Thursday, January 05, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, August 5, 2005


Ahmad Fuad Fanani and Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

Religious violence seems often to have been triggered by differing ideological interpretations of texts. The danger is that when one group emotionally attacks another often the substance of the interpretation problems become blurred as blind stereotyping overwhelms a rational way of thinking.

The violent attack against the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation's (JAI) compound by the Indonesian Muslim Solidarity (GUII) group, which boasts 10,000 members, is an obvious case. Many don't seem to care that Ahmadiyah, which was established in 1889 in Qadian, a small village in Punjab, India, split into two sects in 1914.

Depending on which sect one believes, the group's founder Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), is either the last holy prophet and messiah after the Prophet Muhammad or he is just a respected reformer of Islam.

The first sect Ahmadiyah Qadiani regards Gulam Ahmad as the Imam Mahdi; the promised Messiah and prophet. This group has been widely accused of treating the Tadzkirah -- a compilation of wisdom allegedly received by Gulam Ahmad from God and his reading of the Koran -- as a holy book, an accusation the group has consistently denied.

The second group is Ahmadiyah Anjuman Isha'ati Islam, which is distinct because it considers Gulam Ahmad merely a highly respected religious reformer of Islam, not a holy prophet -- a stand that doesn't seem to principally run at odds with the majority of Muslims. Thus, it could be argued to some extent that this group should not be considered as extreme as the first.

It is important to note, however, that both groups share something gracious in common. The two strongly proscribe violence among their followers who are encouraged to resort to prayer and be patient when dealing with any disputes; something that is seemingly rare these days with other Muslim groups.

Ahmadiyah Qadiani was brought to Indonesia in 1925 by M. Rahmat Ali, who named the movement the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI). Meanwhile, Ahmadiyah Anjuman Isha'ati Islam was brought to Indonesia a year earlier by Maulana Ahmad and Mirza Wali Ahmad, who named the group the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Movement (GAI). These days JAI, which could be regarded as a "puritan" form of Ahmadiyah, has grown larger than GAI. Until recently, JAI claimed to have attracted tens of thousands of Ahmadis, as its devotees are called from throughout Indonesia.

The 1980 fatwa from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) did not bother to recognize the theological split and hastily generalized all Ahmadiyah followers as "infidels". It was this fatwa that prompted the fundamentalist Committee of Islamic Research and Studies (LPPI) in 1994 to bring a case to the Supreme Court in order to have the movement banned. The Court, however, refused to hear it as it ruled the case did not fall under its jurisdiction.

Regardless of the split within the group -- not a new phenomenon in other faiths -- the recent attack against JAI's compound is grossly deplorable. This religious authoritarianism can be considered in no other way than as a robbery of God's rights. It is God who has the right to decide whether people have deviated or not, not people who call themselves "religious officials". And when the fatwa was translated into an act of violence, inhumane anarchy materialized.

The attack was part of an immense backlash against almost all Ahmadis. It has been increasingly reported that many Ahmadiyah compounds and followers throughout the country have also been subject to mob violence, humiliation and harassment.

The best way to deal with this interpretation problem is through continuous dialog, not through a repressive fatwa. The tradition of dialog has long been initiated by ulema in the past through mujadalah (debates). Did not the Prophet Muhammad teach Muslims to spread his teachings through hikmah (wisdom), mauidzah hasanah (good conversation) and jadilhum billati hiya ahsan or elegant debate?

A debate was once conducted between A. Hasan of Persis and Abu Bakar Ayub of Ahmadiyah Qadiani in 1933. There was, as anticipated, no conclusive ending to the debate, but what was important was the spirit of brotherhood in dealing with religious interpretations in a civilized and enlightened manner. This type of dialog should be encouraged and continued. With a newly democratic atmosphere, despite cases of immaturity, we have been rigorously training ourselves to agree to disagree in politics without having to abandon our principles, so why not in religion?

The most effective way to counter those who might be considered "deviants" is by proving that what we hold is logically true through peaceful and persuasive means without having to jeopardize the other faith's existence.

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