Attacks on Ahmadis in Indonesia trigger new debate
February 7, 2011
At least three people were killed when hundreds of Muslims attacked members of the Ahmadiyah minority group on Sunday. The government is again under pressure to revise regulations concerning religious freedom.
The clash started when around 20 Ahmadis visited the home of one of their leaders in the town of Banten in West Java on the weekend. Seeing that the followers kept returning, a number of locals started demanding they stop their gatherings. The state-run Antara news agency reported that Sunday's clash between the two groups was triggered when a member of the minority sect stabbed an anti-Ahmadiyah protester.
Controversy over movement's founder
The Ahmadis regard themselves as Muslims. But unlike the orthodox Islam for whom Mohammad is the final prophet, the Ahmadiyah also claims prophethood for its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908 in India.
In 2008, the government issued a decree concerning the minority group, which is not recognized as a religious group in Indonesia. According to the decree Ahmadis have to stop any activity that is not in line with the teachings of Islam.
Re-evaluation of regulations
Indonesia's Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali believes the answer to this kind of conflict lies in the decree. In the meeting earlier today, the government has decided to re-evaluate the decree. "We will rethink the part that says how the society and the members of Ahmadiyahs have to obey the regulations," says the minister.
The decree forbids attacks on members of the Ahmadiyah. But many human rights activists think the decree should be scrapped altogether, like Agnes from Aliansi Bhineka Tunggal Ika, a non-government organization that fights for tolerance between religions. "All these violent acts happened because of the decree. From our current perspective, it is as if the government was giving them an excuse." For her, the constitutions in Indonesia does not function anymore. "Today, the government didn’t do anything; they didn’t try to prevent anything, although they were able to. And what they do is evaluate the decree, again and again. The decree is what actually triggers these religious groups to act with violence."
Fatwa against Ahmadiya
Some people see the solution to the problem in acknowledging the Ahmadiyah as an official religious group in Indonesia. The first Indonesian Ahmadis went back to their home country in the 1920s after accepting the faith in Lahore, in today's Pakistan. By 1974, the Indonesian Ulema Council, the highest Muslim authority in the secular country, issued a fatwa against the group, branding it as heretical. This was the same time when similar developments began in Pakistan.
However, according to its constitution, Indonesia grants its citizen the right to religious freedom. And that also goes for the approximate 200,000 followers of the Ahmadiyah in the country.
In the past years a number of violent acts against Ahmadis were reported across the country. Many have been evicted from villages or towns, their homes and their mosques forced to close down, the climax being the clash last weekend, where the remains of the victims were hung on a tree.
The Ahmadiyah community's spokesman, Zafrullah Ahmad Pontoh, wants a safety guarantee for all Indonesians. "The decree is still debatable. But in the meantime, we still respect it. But for us, what has to be changed is how the security forces treat the people who act destructively."
Author: Anggatira Gollmer Editor: Thomas Baerthlein