Religious Persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
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Home Worldwide Indonesia Papers & Analysis An analysis of the …
An analysis of the Joint Decree on Ahmadiyya
An analysis of the Joint Decree on Ahmadiyya

Rafiq Mahmood, Bogor, West Java

On 9 June, 2008, following a long period of argument (in the form of downright vandalism and thuggery) and counter-argument (in the form of reasoned comment in the intelligent press and widely supported peaceful demonstration and representation), the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General and the Minister of the Interior finally gave way and issued their decree.

The ministers had claimed that they needed time to conduct thorough research and make sure that their decree was carefully drafted. They clearly did not have enough time and prematurely submitted to the baying of the hounds. It takes a long time to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and, sure enough, all they have managed to produce is a bucketful of hogwash. It is one of the most poorly drafted pieces of legislation possible and is almost completely devoid of meaning or reason. It is, none the less, incendiary and puts at grave peril the very peace, harmony and order it claims to protect.

Let’s go through it:

Taking into consideration:
a. That the right to freedom of religion is a human right that cannot be diminished under any circumstances; that every person has the freedom to hold their religion and to worship according to their religion and faith; that the state guarantees the freedom of every person to hold their religion and to worship according to their religion and faith but in performing their rights and freedoms every person must respect the human rights of others to an orderly life within the community, the nation, and the state, as well as to obey such restrictions that are specified by law;
This is a huge constitutional hurdle for the Ministers to overcome. If the right to freedom of religion cannot be diminished then you cannot, on the face of it, make any law which diminishes it.
Of course, no freedom is absolute and in exercising their religion everyone has to respect the rights of everyone else to a quiet and peaceful life and the state has the right to make such laws as are necessary to protect those rights.
A religion which demands human sacrifice or suicide, child mutilation or slavery or which denies education or medical treatment or which attacks the places of worship or freedom of others or which makes so much noise or disturbance so as to interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of the life of the citizenry must clearly be restricted.
But that is the limit of interference that the Constitution allows the State in religious affairs. Any more which results in the diminution of religious freedom is both unconstitutional and a negation of Indonesia’s international treaty and convention obligations.
b. That every person is prohibited in public from purposely declaring, suggesting or attempting to gain public support for, any interpretation of a religion that is held in Indonesia or to conduct religious activities that resemble religious activities of that religion, in which the interpretation and activities are deviant from the principal teachings of the said religion;
Almost every religion requires its adherents to try to spread their belief by persuasion and argument. No human progress is possible without discourse. This alleged prohibition manifestly contravenes the Constitutional provisions in paragraph a. because it diminishes a persons right to practise their faith without any justification that it interferes with any one else’s right.
Every religion practised in Indonesia and in the World has many different interpretations and the manner in which the adherents conduct their “activities” varies enormously. There are is no central authority for any faith which can, with universal acceptance, state what are the principal teachings of any particular religion. The Indonesian State is a secular state and has no authority to decide, whether by majority acclamation or otherwise. Every Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Confucian or animist believes that their beliefs and practices are in accordance with the principal teachings of their religion.
Subjecting their beliefs to argument and discourse is the only way in which people can make decisions and was the way in which the founders of each religion expressed themselves. To deny the people to right to discourse is to deny the basis of religion itself. The Indonesian State has assigned to herself the constitutional duty to protect religion. This alleged prohibition fundamentally undermines that duty.
c. That the government has conducted persuasive attempts by means of a series of activities and dialogues in order to resolve certain issues with the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI) in order not to not create unrest in religious life nor to disturb the peace and order of community life, and in this regard the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI) submitted twelve points of explanation on January 14, 2008;
What has the Government been attempting to persuade the Ahmadiyya Jama’at to do or refrain from doing? What is new? What were the issues that needed resolution?
The JAI has been a peaceful and productive part of Indonesian society for eighty years. Has any of its activities created any sort of unrest or disturbed the peace and order of community life? What are the activities that are complained of? Praying? Holding disciplined and peaceful religious conventions? Blood donation? Providing the principle conduit of aid when the tsunami struck Aceh?
