Mainstream Islam and Ahmadiyah in Indonesia
The Jakarta Post , Jakarta Wed, 09/14/2005 11:57 AM Opinion
Muhamad Ali, Manoa, Hawaii
Tolerance is not always easy for many Muslims because they tend to reinforce differences and boundaries, rather than commonalities.
They have tended to set theological boundaries according to their interpretation of religious texts to maintain their claim of ultimate truth. Muslim groups, as other religious and non-religious peoples, have long disregarded historical and sociological (thus contextual) understanding of the belief systems, including Ahmadiyyah.
The Ahmadiyyah was founded in British India, not in a historical vacuum. As other millenarian movements, the Ahmadiyyah emerged out of social problems facing the Indian Muslim community at that time. They wanted to reform the Muslim community and to attract others by promoting compatibility of religion and modernity, entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency.
Historically in Indonesia, the early leaders of Muhammadiyah (established in 1912) and of the Ahmadiyyah (which arrived in Indonesia in the early 1920s) in Java used to coexist and even were about to collaborate in the educational and social fields, but then came the rupture and hostility between the two since the late 1920s onwards.
As Herman Beck argued in his scholarly article Rupture between the Muhammadiyah and the Ahmadiyyah, the initial cordial relationship and mutual tolerance soon shifted into the rupture and disagreement, which was then reinforced by the 1984 national fatwa by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which stated that the teachings of Ahmadiyyah were deviant.
As Herman Beck suggested, the Muhammadiyah in particular and the Lahore Branch of the Ahmadiyyah initially had cordial relations.
Even after the 1929 rupture, the Muhammadiyah adopted a rather tolerant attitude toward the Lahore branch of the Ahmadiyyah.
The Muhammadiyah and the Ahmadiyyah felt they shared some similarities: Both wanted to prove that Islam could be compatible with modernity; both introduced modern concepts of education; both shared the defensive comprehension of jihad, and both wanted to check Christian missionary activities at that time. The son of K.H. Ahmad Dahlan, the founder of the Muhammadiyah, even became an Ahmadi, while Ahmad Dahlan himself did not demonstrate an aggressive attitude towards Christians. It was only later that Muhammadiyah leaders started having stricter attitudes against the Ahmadiyyah.
Long established in Indonesia, the Ahmadiyyah remains marginal in the country as it is elsewhere in the world. Scholars try to explain why this has been the case. One of the factors was the cooperative attitude of both the Lahore and the Qadiyan Ahmadiyyah towards the Dutch colonial government.
The politics of non-cooperation with the colonial government that the Islamic parties such as Partai Sarekat Islam pursued did not accord with the Ahmadiyyah's policy not to get involved in politics, as Herman Berk argued. Thus, they tended to be quietist and therefore exclusive from the perspective of the others (such as their refusal to perform prayers behind a non-Ahmadi imam, their inter-marriage, and their social and economic activities).
As a result of the exclusive tendency of the Ahmadis, mainstream Muslims have tended to ignore the positive sides of the Ahmadiyyah as a movement: That the Ahmadiyyah helped to develop Islam in the Western world because they wanted to combine Islam, reason and modernity and that their activities are carried out peacefully.
Based on the previous fatwas, the Muhammadiyah (and the Nahdlatul Ulama), Ministry of Religion, the MUI and some other Islamic organizations have expressed an intention to marginalize and outlaw Ahmadiyyah in Indonesia. This shows the Muhammadiyah and these institutions do not believe in freedom of religion as signified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They hold that there should be limits to tolerance, limits which they and only they decide. Here they tend to become ""aggressive"" towards religious organizations, which they regard as deviant, heretical or heterodox.
The fact that Muhammadiyah (and others) have shown antipathy of Ahmadiyyah, also shows their lack of interest in resuming theological dialogs on such matters as the notion of prophethood and Messiah, of the Jesus Christ, of the Koranic interpretation and of the concept of jihad. For them, that there is no prophet (and even a reformer) after the Prophet Muhammad should be believed without any qualifications whatsoever and it is thus final.
More importantly is a serious legal-political matter: Whether or not the government has the authority to ban a religious denomination regarded by a majority to be deviant. The government actually does not have a constitutional basis to intervene into theological disputes. If non-governmental organizations such as the Muhammadiyah and others have to put pressure on the government to ban the Ahmadiyyah in Indonesia, then this would become a pretext for other organizations to put similar pressure against a religious denomination they regard as wrong or deviant.
It is a test of tolerance in Indonesia. The basic principle of tolerance is this: If you do not want to be harmed by others, do not harm them. If you deserve to ban others, then you deserve to be banned as well on a similar basis.
The government (the Ministry of Religion, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs) should consider equally the perspective from all parties, rather than listening only to the predominant voices and neglecting what the minority have to say about the issues. If social order and public stability are the criteria in which a decision will be made, many variables and a holistic view should be taken into consideration.
For example, is it true that an organization harms society? If, for example, it is true that in a time and in a particular place one organization has incited hatred or harmed the neighborhood, this cannot be generalized in the organization's behavior in other times and places.
The government needs to make it clear that there are fundamental differences between theological interpretations and public disorder. The government should not just demonstrate objectivity and neutrality. The primary task of the government is to ensure respect and tolerance, rather than to take sides and further incite hostility among groups within civil society.
Therefore, the best possible and rational solution in the matter of the Indonesian Ahmadiyyah Movement is to pursue more serious and genuine dialogs between different religious organizations, facilitated by the government if necessary.
The various religious groups should resume sincere discussions and talks on different theological and ethical matters so that it becomes clear what the similarities and differences are. Theological disputes should be discussed in a theological, rather than political, manner. Tolerance is crucial from mainstream Islam and the government if we are to make Indonesia a better place for diversity and peace.