The Rise of Extremist Islam in Indonesia

New America Media, News report, Bramantyo Prijosusilo Posted: Apr 30, 2008

Editor’s Note: Ahmadiyah, a small Islamic sect in Indonesia, is being attacked by extremists there. If it goes, other smaller sects will follow, reports NAM contritbutor Bramantyo Prijosusilo.

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has come under pressure from hardliner Islamic groups to ban the peaceful Islamic Ahmadiyah sect.

Recently the government’s “Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society” (BAKORPAKEM) issued a recommendation to ban the sect, rekindling the wrath of the extremists against the Ahmadiyah. The board, set up by the late dictator Suharto, is made up of senior officials from the attorney general's office, the Department of Religious Affairs, the Home Office and the National Police.

On April 20, 2008, around 2,000 people gathered at the presidential palace in Jakarta, demanding that the President outlaw the sect and seize its assets.

The demonizing of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839-1908), who founded the sect in India in 1889, has been ongoing since 1980, when the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI), issued a fatwa condemning the group as deviant.

Human rights groups in Jakarta recently screened a videotape of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) Secretary General Sobri Lubis, urging followers to kill Ahmadiyah members. In the past the FPI has been in the forefront of violent and public attacks in the name of Islam.

"We will wage war against Ahmadiyah! Kill Ahmadiyah! Kill! Kill! Kill!" Lubis said in the video to applause from those attending his sermon. "And if they say we are violating human rights, then I say damn human rights."

Early on the morning of April 28, 2008, the threats were made true. A mosque and a school in an Ahmadiyah complex in Sukabumi, west Java, were torched by a 300-strong mob, which was whipped into a frenzy by a group that called itself the Jamaah Al Mubalighin Communication Forum. They shouted: “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as they attacked.

The Ahmadiyah faithful had vacated the complex and no one was hurt, but a member of the police force, who arrived late and undermanned, was injured. The police made a number of arrests and have charged five people in relation to the arson.

Ahmadiyah spokesman Syamsir Ali has called on the President not to bow to the hardliners’ demands. “Today it is Ahmadiyah, but later many more groups will be targeted,” he warned.

Yudhoyono is receiving conflicting advice.

Adnan Buyung Nasution, a respected lawyer and presidential advisor, has called on the President to uphold the constitution and protect the rights of minorities.

Hatta Radjasa, the President’s cabinet secretary, dodged journalists’ questions about when the President was going to follow up on the recommendation to ban the sect, but he claimed that ministers were drafting a ban.

Parliament Speaker Agung Laksono said that the security forces should make more effort to protect the mosques and the property of the Ahmadiyah.

There are approximately 200,000 Ahmadiyah followers who have been living peacefully here since 1925, when the country was still a Dutch colony. Ahmadiyah members played a role in Indonesia’s struggle for independence.

If the bullying of Ahmadiyah succeeds, the hardliners will turn their attention to other minorities. The MUI has issued fatwas condemning Liberal Islam, Pluralist Islam, and Secular Islam as being deviant. In the past, the FPI has attempted to attack the headquarters of the Liberal Islam Network (JIL) in Jakarta, but their band of thugs retreated when the locals who didn’t appreciate vigilantes in their neighborhood stood up to them with their fists.

The prolonged conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq creates a wide audience for violent Islamist ideas. Al Qaeda jihadi videos and books can be obtained freely and easily here. Several magazines promote the idea of a global jihad against the kuffar in the United States and Great Britain, and groups that are branded deviant are said to be “made in the UK or the USA.”

Convicted but defiant terrorists write opinion pieces in national broadsheets. Preachers travel the country to inspire hatred of Jews, Christians and the West, demanding that the sharia law be implemented by the State, especially the hudud aspect of the law: lashes for drunks, amputation for thieves, beheading for apostates and stoning for adulterers. Organizations like the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah, both known for their moderate views, have lately made statements in agreement with the hardliners’ positions.

The only Islamic organization actively debating extremists is JIL, which has been condemned as deviant and is widely discredited for receiving support from the United States. Scholars tarnish their reputation when they receive American money or pursue political ambitions like ex-President Abdurrahman Wahid did. Wahid, a moderate, was once considered by followers to be an Islamic wali – “friend of God.” But his influence has greatly diminished now.

In the raging battle for the soul of Islam in Indonesia, hardliners need only the Internet to help their recruitment and propaganda. The liberal and moderate Muslims, on the other hand, need truly spiritual leaders. Sadly, it appears there are currently none.

Editor's Note:

NAM stories on Religion

Indonesia stories

Islamists Gain Power in Indonesia

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