Indonesia: Ahmadiyyah Muslims to challenge crackdown

The Ahmadiyyah Muslim community in Indonesia is planning to file a lawsuit against the government over a new decree banning activities by the sect, condemned as “deviant” by protesters. “We ask the silent majority of moderate Muslims in Indonesia to speak out because now we are being held hostage by a small group of hardliners who commit violence and who want to change the ideology of our state,” said Siti Musdah Mulia of the National Alliance for Religious Freedom.

Under the decree, Ahmadiyyah followers are prohibited from “spreading of the belief that there is another prophet with his own teachings after prophet Muhammad.” The Ahmadiyyah believe the sect’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the final prophet. Police have been deployed around Ahmadiyah’s main compound in Jakarta. Last week, a demonstration in support of religious freedom was attacked by supporters of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) wielding bamboo sticks, injuring a dozen. Despite the decree, the FPI vows to keep up pressure on the government to completely disband the sect. (AlJazeera, June 10)

The decree, issued June 9, orders the sect to “stop spreading interpretations and activities which deviate from the principal teachings of Islam” or face five years in prison. The Ahmadiyyah community has urged followers to pray, stay calm and obey “existing laws” while it prepares a legal response.

“We regret the issuance of the joint ministerial decree because (this type of decree) does not exist within our reformed constitutional system,” the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) said in a statement, asserting that under the decree Ahmadiyah is “not frozen, banned or disbanded.” The Ahmadiyyah sect has about 500,000 followers in the country of 234 million, with 330 branches across the archipelago. (Australian Broadcasting Corp., June 10)

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed the decree the same day some 5,000 followers of a group calling itself United for Islam demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, demanding that Ahmadiyyah be banned. Although the wording does not explicitly ban the group, it warns Ahmadiyah members that they are no longer free to practice their religion and strongly encourages them to “return to mainstream Islam,” the Indonesian attorney general’s office said in a statement. Indonesia’s constitution guarantees freedom of worship, but law recognizes only five official religions: Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism. (NYT, June 10)

In the village of Manis Lor, West Java, where thousands of Ahmadiyyah members have lived for generations, several mosques and a number of homes were attacked and burned in December. Now, a large sign outside the main mosque reads “BANNED” in big red letters. More than 70% of the village’s 4,000 residents are followers of Ahmadiyya. “I am sad, and I am angry,” a lifelong resident identified only as Ani told the New York Times. “We feel like our hearts are being torn apart. I am frightened, but I can still pray, I can always pray in my heart, even if I can’t pray in my mosque.” (NYT, June 11)

See our last posts on Indonesia and Ahmadiyyah, and the struggle within Islam.