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Jakarta Journo: End of the Line For Ahmadiyah?
Armando Siahaan | March 28, 2011
I’ve been monitoring news reports about the Ahmadiyah followers who recently converted to mainstream Islam — and it’s depressing reading. What appalled me most was that some media outlets used the word “ tobat ” (“repent”) in their headlines, leaving me with the distinct feeling that the fate of the minority Islamic sect is bleaker than ever.
Repent is religious jargon. It implies a feeling of remorse about one’s wrongdoing or a return to the right path. A more neutral word is convert, as it denotes a change in one’s religious faith without making judgement as to whether the action is right or wrong. Intentionally or not, by saying those Ahmadis “repented,” the media insinuates that the Ahmadiyah sect is deviant and conversion was the right thing to do. We can debate day and night whether it is acceptable for the media to adopt a position on an issue as complex as Ahmadiyah. Judging by the coverage, however, some in the media seem to have joined the army of institutions that want to see the group disbanded.
The repent-convert debate aside, we need to ask whether those who converted did so of their own free will or were forced to do so. We’ve recently heard rumors about the so-called Operasi Sajadah (Operation Prayer Mat), where some elements of the military allegedly forced a group of Ahmadis to convert.
The greatest challenge to Ahmadiyah surely comes from Islamic hard-liners. Over the past several years, hard-liners have unleashed a wave of violent attacks on the group. And as we have seen, law enforcers, whose job is to protect all citizens, regardless of their religion, have failed to keep Ahmadis safe from harm. But have the police ever managed to prevent an attack, instead of just strolling in after the fact to try and pick up the pieces?
Ultimately, however, the government holds the key to solving this problem. A scary thought, considering it was the government that markedly curtailed Ahmadiyah’s right to practice its beliefs through its discriminative 2008 joint ministerial decree on the group.
While President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has repeatedly condemned the attacks on Ahmadis, he hasn’t done anything to revoke the ministerial decree. Nor has he done anything as at least two regional administrations — in East Java and West Java — have issued their own decrees banning the activities of the sect.
Last week, the Religious Affairs Ministry invited representatives from Ahmadiyah to attend a dialogue with other Islamic organizations, including the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), as well as the country’s two largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. Looking at who was involved, it seems more like an intervention than a discussion.
Even international pressure has failed to shake the government’s position. When 27 American lawmakers demanded the Indonesian government revoke the 2008 ministerial decree, both the Home Affairs Ministry and the Religious Affairs Ministry rejected their call.
The Ahmadis last hope lies in the hands of moderate Muslims, supposedly in the majority in this country. While some Muslims have condemned the attacks on the sect, few have stood up to tell the government to protect Ahmadiyah followers and their right to worship. This silence effectively condones the anti-Ahmadiyah movement. The government has turned a deaf ear to the Ahmadis’ pleas for help, while handing a megaphone to the hard-liners. Is this the end of the line for Ahmadiyah?
Armando Siahaan is a reporter at the Jakarta Globe and writes a weekly column about current events. Follow @jakartajourno on Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.