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Ahmadiyah fights back — in civilized way

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia
Sep. 30, 2005
A'an Suryana • Friday September 30, 2005

With their mosques and homes destroyed and their members terrorized, the Jamaah Ahmadiyah Congregation is fighting back, by peacefully filing a lawsuit against the Bogor administration after it banned the Islamic sect from any activity in the regency.

The legal maneuver is just one of many measures being prepared by the embattled sect to stay alive amid violent attacks from conservative Muslim groups in recent months.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Thursday, Ahmadiyah lawyers said the lawsuit was being completed and would be filed with the state administrative court on Oct. 7. The congregation is challenging Bogor’s ban as they believe it would be proven legally weak, said Erna Ratnaningsih, the deputy director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH).

The decree, issued jointly by the Bogor city government, police, prosecutor’s office and the Bogor Council of Ulema in July, clearly ran counter to the nation’s Constitution, which protects freedom of religion, argued Erna.

The decree was also against a law on regional government, which stipulates that religious affairs are managed by the central government and not regional governments. “We will demand that the Bogor decree be declared invalid and be revoked,” said Erna.

The decree was issued shortly after a group of nearly 10,000 Muslim extremists attacked an Ahmadiyah campus in Parung outside of Bogor city in July. None of the Ahmadiyah members were injured during the attack, but Ahmadiyah members were stunned again as the Bogor administration promptly issued a decree that banned them from practicing their faith in the regency. The decree was issued, according to Bogor officials, in order to maintain social harmony. “The decree was the entry point for more pressure directed at the Jamaah Ahmadiyah Congregation,” said Wirawan, the director of Bandung LBH.

As police officers refused to arrest the attackers, it encouraged extremist Muslims from other areas across West Java to exert more pressure against Ahmadiyah members. After the July attack, conservative groups in Cianjur attacked Ahmadiyah again, destroying mosques and homes earlier this week. The violence was soon followed by the joint regulation issued by the Cianjur regency administration that banned Ahmadiyah members from holding activities in the regency.

Aware that their existence was under threat of outspoken Muslim conservatives that had been making inroads in the country in recent years, the congregation is preparing three sets of actions to assure its survival. The first is the aforementioned legal measure. The second is a plan to lobby various leaders in order to help defend freedom of religion for Ahmadiyah members, said Erna. “We are going to have meetings with the president and the House of Representatives,” said Erna. The third measure was to form a coalition with other minority religious groups such as the Indonesian Bishop Conference (KWI) and the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL) in order to help promote religious freedom in the country, said Erna.

Ahmadiyah was established in Pakistan in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The organization has been in Indonesian since 1926 and formally recognized in 1953. It is estimated that there are 200,000 followers of Ahmadiyah in Indonesia.

The controversy hinges on the sect’s belief that the last prophet was not Muhammad as mainstream Muslims believe, but Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the organization’s founder.

The organization has also been criticized for its exclusivity. Ahmadiyah members hold Friday prayers in their own mosques and do not participate in Friday prayers in any other mosques.

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