ourselves.
The Constitution gives freedom to every person to be a follower of any religion.
But it has to be one of the six official religions?
Yes, but we are Muslims.
Do you think that Ahmadiyah will ever be fully accepted and recognized in Indonesia?
Inshallah [God willing]. We always intermingle with people through love and I feel like love will overcome. Last year, nearly 1,000 people joined Ahmadiyah. You would be surprised how many people click on our Web site, www.alislam.org.
Didn’t the state come up with a law that said Ahmadiyah members are not allowed to worship in public?
Not a law made by the state, but there is a decree. I heard from some people that the current religious affairs minister said Ahmadiyah is straying from Islam.
He should not say that; he should understand how to protect our faith. But I believe he misunderstands the 2008 decree.
That decree only prohibits us from explaining publicly that there is a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad.
Isn’t that a violation of your religious freedoms?
Yes, but our leader said for the time being we should be quiet.
What would you say to the people who passed the decree?
I would tell them they are doing something different from the laws of the country. The decree says that we believe in the prophet, but it also hinders us.