March 2011


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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The Ahmadiyyah Religion

Anick Hamim Thohari

Again and again, violence and persecution against the Ahmadis has led to the following polemic and abstruse solution: make the Ahmadiyyah a new religion other than Islam. No less, the director of the National Defense Institute, Muladi, and chairman of the House of Representatives Commission VIII, Abdul Kadir Karding, propose such solutions as does Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali. Muladi refers to the case of Pakistan, which, according to him, makes the Ahmadiyyah a new religion to prevent violence. Even the vice chairman of the House, Priyo Budi Santoso, said that the government has the authority to make the Ahmadiyyah a new religion. This solution is abstruse, however, and even contrary to common sense based on a number of facts.

First, Pakistan’s treatment of the Ahmadis is a bad example. Although considered a separate minority group since 1974 and declared as non-Muslims in 1984, persecution, violence and murder against the Ahmadis has never subsided in Pakistan. The last major case occurred on May 28, 2010, when seven men armed with rifles and grenades blindly attacked two Ahmadiyyah mosques in Model Town and Garishaw when the Ahmadis were performing Friday prayers. The attacks killed more than 90 followers of the Ahmadiyyah. Moreover, the policy of Pakistan is very discriminatory in light of religious freedom enshrined in its Constitution as Ordinance XX of 1984 makes criminals of Ahmadis for practicing their faith.

Secondly, in Indonesia, there have been several very clear precedents in which religion itself is no guarantee of security, i.e., in which religion is no guarantee for the absence of violence. Even against followers of “official religions” in Indonesia, there is very real violence that occurs. The Temanggung case and hundreds of cases of abandonment and destruction of churches and other places of worship reflect this reality. Indonesia also has a precedent in which religions that are internationally recognized still receive discriminatory treatment and have become objects of violence, such as followers of the Bahá’í religion, Sikhs and Jews. In addition, Indonesia has been presented with the conviction of Lia Eden and Abdurrahman, who has declared his community as being outside the Islamic community.

Thirdly, if the Ahmadiyyah are declared to be followers of a separate religion, as in Pakistan and as also mentioned by a few leaders who suggest this course of action, then, as a consequence, the Ahmadiyyah place of worship should not be called a mosque, there should be no call to prayer, worship should not be called shalat and so on. In essence, there can be no doctrine and ritual that “resembles” Islam because if it does it means defamation or blasphemy. The same logic was used to ensnare Lia Eden because she and her community use the terms of the teachings of Islam. Moreover, the Indonesian Ulema Council made a fatwa against the Dayak Segandu Losarang Earth Community because one of its ritual-like events is in the Islamic tradition.

It is also not acceptable to declare the Ahmadiyyah as a separate religion because there are more than 200,000 followers of the Ahmadiyyah who would have to abandon what they believe to be the truth, as the belief that connects them with God, as their way of life passed down through generations, just as others believe in the veracity of their faith.

Fourthly, the only difference in principle between Ahmadis and other Muslims is the belief that there is a prophet after the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who is the promised Messiah. Meanwhile, in the view of the Ash’ari, generally the promised Mahdi is the Prophet Isa (AS), who will go down in the last days of the world. In the view of the Ahmadiyyah, the promised Mahdi is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. It must be underlined that the Ahmadis also believe that this is the end of the age. Beyond these differences, there is no other difference in principle. Another note is that, in the view of the Ahmadiyyah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s prophethood position is different from the position of prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) because Mirza Ghulam Ahmad did not bring the Shari’a itself but insisted that the Shari’a was brought by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Even a sentence of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, which is often cited by the Ahmadis, notes that, “compared to the Prophet Muhammad, I am not comparable even with a speck of dust off the feet of Muhammad (SAW).”

We also need to remember that Islam has a long history of different views and interpretations, even at the level of basic beliefs. The history of polemics and takfir (the practice of declaring oneself no longer a believer of Islam) by and against Mu’tazilite, Khawarij, Ash’arite, Maturidiyah and so on after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) clearly provides lessons to us about this aspect of the faith.

Fifthly, it must be reiterated that Indonesia does not have a state religion; it is not an Islamic State, which bases truth on religion alone. Rather, Indonesians have agreed to build a country that respects all religions, and government policy is not based on the size of one religion, let alone one school of religion. Meanwhile, society should seek to distinguish between sin and lawlessness. In this context, the State should be religiously neutral, and the government has no authority to determine which interpretation of faith is more correct than others.

Finally, the abstruse arguments above should lead us to look at another fact: violence is a violation of law; discrimination is a violation of human rights. Therefore, Indonesia and other countries must find solutions in diverse societies to accept zero tolerance towards violence, and I think in this case we agree with the conclusion of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that in such cases as Cikeusik the State is sufficient to perform anticipatory and preventive measures against the phenomenon of violence and not just be a firefighter reacting to violence. The latter reaction had also occurred only in some cases. In most other cases, there was acquiescence by omission by the state apparatus, if not actually participating in the controversy and legitimating the perpetrators of violence. Hopefully, the statements of President Yudhoyono to anticipate and prevent violence are a commitment, not mere lip service or a stance to remain as a firefighter.

* Anick Hamim Thohari is the executive director of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) and is the coordinator of the National Alliance on Freedom of Religion and Belief (AKKBB). This article is translated from the original article that appeared in Koran Tempo on Feb. 12, 2011.