It is true that the JAI have been the victims of unrest and their peace and order has been disturbed when their mosques were destroyed and they were driven from their homes with neither recompense nor restitution. But to claim that the JAI created that unrest is to blame the sheep for the depredations of the wolf.
The twelve points that the JAI submitted constituted a statement of the beliefs that the JAI have always held, and which they continue to hold, in an attempt to persuade the PAKEM that they maintain the principal beliefs common among Muslims and that they have every right to call themselves Muslim — not that it is any concern of the Government what they believe or what they call themselves.
d. That based on the results of monitoring the said twelve points of explanation of the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI) referred to in paragraph c, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Religious Faith in Society (PAKEM) concluded that while there were points which had been complied with, there remained other points which had not been adhered to by the followers, members, and/or official members of Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI) and which could disturb the peace and order of community life;
The 12 point explanation was simply that. It was not an undertaking. Undoubtedly, within any religious community there will some people who are more rigorous in following the teachings of the community than others. That is not a matter for anyone other than the acolytes and leaders of the community themselves to deal with. The JAI believe what they say they believe and no doubt will continue so to believe whatever any Government or coordinating body or council say. The State guarantees them that right.
What is it that the paragraph complains of? What are the points? Without specificity the paragraph is empty of meaning and justification for the Decree.
What is certain is that there are fabricated opinions about the beliefs of the JAI which have gained widespread circulation in the media and which certainly do deviate from the 12 point explanation. These fabricated opinions have indeed been used by the rabble rousers to instigate unrest and disturb the peace and order of community life. The JAI have not been allowed media space to counter these untruths, or where they have it has not stopped the media from repeating them. It is as well to put some of these myths to bed right away and I have done so below.
e. That members of the public are obliged to protect and maintain harmony among religions to create peace and orderly community life and to establish national unity and solidarity;
f. That in an attempt to protect and nurture peaceful religious life and orderly community life, and taking into account paragraphs a, b, c, d, and e, above it is necessary for the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General, the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Indonesia to make a joint decree in the matter of a warning and order to the followers, members, and/or leading members of the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI) and to the general public:
It is self-evident that every citizen has a duty to act in such a way as to promote harmony between themselves and their fellow citizens. Every state – except those where chaos and gun law prevail – have a substantial corpus of law aimed at preventing disorder and promoting harmony and have a police force to enforce those laws. The institutions of the school and family are intended to reinforce common decent civic values.
It is bizarre to think by isolating and naming one religious community who have never acted as a group unlawfully and have, as part of their code of ethics, the duty of devotion and loyalty to the state in which they live and outlawing certain of their peaceful activities the state is promoting harmony and order. It is as though a shepherd could stop the depredations of the wolves by removing the vocal cords of one of his sheep and cutting off its legs.
The way that the state can best protect and nurture peaceful religious life is by protecting the homes, lives and places of worship of its citizens and by affording restitution where they have suffered loss. That is a matter for the police and courts and not for legislation.
1. Members of the public are warned and ordered not to declare, suggest or attempt to gain public support for an interpretation of a religion that is held in Indonesia or to conduct religious activities that resemble the religious activities of that religion which are deviant from the principal teachings of that religion.
See comment to paragraph b. of the preamble.
2. The followers, members, and/or leading members of the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI) are warned and ordered, as long as they consider themselves to hold to Islam, to discontinue the promulgation of interpretations and activities that are deviant from the principal teachings of Islam, that is to say the promulgation of beliefs that recognise a prophet with all his teachings who comes after the Prophet Muhammad SAW.
The history of Europe is bloody one where many lives were lost and untold misery prevailed over arguments about the primacy of the See of Rome or the transubstantiation of the Eucharist. To each of the protagonists the issues were about the principal teachings of their faith. Only they were the true believers and the others were infidels who had no right to call themselves Christian. In one country where the monarch held one view those who held the other were persecuted. Bloody wars were fought to “save the purity of the faith”.
Ahmadiyyat is an easy target. They are passive and compliant. But once you give the taste of blood to the hounds they will bay for more and soon chaos and disaster will rule.
