Indonesia affirms freedom of religion

Indonesia affirms freedom of religion

The government refuses to kowtow to hardliners who have been calling for a ban on the Ahmadiyah sect.

Vowing to uphold tolerance and civil rights, the Indonesian government has firmly stood its ground, rejecting demands from some Muslim groups including the Islamic Defenders’ Forum (FPI) to disband the Ahmadiyah sect.

“The position of the central government remains guided by the 1945 Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and belief,” Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs (Polhukam) Djoko Suyanto said in a brief statement. “There should be no coercion or violence by anyone against anyone. That was the meeting’s conclusion.”

PHOTO: During a May protest, a Shia woman holds a photo showing followers of Ahmadiyah locked inside their mosque in Bekasi. Indonesian authorities say they will not bow to demands for a ban on the sect. [Adek Berry/AFP]

That stance amounts to setback to local authorities in West Java, who have been pressing for a ban. The meeting was attended by the mayor of Bekasi, as well as the head of the local Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) branch.

In June, the Bekasi government formally requested that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dismantle the Ahmadiyah congregation in the city or proclaim it not part of Islam. Some clerics and community groups in Bekasi joined the request.

“All places that are used to develop Ahmadiyah’s teaching should be banned,” Bekasi MUI chairman Murshid Kamil told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Speaking after the September 4th meeting, MUI national chairman Maruf Amin says his organisation will continue to push for a ban. “Their teachings are deviating from the principles of Islam,” he said.

A top legislator in the local parliament, Sutriono, said that Ahmadiyah followers can be tolerated but should not preach and should not describe their religion as Islam.

“It is simple. As long as they are not using Islam as their religion, they can exist,” he said.

Plea for mutual respect

Opinion in West Java is not unanimous, however. Wahyudi Salam, an Islamic cleric from Bekasi, disagreed with the campaign to crack down on Ahmadiyah.

“Please do remember that we have authorities and we should respect their decision,” he told Khabar. “More importantly, do not forget, Islam also teaches us to respect each other. If we do not, it will be dangerous. It means we can possibly contribute to horizontal conflict in our community,” he said.

The non-profit Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace also welcomed the government’s decision to allow Ahmadiyah followers to practice their religion.

“This is a good improvement. We can see Indonesia is respecting tolerance. There are no reasons to disband Ahmadiyah,” Setara Institute’s Deputy Director Bonar Tigor Naipospos stated.

“Indonesia is a democratic state. An MUI fatwa is not something that binds. The state does not need to obey the MUI fatwa,” he added.

Minister Djoko vowed that the government will stand up for the rule of law. “The instruction is clear to the police and intelligence officials. The dynamics in the community should be monitored closely. The police will react promptly to anyone in violation of the regulation. We are using a legal approach. Whoever commits violence will face justice,” he said.

Constitution guarantees rights

Ahmadiyah followers welcomed the government’s response.

“We cannot be dissolved. We exist in Indonesia and around the world,” Ahmad Sudjana, an Ahmadiyah follower in Bekasi, told Khabar in a phone interview. Sudjana said that Ahmadiyah has spread across 357 regions in Indonesia, but has only been suppressed in Bekasi.

“We would like to thank those who continue to support us and appreciate the steps our government has taken despite getting a lot of pressure,” said Ahmad.

Another Ahmadiyah follower, Komari Sidiq, said that the organisation and its members should have the freedom to worship.

“We were born here as Indonesians, and our constitution has guaranteed these rights. Therefore, let us be free to follow the religion we believe. The government will be responsible for ensuring our safety,” said Komari.

By Yenny Herawati for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

 

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