In March 2011, a brutal attack took place against members of the Ahmadiyah in Cikeusik, Pandeglang (Banten), Indonesia. Despite police attempts to prevent violence, three Ahmadis were killed in the incident. After the incident, the mayor of Depok (West Java) ordered an Ahmadiyah mosque – previously closed by the mayor in accordance with a provincial decree that bans the Ahmadiyah religion - reopened for use by all Muslims, except Ahmadis.
Ahmadiyah is a sect of Islam founded in Qadian, Punjab, India, in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who claimed to be the mahdi – a figure expected by some Muslims to appear at the end of the world. Since Mirza’s death in 1908, a Khalifa (caliph), or spiritual leader who claims to communicate with Allah, has guided the group.
Ahmadiyah was first introduced to Indonesia in 1925. There are two groups of Ahmadiyah in Indonesia: Jemaah Ahmadiyah Indonesia (JAI), and the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Movement (GAI). While JAI believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the last prophet after Muhammad, GAI consider Mirza merely a reformer, and not a prophet. However, the Indonesian Ulema Council declared both JAI and GAI as cults that do not fall under any of Indonesia’s six official religions.
In 2008, the Indonesian government, on the recommendation of the Coordinating Body Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakor Pakem), banned the Ahmadiyah sect on the grounds that it failed to carry the twelve articles of the Islamic Declaration of Compliance. The Islamic Declaration of Compliance is a list of criteria, established by Bakor Pakem, to qualify a religion as Islam in Indonesia. Attacks on Ahmadis increased right after this statement was issued.
Ahamadiyah has the right to exist and anyone should have the right to practice the religion that they choose, without the fear of persecution or forced conversion. In a modern democracy whose motto for statehood is ‘Unity through diversity,’ it should not matter whether the Ahmadis are truly Muslim or not.
The intolerance of religion is illegal as it contradicts the second principle of Pancasila (the five-point ideology from which Indonesian law is derived), which is “just and civilized humanity”. Moreover, Indonesia is also one of the signatories of the UN Charter on Human Rights. Thus, when a human rights violation occurs, such as religious persecution, the government cannot encourage such violence, stand back, or do nothing. It has the duty to step in and stop the violation of the human rights of its citizens.
Many oppose the Ahmadiyah ban. In a letter dated March 15, twenty-seven members of the United States Congress requested 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 discriminated against the minority Ahmadiyah sect and religion.
The Presidential Advisory Council has advised President Susilo Bambang to oppose the ban on the Ahmadiyah sect. Several community-based organizations have defended the sect’s right to exist and have spoken out against the discrimination to the press. Both, the sultan of Yogyakarta and the governor of Jakarta have taken a more neutral stand, claiming that religious issues are not within the authority of provincial governments and should be handled by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
This turn of events in a country that prides itself on diversity is unfortunate. Is it a precedent for future acts of violence against non-mainstream religions? After the deaths of three Ahmadis, a ban on their religion and exclusion from their house of worship – what comes next? The prohibition of Shia and Sufi Islam? The takeover of churches and Hindu temples?
The president tends to remain silent when confronted with the heated debate over whether Ahmadiyah is, in fact, a part of Islam, so as not to alienate voters. This controversy presents an opportunity for him to stand up for what Indonesia strives to be and prove that his country is indeed, a vibrant democracy that protects the basic human rights of all its citizens.
This image is being used under Creative Commons licensing. The original source can be found here.