In Pakistan Ahmadis were prevented from “posing as Muslims” since 1984. Since that time Shias and Sunnis have been blowing up each others mosques at Friday and dawn prayers and vendettas have been carried out by accusing each other or blasphemy.
Indonesia has been clinging to its one time reputation for tolerance and peaceful diversity. This decree imperils that reputation utterly.
By what authority does the Government of the Republic of Indonesia claim that belief in a prophet coming after Muhammad is “deviant” from the principal teachings of Islam? From the MUI? Whence do they derive their authority? In Indonesia there is no king. There is no state religion or state interpretation of religion. It is still a republic.
3. Any follower, member, or leading member of the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI) who does not comply with this warning and order as specified in the first and second articles shall be liable to penalties as prescribed in regulatory laws and such penalties shall extent to the organisation and legal body.
Now this places a potential defendant in a difficult position and it also makes it very difficult for a judge to decide the case.
It is impossible for an Ahmadi to deny that they are a Muslim since that goes against the fundamentals of their belief which includes adherence to the Kalima. It is also impossible for them to abstain from propagating their faith. The difficulty arises about the charge for the offence and how the defendant is to plead.
The charge of promulgating “activities” which are deviant from the principal teachings of Islam is hardly likely to arise because there are no conceivable activities which an Ahmadi might do in the course of his religious observances which deviate from those of other Muslims.
If, in promulgating their beliefs, an Ahmadi is accused of promulgating an interpretation which deviates from the principal teachings of Islam they shall have to plead not guilty, deny the charge and be given the chance to prove to the satisfaction of the court that whatever it was they were arguing was within the ambit of the teachings of Islam.
If an Ahmadi defendant is accused of promulgating an interpretation which recognises a prophet coming after Muhammad, and that is what they were, in fact, doing, they would have to accept the charge, plead guilty and accept the consequences.
But by making the offence a composite one and being charged accordingly an Ahmadi defendant holding true to their beliefs cannot plead. Every defendant has the right to know what they are accused of and to be able to answer the charge they are faced with. The offence created by this Decree denies them that right.
4. All members of the public are warned and ordered to protect and maintain harmonious religious life as well as peaceful and orderly community life by not conducting unlawful activities and/or actions against the followers, members, and leading members of the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Jama’at (JAI).
Once again this demonstrates the pointlessness of the Decree.
Each law which is valid, constitutional and in force stands on its own. It does not require another law to order citizens to comply with it. That is something the police or Ministers could do by a public information campaign and by vigorous and well publicised enforcement action and by the courts imposing appropriate sentences and awarding restitution of damages.
5. Any member of the public who does not comply with this warning and order as specified in the first and fourth articles shall be liable to penalties as prescribed in regulatory laws.
In relation to offences under Article 4 a situation of double jeopardy is created.
If I punch a non-Ahmadi on the nose I am, presumably, contravening the appropriate offences against the person law and I am liable to appear in court and face the prescribed penalty.
If, however, I punch an Ahmadi on the nose I am not only liable under the offences against the person law but I am also liable under Article 5 of this Decree.
6. Government and district government officials are ordered to take steps to guide, secure and monitor the implementation of this Joint Decree.
7. This Joint Decree comes into effect on the date that it is made.
This bizarre and difficult to understand piece of legislation surely needs a lot of guidance from government and a lot of concrete steps putting in place to secure and monitor it. The officials need time to work it all out and prepare the necessary public information campaigns.
Why, then, do all parts of the Decree come into immediate effect?
JAI reported beliefs
That Ahmadis believe in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the last prophet instead of Muhammad
Ahmadis believe in Muhammad as the last law-giving prophet and the seal of all the prophets. Any prophet who comes after Muhammad cannot bring a new law and cannot change the law of Muhammad in any way. Such a prophet is only a subservient prophet of Muhammad and their status as a prophet derives from that of Muhammad.
Ahmadis do not believe in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the last prophet. Further subservient prophets may be possible in future.
The holy book of the Ahmadis is the Tadhkirah
The holy book of Ahmadis is the Holy Qur’an.
It is the Qur’an which Ahmadis recite in their prayers and which devotees read from every morning and attempt to learn by heart. There are very few everyday Ahmadis who could quote anything from the Tadhkirah.
Ahmadis go on hajj to Rabwah or Qadian
The Hajj of Ahmadis is to the Kaaba in Makkah. Although this is a duty for all able-bodied Muslims, including Ahmadis, the Saudi government do not knowingly allow Ahmadis to go on Hajj. Despite this restriction Ahmadis have not substituted anywhere else as a place of pilgrimage and there is no religious requirement whatsoever for any Ahmadi to visit Rabwah or Qadian.
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