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Shia Muslims in Indonesia 'forced to recant faith'

Sunni cleric conducted exorcism known as 'ruqyah' on detained Shias, group says

Katharina R Lestari, Jakarta
Indonesia

March 17, 2015

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A group of Shia Muslims detained for more than a month after an alleged altercation at a Sunni mosque has claimed they were forced to recant their Shia faith last week by religious clerics and local police officers.

The incident occurred on February 11 when police say a group of Shia Muslims attacked the Muammar Qaddafy mosque in the Al Zikri housing complex in Bogor district, about 48km south of Jakarta, because of anti-Shia banners posted on and around the mosque.

Ferdi Irwandi from the legal division of the Organization of Ahlulbayt for Social Support and Education (OASE), a non-profit group that mediates conflicts between religious groups in Indonesia, said local police detained 34 Shia Muslims and initially charged them with kidnapping and assaulting the security guard.

A month after their arrest, Irwandi said the detainees were forced last week to recant their Shia faith in a ceremony called ruqyah, which in Islam is used to cast out demons.

“I heard about ruqyah — the recitation of Qur’an for people possessed by evil spirits — and the forced repentance of the detainees,” Irwandi told ucanews.com.

“I am also a brother of one of the detained Shia followers. They were handcuffed and forced to repent. They were passive. They just did what they were told to do,” Irwandi said, adding that the ceremony took place on Monday and Tuesday of last week.

Indonesia is predominantly Sunni Muslim, and sectarian tensions have escalated in past months with anti-Shia banners appearing in several parts of the country — most recently on the streets of Yogyakarta earlier this month, according to a report by the Jakarta Post.

Irwandi said the ceremony violated the Shia group’s right to freedom of religion.

“Why is their religion regarded as heretical? Why were they forced to repent,” he said. 

Ita Puspita Lena, a local police spokeswoman, denied that the ceremony and recantation took place.

“There was no ruqyah. A team from Az Zikra came [to the police station] to hold a prayer meeting for everyone at the station, including the prisoners. About 1,000 people attended the program. The claim isn’t true,” she told ucanews.com.

She added that such prayer meetings are common and generally held every month.

At the time of the group’s arrest, Sony Mulvianto Utomo, chief of Bogor police, said they would be charged with assault under Article 35 of the Criminal Code and could face up to seven years in prison, according to a report by the Jakarta Globe.

The report added that Ustad Ariffin Ilham, the cleric at Muammar Qaddafy mosque, posted a warning of further consequences if police failed to act strongly enough in the case.

“We just ask the police to be legally strict toward the leader and the people of the mob. If there isn’t any legal action, which we have entrusted with the police, we will declare jihad against them,” the cleric was reported to have said by the Jakarta Globe.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute, a human rights and religious tolerance watchdog organization, said the allegations of forced repentance, if true, presented a serious breach of human rights.

Naipospos told ucanews.com that the government has never officially deemed the Shia sect of Islam as heretical, though individual Sunni clerics have.

“So if there are any provocative efforts or hate speeches characterizing Shia Muslims as heretical, the state must take action to protect and facilitate dialogue between both groups.”

In response to the allegations, representatives of OASE filed a complaint with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in Jakarta. 

M Imdadun Rahmat of Komnas HAM said the group would investigate the complaint.

“If it’s true, this is part of a so-called forced conversion and is against human rights.”

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