A series of attacks on followers of the Ahmadiyah religious sect has once again drawn criticism, with an expert in religion and democracy urging the government to exercise its authority when there are violations of human rights.
Alfred C. Stepan, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Toleration and Religion at Columbia University in New York, said on the sidelines of a discussion held Tuesday that while the government must keep a principal distance, the separation did not mean the state should never get involved in religious matters.
“They should think more about whether there are circumstances in which they have to act quickly because I think it is the government’s responsibility if people’s rights are in peril,” he said.
Followers of the Ahmadiyah group are deemed heretics by mainstream Muslims for recognizing sect founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the last prophet.
Islamic teachings maintain that the Prophet Muhammad is the last prophet.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued an edict officially declaring Ahmadiyah to be a heretical sect.
For years, followers of the religious sect have suffered attacks from various Muslim groups. Some of the attacks, which involved hard-line Muslims, resulted in the fire-bombing of Ahmadiyah mosques and houses.
Stepan said the attacks were violations of human rights and therefore the government’s intervention was needed.
Religion News Blog files news items regarding Muslims involved in hate activities under the category ‘Hate Groups.’
Is freedom of religion conditional in the Republic of Indonesia? The Jakarta Post, Oct. 18, 2008.
On the evening of April 28, a group calling itself the Jamaah Al Mubalighin Communication Forum set fire to the mosque, which belongs to the Ahmadiyah sect.
The attack was carried out less than two weeks after a governmental Coordinating Body for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakorpakem) recommended Jamaah Ahmadiyah to be outlawed.
The burning of the mosque in Sukabumi is the latest in a string of incidents of harassment and violent attacks against Ahmadis across the country. From the southern part of Indonesia (Bengkalis in Riau) to the eastern part (Bulukumba, South Sulawesi), the persecution of the Ahmadis has been widespread. It has been common for mobs to destroy the houses of Ahmadiyah members.
In Mataram, Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara, some 192 people are still living in a refugee center after being forced out from their village in Lingsar, West Lombok, two years ago. More than 300 houses there were destroyed.
As the most populous Muslim-majority country, Indonesia has been known for its religious tolerance. The state recognizes six official religions: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism. A decade after reformasi, the pluralistic country, however, has been witnessing the growing political power and influence of religious zealots, threatening religious minorities’ freedom to practice their beliefs.
Terror and intimidation by hardliners were not directed at Ahmadiyah alone. Violent attacks were also faced by other sects that were deemed “deviant” by the Indonesian Ulema Council. Mobs harassed and attacked members of the Kingdom of Eden sect in Jakarta founded by Lia Aminudin, who claimed to receive revelations from the Angel Gabriel.
In Bogor, mobs also intimidated members of Al-Qiyadah Al-Islamiyah, founded by Ahmad Mossadeq, who claimed to be a prophet and the messiah.