Continuing the series of articles by invited authors, here's an article by my friend Fachrizal Halim, a PhD student at McGill University's Institute of Islamic Studies. Fachrizal was born in Indonesia's South Kalimantan province, and, apart from Indonesia and Canada, has lived in the United States. He has a BA in philosophy and an MA in religious studies from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. He got another MA, this time in Christian-Muslim relations, from the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.
Is There a Place for Ahmadiyya in Indonesia?
By Fachrizal Halim
The issue of Ahmadiyya in Indonesia could escalate into a chronic social-religious problem if the Indonesian government does not come to a decisive position regarding the demand to ban the religious community. Since the Indonesian Ulama Council issued a decree that Ahmadiyya is heretical, the members of the community throughout the country suffered from various attacks. The recent recommendation from the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Belief in Society (Bakor Pakem) to ban the community does not bring about a solution but only intensifies violence in the guise of legal punishment.
Considering the increase of violence and the demand to ban the existence of the Ahmadi community, one may wonder if there is a place for Ahmadiyya in Indonesia.
As a secular democratic country, the constitution of Indonesia guarantees religious freedom, and therefore there should definitely be a place for the existence of Ahmadiyya in the country. However, the constitutional guarantee must be followed by a strong commitment on the part of the Indonesian government to protect the right of the Ahmadi community to hold their belief. An ambiguous position by the government would be not only damaging to the Indonesian label as a moderate and tolerant Muslim country, but also ruining its home-grown construction of freedom and democracy. The ambiguity can be interpreted as a hesitation to protect the right of the Ahmadi community in defining their self-identification as Muslims.
Besides the commitment of the government, the Indonesian ulama must also have the courage to consider their role in the modern state. One of the triggers of recent violence against the Ahmadi community is undoubtedly the fatwa (legal decision) of the Indonesian Ulama Council which labeled Ahmadiyya as deviant of Islam. Indeed, as men of learning and guardians of the faith, the ulama have the authority to define Islamic orthodoxy in matter of belief and practice. However the ulama could become authoritarian if their basic function to guard the interest of the entire Muslim community has mingled with the interest of a certain group. This is exactly the case in Indonesia.
The Indonesian Ulama Council, which is supposed to mediate the difference in understanding of the idea of the Prophet Muhammad as 'the Seal of the Prophets' among Muslims in Indonesia has become a punitive apparatus of the hardliner and illiberal moderate Muslims. The Ahmadis hold a position that Ghulam Ahmad is the Promised Messiah. Some of the extreme Ahmadis believe that Ghulam Ahmad is a 'prophet' without a law or a holy book. Like the majority of Muslims, however, all Ahmadi communities believe in the finality of the revelation of the Prophet Muhammad. What made the Ahmadis differ from the majority of Muslims is their idea that the promised Messiah has the correct interpretation of Islam. The Ahmadis define their movement as a reform that would bring about the true Islam. By keeping this self-definition, the Ahmadis do not consider themselves to be deviant from Islam.
The Indonesian Ulama Council could not tolerate this position and issued a fatwa that Ahmadiyya is heretical and therefore should be regarded as non-Muslim. What matters in this article is not the content of the fatwa, because obviously one may have his own theological position about the issue. The matter is the impact of the fatwa that violated the freedom of expression of the Ahmadi community. The rights of the Ahmadis to pray in their own mosques, to educate their children in their own schools and to propagate their teaching have been put into question by the imposition of the label of heresy. In this case, the Indonesian Ulama Council has become the regime of truth that does not allow any definition of Islam that differs from their definition.
If one agrees that the role of the ulama is to promote God's mercy on earth, one must also agree that the Indonesian Ulama Council should stop using their authority to punish the Ahmadis. The Council must realize that their fatwa, which expelled the Ahmadis from the mainstream of Islam, contributed to transgression upon the right of the Ahmadis to have their own interpretation of Islam. If the Council could change its role from representing one particular opinion to promoting a communal holiness that respects the diversity of opinions in Islam, Indonesia would continue to become a model of a home grown democracy among Muslim countries.
One of the good things of Indonesia being a secular democratic country is that the decree of the Indonesian Ulama Council has no legal binding in the Indonesian constitution. The demand of the hardliner and illiberal moderate Muslims to ban Ahmadiyya as represented by the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Belief in Society (Bakor Pakem) cannot have any effect without the final decision of the Indonesian government.
Editor's note: Notes on Religion does not necessarily agree with the views expressed by guest authors.