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Ahmadiyah bans: Legal justification for intolerance?
Ati Nurbaiti, Canberra
As of September this year, at least 26 regencies and municipalities have passed bylaws restricting or banning the Ahmadiyah sect, 11 of them in West Java alone, according to a list from the National Commission on Violence Against Women.
Some were issued after the murderous assault on the sect in Pandeglang regency, Banten, in February 2011; including the Banten bylaw itself. The Commission has said women and children of the sect were the most vulnerable in the attacks, which according to the Setara Institute have included 342 cases of assault from 2007 to 2011. This also includes the resettlement of an entire Ahmadiyah community to an island off Lombok.
The local regulations justify other citizens and authorities into closing down Ahmadi mosques, forcing them out of their homes, or ordering them to denounce Islam if they insist on their beliefs. Unlike mainstream Muslims, the Ahmadiyah do not believe that Muhammad is the last prophet, saying they differentiate between prophets and messengers.
However, Muslims have said this is their excuse to hide their real beliefs; that the Ahmadiyah have frequently violated the joint ministerial decree on their sect by proselytizing; and that the attacks on them would stop — if only they would drop their teachings, or declare that they are no longer Muslims.
The bylaws and the joint ministerial decree, revived in 2008, refer to the 2005 non-binding fatwa of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) which states the Ahmadiyah is deviant; and also the 1965 Law on Blasphemy, which was upheld in 2005 by the Constitutional Court in its ruling against a group of human rights advocates who wanted it annulled. The plaintiffs had said the blasphemy law was no longer relevant for a democracy since it was issued under martial law in 1965.
The movement to annul the 1965 law and those advocating an end to prosecuting minorities, pursue entirely different reasoning from groups who are sealing the Ahmadiyah mosques, often accompanied by local police.
The first argues that the state of a democratic country should not decide which Islam is “right”. The second wonders out loud why the state is leaving Muslims to take matters into their own hands, because, they say, it is evident that Ahmadiyah should be banned, based on the 1965 law, the joint ministerial decree and the MUI fatwa.
A glimpse at news reports in the wake of the Feb. 6 attacks shows that a number of these reports asserted or implied that the real victims were not the Ahmadiyah, whose three members were mobbed and killed, with helpless police officers looking on — all on display to the world thanks to YouTube.
According to the sources in the reports, such as in CyberSabili and hidayatullah.com, the real victims were the Muslims, because the Ahmadis, who insulted Islam, and blatantly defied all civilized requests to stop proselytizing, gained all the sympathy. The “victimization” of Muslims is traced to the marginalization and suppression of Islamic expression by Soeharto, apart from reports of intelligence operations against Muslim activists.
That the Ahmadiyah were not the real victims in the February assault would not necessarily be the majority view; a poll involving 3,000 respondents found most rejecting violence in the name of religion. The July poll by the Setara Institute was conducted in 47 regencies and municipalities in 10 provinces.
But if most Indonesians agreed with these respondents, it doesn’t explain all those bylaws restricting the Ahmadiyah, emerging right under the nose of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The passing of the bylaws had no difficulty, it seemed, even though the regional autonomy law states that religion should be regulated by the state. But similarly, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi have voiced their opinions that the state should ban or dissolve the Ahmadiyah instead of only restricting their activities.
So are Indonesia’s Muslims becoming increasingly intolerant? Many say tolerance is not the issue, for the Ahmadiyah has insulted Islam.
Leading lawyer Adnan Buyung Nasution told a recent discussion in Canberra that he had a hard time convincing President Yudhoyono that the Ahmadiyah had constitutional rights as a minority — and thus the President may have been persuaded against an outright ban. The ministers overseeing the joint ministerial decree restricting the Ahmadiyah also have a constitutional reference; that religious freedom is limited in respect of followers of other faiths.
The International Crisis Group had recommended an independent body to work out a strategy for religious tolerance; such a body would have to deal with this legal confusion stemming from demands to “protect” the Muslim majority against “deviants”, through rulings such as a state ban on the Ahmadiyah.
Malaysia may seem tragic to many of us as its activists say ordinary citizens, including Muslims themselves, cannot speak out against increased state regulation of Islam, lest they would be considered un-Islamic.
But the incidences of Malaysians’ violence against minorities do not come anywhere close to our long list. Should we be proud of outdoing Malaysia?
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.