A Religious Sect and a Mosque Takeover

Last month, a brutal attack against members of the Ahmadiyah occured in Cikeusik, Pandeglang (Banten) that  killed three Ahmadis in the presence of police officers. Now, the mayor of Depok (West Java) ordered the reopening of an Ahmadiyah mosque, which was previously closed. The mosque was reopened for use by all Muslims – except the Ahmadis themselves.
Ahmadiyah is a sect of Islam that was founded in Qadian, Punjab, India, in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839-1908) who claims to be the mahdi – a figure expected by some Muslims to appear at the end of the world. The group is guided by a Khalifa (Caliph), a spiritual leader who claimed to communicate with the Almighty and become the successor of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Ahmadiyah was first introduced to Indonesia in 1925. There are two groups of Ahmadiyah in Indonesia: Jemaah Ahmadiyah Indonesia (JAI), also known as the Ahmadiyya Qodiyani, and the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Movement (GAI), also called the Ahmadiyah Lahore. While JAI believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the last prophet after Muhammad, GAI consider Mirza only be reformer. The Indonesian Ulema Council declared both JAI and GAI as cults that do not fall into any of Indonesia’s six official religions. In 2008, the Indonesian government issued a joint decision on the recommendation by the Coordinating Body Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem) banned the Ahmadiyya sect on the grounds that it failed to carry 12 articles of the Islamic declaration of compliance. After this statement was issued, the attacks on Ahmadiyah increased.

I do not agree with the Mayor of Depok or anyone who thinks it is alright to coerce Ahmadis to stop practicing their religion. Ahamadiyah followers have the right to practice their religion, just as anyone should have the right to practice the religion that they choose, without the fear of persecution or forced conversion. Regardless of whether the Ahmadiyahs are truly Muslim or not does not seem to matter – not  when we are dealing with a country that it is a modern democracy whose motto for statehood is ‘unity through diversity’.

First, it is arguable that the Depok administration has undermined the basic principles of the Qur’an itself. According to the Qur’an, no compulsion in religious life. I believe that the teachings of Islam have deviated from that written in the Qur’an in Indonesia, to such a point where minstream Muslims have used physical violence as an act of intimidation against a group that differs in their religious practices and beliefs.

Second, the intolerance of religion is illegal. This contradicts the second principle of Pancasila (the five-point ideology upon which Indonesian law is derived), which is a just and civilized humanity. Moreover, Indonesia is also one of the signators of the UN Charter on Human Rights. Thus, when there is violation of human rights such as religious persecution, the government has the duty to step in to stop the violation of the human rights of its citizens, not encourage such violence or stand back, for that matter.

Opponents of this issue are vast. In a letter dated March 15, twenty-seven members of the Congress of the United States has sent a letter to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to revoke the decision of the government in East Java, West Java, South Sumatra and South Sulawesi, on the grounds that it discriminates against the minority Ahmadiyah sect and religion. The Presidential Advisory Council has advised President Susilo Bambang to oppose a ban on the Ahmadiyah sect. Some community groups also defend the right to exist of the sect, including the Institute of Culture and Humanity (Maarif), the Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Belief, the Wahid Institute, Legal Aid Institute (LBH), the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Contrast) and Equivalent Institute. The sultan of Yogyakarta and Jakarta’s governor refused to issue a decree in their respective provinces to ban the Ahmadiyah sect and disagree with the acquisition of the house of worship in Depok. They claim that religious issues are not the authority of provincial governments, but the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

This turn of events in a country that prides itself on diversity is unfortunate. A bad precedent for future acts of violence against non-mainstream religions? It starts with first with the killing of three Ahmadi, then the banning of their religion, then then took over the house of worship. What next? Prohibition of Shia and Sufi Islam? The take over of churches and Hindu temples? The president tends to remain silent when sensitive issues such as the hotly debated issue of whether or not Ahmadiya is in fact Islam, at the cost of alienating voters. But here is a chance for him to stand up for what Indonesia strives to be, and which the world looks at it to serve as an example of, which is a vibrant democracy that protects the basic human rights of all its citizens.

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