Epigraph: Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed. (Al Quran 16:91)
Source: The Hindu
By Pallavi Aiyar
Over the last few years, Jakarta has laid down legal infrastructure that discriminates against religious minorities, allowing Islamists to take the law into their own hands
The marble minaret of Jakarta’s largest mosque, the Istiqlal, and the cast iron steeples of the city’s Catholic Cathedral, jointly punctuate the city-centre’s skyline. The adjacent location of these two places of worship is a powerful, sensory manifestation of Indonesia’s multi-religious and tolerant ethos.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country. Although around 87 per cent of the population, or 210 million Indonesians, self-identify as Muslims, the nation is a tapestry of religions from Hinduism and Christianity to Confucianism and Animism. Scan any newspaper and the names that pop up — Teddy Anwar, Suryadharma Ali, Veronica Colondam — confirm the syncretism that has long defined this part of the world.
As a Muslim-majority, democratic republic, whose constitution guarantees the right of citizens to freedom of religious belief and practice, Indonesia is a rare creature. The U.S.-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation, awarded Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono a high-profile prize for promoting tolerance just last month. The country is, moreover, regularly feted by world leaders, as a beacon of moderate Islam and a model for the Muslim world.
And yet only a few dozen kilometres east of Jakarta, in the suburb of Bekasi, a group of 18 Ahmadis has been holed up inside a fenced-off mosque for over two months. They barricaded themselves inside in early April, after local police sealed it, placing locks on the entrances and erecting a fence of corrugated metal sheets.
They refuse to come out until the mosque is allowed to reopen and serve as a place of prayer for the area’s 400-odd Ahmadis. Until then, their only contact with the outside world is through a square slat that opens in a back door to the mosque. It is through this opening that food is passed to them and through which they talk daily with Mohammad Iqbal, the leader of the congregation, about his attempts to secure redress. All efforts, he says, have so far failed.
Outside the mosque, a local government-planted hoarding refers to a number of anti-Ahmaddiya decrees and resolutions passed by religious and central governmental authorities.
Intolerance since 2005
In 2005, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), a coalition of Muslim organisations, issued a fatwa condemning the Ahmaddiya community as religiously “deviant.” Mohammad Iqbal dates the start of his communities’ problems to that year, with some members receiving threatening text messages on their mobile phones.
But the real harassment began later, after 2008. That year, President Yudhoyono signed off on a decree issued jointly by the Religious Affairs Ministry, Home Ministry and Attorney General, which ordered the Ahmaddiya community to stop all activities that “propagated” its beliefs. The vagueness of the decree’s wording has emboldened some regional governments to interpret the law as an outright ban on the practice of the Ahmadiyya faith.
The Ahmadis are not the only ones to have fallen victim to growing intolerance. On a recent evening in Jakarta, this reporter spent several hours talking with victims of religious violence and discrimination from across the country. Their complaints ranged from administrative inconveniences, to intimidation, violence and even murder at the hand of hard line Sunni Muslims. The vast majority of Indonesia’s Muslims are Sunni.
Muhammad Zaini, a 22-year-old Shia from Madura, in East Java, spoke of 600-odd Shias being forced out of their homes from two villages in the area, when a 200-strong mob of Sunni Muslims attacked their homes in August 2012. Several houses were burnt down and Zaini’s paternal uncle was killed. The Shias are currently camped out in a refugee camp in a sports stadium. Local Sunni authorities have issued edicts against allowing their return.
Permits for churches
Reverend Palti Panjaitan, of the HKBP-Filadelfia protestant church, talked about the seven churches in the Bekasi area (where Ahmaddiyas were also under attack) that had been forcibly closed or demolished by local authorities since 2005. Christian congregations across the country have been having a difficult time in recent years securing permits for the construction of churches. There are an estimated 22 million Christians in Indonesia, comprising over nine per cent of the population.