Defending the Oppressed Ahmadiyah

We concluded that “all people who believe in Syahadat — that Allah is the one God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger who brings us the principles of Islam — must be recognized as the brothers of Islam and must be protected.”

By Imam Ghazali Said*

Just over an hour after the Inter-religious Forum appointed me to be a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyah on April 24; my mobile phone started ringing and it hasn’t stopped since. The reason: people were asking me why I was defending the sect. Let me tell you the reasons:

The Ahmadiyah – either the Lahore group, which is popularly known the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Movement (GAI), or the Qodiyan group, otherwise known as the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Community (JAI) – have had significant interactions with Indonesian nationalist figures, both Muslim and secular, from 1920 until the 1980s. During this period, GAI and JAI members took part in the struggle for Indonesian independence and participated in the strengthening of national education.

Sayid Syah M Muballig, the head of Indonesian restoration committee and compiler of the Urdu language program for Radio Republic Indonesia in 1950, Erfan Dahlan, the son of Muhammadiyah founder KH Ahmad Dahlan, and many other figure in GAI and JAI took part in the struggle for independence and joined resistance groups, including the BKR, TKR, KOWANI and KNIL.

During that period, Ahmadiyah members interacted socially, politically, economically and theologically with prominent figures and leaders of the most-popular Muslim organizations in Indonesia; Nahdalatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah. A theological dialogue even took place between GAI, JAI and Persis, the latter represented by Ahmad Hassan and Wahid Hasyim from NU. The result was that GAI and JAI members were welcomed as the brothers of Indonesian Muslims.

GAI figure R Sudewo Parto Kusumo (1905-1970) was influential in helping to form cadres of young, intellectual Muslims grouped in the Jong Islamitenbnd (JIB). Many other members in GAI and JAI also joined the Syarikat Islam (SI) and Masyumi organizations. Despite this proud history, today we have no problem categorizing the Muhammadiyah as a “deviant” sect and “non-Muslims” just because they are different to other Muslims in Indonesia.

I made this decision to defend the Ahmadiyah after a serious study of many sects in Islam, including the al-farq baina al-firaq (al-Baghdadi), al-milal wa al-nihal (Syahrastani), al- fashl baina al-milal wa al-nihal (Ibn Hazm), al-iqtishad fi al-i’tiqad (al-Ghazali), maqalat al-islamiyyin wa ikhtilaf al-mushallin (al-Asy’ari), which I made with a number of prominent clerics, who represent all the provinces in Indonesia. This study was undertaken from March 22-25 and supported by Komunitas Mata Air (the Oasis Community) led Gus Mus and the Wahid Institute, which is led by Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid).  We concluded that “all people who believe in Syahadat — that Allah is the one God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger who brings us the principles of Islam — must be recognized as the brothers of Islam and must be protected.”

After a comprehensive examination of the Tadzkirah, and hearing testimonies from ordinary members of GAI and JAI, I concluded they do not represent a deviant sect. Because of this, I have absolutely no problem following my principles and defending Ahmadiyah. Sure in my heart, I am not concerned about the potential resistance of certain Muslim groups, which label Ahmadiyah as deviant.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema’s (MUI) fatwa against the Ahmadiyah Qodiyan on June 1, 1980, and another fatwa issued on July 15, 2005, began after certain groups, who claimed they were more Islamic than others, attacked the Ahmadiyah headquarters in Bogor. Since then, the violence has spread to other regions, with hard-line groups attacking sect offices and victimizing believers. I conclude the fatwa have given legitimacy to the violence against Ahmadiyah although the sect’s members have never disturbed other Muslims. I posit that Ahmadiyah is being oppressed and that their civilian rights are being abrogated. This is clearly against our Constitution, which protects the right to worship in Chapter 29 articles 1 and 2, and also contravenes basic human rights principles.

The JAI was actually legalized by the Ministry of Justice Decree No: JA 5/23 on March 13, 1953, which cannot simply be annulled by a Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB), even if it is made between the religious affairs and home ministries and the Attorney General’s Office. The SKB cannot annul the legal status of an organization based on the idea that “it is not a true form of Islam” or because of public pressure, a MUI fatwa or a decree by the religious sect watchdog, Bakor Pakem. Under the current law, the status of MUI and Ahmadiyah are actually equal and Bakor Pakem has no legal powers.

If MUI was a responsible organization, it should have issued a fatwa against the attackers of Muhammadiyah, not against the victims. Neither did MUI give Ahmadiyah a fair hearing before its fatwa. It only referred to hate texts published against the religion, Ahmadiyah Membajak Al-Qur’an (Ahmadiyah hijacks the Koran) written by Amin Jamaluddin and Ahmadiyah Punya Nabi dan Kitab Suci Baru (Ahmadiyah has its own Prophet and the Holy Book). MUI members never actually read Ahmadiyah texts or tried to clarify the content or substance of their books with Ahmadiyah members.

MUI and any other Muslim organizations should have been aware that labeling the Ahmadiyah “outsiders” would trigger violence against the group, which numbers only two or three million people. On their identity cards, Indonesian law forces the Muhammadiyah to list their religions as Muslim. However, the Kongfuchu Chinese people also list their religion as Islam on their identity cards because their faith is not recognized by the state. Ironically, by attacking Muhammadiyah, MUI is therefore responsible for reducing the population of Muslims in Indonesia.

The legal status of JAI could be resolved by the courts. If a SKB is issued, I suggest Ahmadiyah take legal action against MUI and Bakor Pakem. During this process, I have advised Ahmadiyah lawyers to push for the following recommendations:

  1. All parties must end all provocation or attacks on JAI.
  2. The government must protect JAI members and their property.
  3. The security forces must take firm action against any violence.
  4. JAI must prepare for a worst-case scenario where it loses a legal judgment by transferring its assets into the ownership of moderate Muslim organizations that remain accepting of Ahmadiyah and sending its believers to safe houses run by these organizations. It should also continue to enter into dialogues with other Muslim groups to explain its beliefs.
  5. JAI should make a clarification about the books that are being used to discredit the sect by issuing a counter publication. If it does not, many people will continue to believe the lies and misinformation that the books spread about the group, which will only lead to further conflict.

The plight of the Ahmadiyah is a vital test of how our Constitution can stand up to the demands of hard-line Muslims, who wish to create a form of Islamic state in opposition to the wishes of Indonesia’s many other religions. If the Ahmadiyah’s rights continue to be abrogated, I believe this will end up threatening the very existence of the Unitary State of Indonesia.

* Imam Ghazali Said, head of Pesma “An-Nur” and  FKUB Surabaya



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