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For minority Ahmadis, Ramadan means love despite persecution

Reviled Muslim sect tries to stay strong during Islamic holy month celebrations

For minority Ahmadis, Ramadan means love despite persecution

Around 50 Ahmadiyya followers join an evening prayer held on the first Sunday of Ramadan in Al-Hidayah mosque in Harmoni, Central Jakarta (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

Katharina Lestari and Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
Indonesia

June 26, 2015

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On the first Friday of Ramadan, some 80 Ahmadiyya Muslims crowded into the small An-Nur mosque in Bukit Duri, South Jakarta. Usually, the weekly prayer barely draws 30 members from the community but this time strength was necessary. Just one week earlier, only days before the start of the holiest month of the year, local residents and members of the fundamentalist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) blocked the entrance to the mosque with a protest rally.

As the community looked on horrified, demonstrators raised signs reading: “We, residents of Bukit Duri, reject the presence, teachings and activities of the Ahmadiyya in Bukit Duri.”

More upsettingly, children were dispatched to disrupt activities at the mosque.

“[Kids] between 7 and 14 years old threw small firecrackers at the terrace of our place of worship. Some children wore masks. After the explosions, they ran away and shouted ‘be aware’ and ‘deviant.’ Our CCTV recorded everything,” recalled Maulana Muhammad Diantono, a member of the Ahmadiyya community.

Police were later posted at the mosque and rights monitors arrived to lend support in the following days, but the tactics worked.

“Indeed, we feel so deeply disturbed following the incident,” said Diantono.

As the group celebrates the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which began on June 18 this year, they are also reflecting on their challenges. This month’s confrontation is hardly the first act of persecution they have faced. Similar incidents occurred in 2009 and 2010.

“That time, the police evacuated us from the site,” Diantono recalled. 

Local residents hold a rally in front of An-Nur mosque in Bukit Duri, South Jakarta, ahead of Ramadan (Photo by Ryan Dagur)

 

Persecution and discrimination

The Ahmadiyya community has long been the subject of persecution and discrimination. According to the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the most prominent Islamic clerical organization in the country, their faith is “deviant” and their followers are considered heretics.

In 1980, the MUI issued a fatwa, or an Islamic edict, saying the Ahmadiyya sect wasn’t part of the Islamic faith and that its followers were infidels. During its national congress held in late July 2005, the MUI renewed the fatwa, urging the government to ban and dismantle the community and freeze all its activities.

The MUI claims that the point of contention between the council and Ahmadis centers around the refusal of the community to acknowledge Muhammad as the last prophet of Islam.

“MUI has said in its fatwa that the Ahmadiyya is deviant. The Ahmadiyya isn’t Islam. This is our reason [to persecute them]. We just remind them, we don’t take violent acts,” FPI’s Jakarta head Habib Salim Alatas said.

Similarly, a Muslim cleric from Al-Ishlah mosque in Bukit Duri calls the Ahmadis heretics. “The Ahmadiyya is a deviant sect. We reject all kinds of activities conducted by its followers,” Ahmad Syakir said.

Persecution and discrimination faced by Ahmadis has grown worse since the central government issued in June 2008 a joint ministerial decree forbidding the community from promoting their activities. 

The move was then followed by several provincial governments. In February 2011, the government in East Java banned the activities of the Ahmadiyya community, outlawing the display of their mosque and school signs. The next month, the government of West Java also banned the community’s activities.

In its Indonesia report issued in January, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) quotes statistics from the Jakarta-based Setara Institute, which counted 230 attacks on religious minorities including the Ahmadiyya community in 2013 and 107 cases through November 2014. In almost all the documented cases, the alleged perpetrators came from the majority Sunni Islam community.

“The point is that there’s discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community which is committed by the government through the 2008 regulation. It’s used to justify such discrimination,” Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at HRW, told ucanews.com. 

With Ramadan underway, many Ahmadis are blocked from properly celebrating the holiday. 

“Some mosques belonging to the Ahmadiyya community are still sealed, and I believe that the community can’t optimally hold activities in their mosques during Ramadan,” said Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of Setara Institute. 

The sealed institutions include Istiqomah mosque in Banjar and Basyarat mosque in Tasikmalaya, both in West Java province.

“Not to mention those Ahmadiyya followers staying in a shelter in Lombok. It’s been nine years since they started to stay there,” he added.

At least 29 families, or 116 Ahmadiyya followers, have remained in the shelter in West Nusa Tenggara province since 2006, when they were evacuated from their Gegerung village in West Lombok district after being accused by hardline Islamists of having tainted Islam.

Each family occupies a 3x3 meter space separated only by tarpaulins in the shelter with 13 toilets and only one kitchen.    

Despite significant obstacles, the community is committed to celebrating Ramadan properly.

“There’s a musholla, or small mosque, in the shelter. We use it to hold activities during Ramadan such as breaking the fast and evening prayer together so that we can be closer to God,” said Syahidin Rajib.                    

Though the Ahmadis living in the shelter have been moved to a safer place, they are hardly free.

“No more disturbances, indeed. But the life that we go through in the shelter is a constraint,” said Rajib, adding that he hoped his community would become totally free from persecution, just like other religious groups.

Right to worship

For Ahmadis, the right to worship is all they want.

“It’s the right of everyone. Give us the freedom of worship,” said Nurbaini, an Ahmadiyya follower from East Jakarta.

“What we do is just worship. It’s the relationship between us and God,” said Tauhid Tjakraadisurja, another Ahmadiyya follower from Central Jakarta.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), as quoted by the Jakarta Post on Saturday, said that of all the provinces in the country, West Java had the highest number of violations against freedom of religion and worship in 2014. The commission received 67 complaints in 2014, and it only received 39 in 2013.

“Komnas HAM has an obligation to make sure that every citizen has the freedom of worship,” Imdadun Rahmat, a commissioner, told ucanews.com.

What happened in Bukit Duri should never have occurred. “Staging a rally in front of a place of worship isn’t allowed. The security personnel must be able to prevent it from happening,” he added.

In spite of the criticisms, Religious Affairs Ministry’s secretary-general Nur Syam insisted that the central government has paid serious attention to the plight of Ahmadis.

“We are preparing agendas to address issues faced by the Ahmadiyya community including those staying in the shelter in Lombok. We have coordinated with some other ministries,” he said.

As the first step, a coordinating forum was formed in February this year.

“The forum, led by the Religious Affairs and Home Affairs ministries, is part of [our] efforts to find a solution to issues related to the freedom of worship or religion,” he added, saying that the incident in Bukit Duri is one such issue.

Indeed, Diantono feels that the central government has taken efforts to protect the Ahmadiyya community. Still, he regrets that some people still view them as heretics.

“The foundation of our faith is love basically. So we are guided to promote love,” he said.

 

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