March 12, 2009
Ahmadiyah and Indonesian Democracy
The Koran is very clear that “in matters of faith there shall be no coercion.”
And it stresses that “if it had been the will of your Lord that all the people of the world should be believers, then all the people of the earth would have believed! Would you now compel humankind against their will to believe?”
Now comes a Muslim leader, Cholid Ridwan, a chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, who warns the President of Indonesia that if he does not outlaw Ahmadiyah, an Indonesian-based Islamic sect, the council will issue a fatwa, or religious edict, prohibiting Indonesian Muslims from voting for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the upcoming presidential elections.
Ahmadiyah is a sect of Indian origin, with some links to Sufism. It is controversial because of its claim that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last of the prophets, contrary to the basic tenet of Islam that the final of the prophets is Muhammad.
The sect is not new to controversy. In the 1930s, it was rumored that independence hero and former President Sukarno had become a propagator of Ahmadiyah. He denied it in writing, but in the process he wrote a few words of praise for the good behavior of its adherents. He was emphatic, however, that he was not one of them.
Today there are Muslim circles in Indonesia that clamor for an outright ban against the sect. That is old news. What is new is the election-related threat of a fatwa against the president if he does not outlaw the sect.
Democracy is not just about elections. Even more essential is the way minorities are treated by the majority.
Another Muslim leader, Umar Shihab, also a chairman of the MUI, says that Cholid speaks only for himself. Furthermore, he says no such fatwa is being prepared. No threat of one. But, in effect he says that it would be nice indeed if the president did outlaw the sect.
The presidential spokesman, Andi Mallarangeng, says that this is just one more sign that everyone has caught election fever. “We don’t need to worry about it at all,” he said.
What indeed is there to worry about then? We perhaps have more urgent things to concern ourselves with, like corruption in the House of Representatives and getting the economic stimulus package up and running.
There is, of course, the question of what Islam really teaches about tolerance, about the command against coercion on matters of faith. Where does it say in the Koran or in the Hadith that an exception has to be made in the case of the Ahmadiyah? The Muslim faithful may wish to obtain some clarity on that.
Since I am not a Muslim, I should let this be a matter among Muslims. But as an Indonesian, I am most concerned about the political implications of the issue. And when I say political, I don’t mean electoral politics. President Yudhoyono, I think, will win or lose the election on the basis of his performance as leader of the nation, fatwa or no fatwa.
What I mean is Indonesian democracy. I mean Indonesia’s aspiration and claim to be the world’s third largest democracy. I mean the pride that the Indonesian people derive from our international reputation as living proof that Islam, democracy and modernization can flourish together.
I mean human rights. Freedom of thought. Freedom of speech. Freedom of association.
Democracy is not just about elections. Even more essential to democracy is the way minorities are treated by the majority — whether their rights are held sacred or trampled upon.
We take pride in our tradition of m usyawarah untuk m ufakat , or consultations leading to consensus, a process in which all views are spoken for and all interests are taken into account. But all I have been hearing about Ahmadiyah are the threats against them.
Wim Tangkilisan is the president and editor in chief of the Jakarta Globe.