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Ahmadiyah skips ‘biased, unfair’ govt-initiated dialogue
Ina Parlina and Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Pekanbaru
Representatives of the Ahmadiyah congregation skipped a government-initiated dialogue with officials on Tuesday, a closed-door meeting they said was aimed at discrediting their beliefs.
The Religious Affairs Ministry held a “dialogue and opinion sharing” forum on Tuesday, attended by human rights groups such as the Wahid Instiute and Setara Institute, and anti-Ahmadiyah groups such as the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) and the Islam Defenders Front (FPI).
“It is regrettable that they decided not to attend. This can be seen as a sign that they do not want to find a solution,” Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said, adding that the ministry invited all parties to find a comprehensive solution to the Ahmadiyah issue.
Ministry secretary-general Bahrul Hayat said the Ahmadis should not have skipped the meeting, as the government was prepared to listen, not to preach.
The Ahmadis were invited to attend the afternoon session, as the morning session was to hear opinions from mass organizations such the FUI and the FPI.
Erna Ratnaningsih, of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI), which represents Ahmadiyah congregations from across the country, said her clients insisted on refusing a “biased dialogue” with ministry officials, saying they feared their faith would be judged.
“Even though members of civil society groups were there, the Ahmadis feared they would be cornered, as happened in a 2007 dialogue. Many of the people participating in the dialog are in favor of those who want Ahmadiyah to be disbanded,” she told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
In 2007, the government held a dialogue with Ahmadis and came out with seven options, including to ban it or to declare it a new religion, separate from Islam. The Ahmadis opted to be seen as part of Islam.
However, the ministry found that Ahmadis still held religious teachings deemed heretical by mainstream Muslims. The government later enacted a 2008 joint ministerial decree prohibiting the group from propagating its teachings.
Erna asserted that Ahmadiyah would not be represented at the four-day meeting. She said the invitation received by Ahmadiyah leaders only invited them to attend one session on Tuesday. “How could it be fair? We want to be involved fairly in the dialogue,” she said.
“We want a neutral mediator and participants. [The current] composition, regardless of NGOs, would only bring the matter into the perspective of religion,” she said. “What we want is a dialogue about Ahmadiyah congregations’ constitutional rights as citizens. Don’t judge them on their faith.”
Rumadi Ahmad from the Wahid Institute said his team explained at the discussion that both banning Ahmadiyah and declaring it a different religion from Islam were not the best solutions, as they would only lead to future conflict.
“I’d say that intimidation against them would likely still occur if the government imposed those two options,” he said.
Fajar Riza Ul Haq from the Maarif Institute said his team pushed the discussion to perceive the Ahmadiyah matter as more of a human rights issue, “because they were intimidated just for worshiping. Some even were attacked.”
Both activists said it was better to have an independent mediator apart from the ministry.
Meanwhile, in Pekanbaru, Riau province, authorities claimed success in supervising Ahmadis after 35 Ahmadiyah followers renounced Ahmadiyah for mainstream Islamic teachings.
The Religious Affairs Ministry’s Pekanbaru municipal office head Tarmizi Tohor said the detachment was the result of a few months of counseling and a supervising process involving a number of Islamic preachers.
“They realized their wrongdoing and have religiously sworn [not to revert] on their own will without being forced to do so,” Tarmizi said on Tuesday. “And no forceful element was involved in the process.”