Religious ‘deviancy’ and Law

Oct 09, 2011

The escalation of violent attacks prompts some local governments to ban the activities of Ahmadiyah.

1140 Radical Islamic groups attacked peaceful demonstrators at the National Monument on 1 June 2008. Photo: Salbiyah Mushanif
















In February 2011, three Ahmadi followers were killed and at least five were injured in a brutal attack on an Ahmadiyah community in the subdistrict of Cikeusik in the province of Banten. Graphic footage of this disturbing attack circulated widely on the internet and brought the issue of Ahmadiyah, an Islamic sect, to the attention of international media.

The plight of Ahmadiyah remains an ongoing issue of concern. The Cikeusik incident has not only prompted renewed debate about Ahmadiyah, but also led to the enactment of measures by provincial and district governments to further restrict Ahmadiyah activity. This is at odds with the history of relatively peaceful co-existence that Ahmadiyah has enjoyed in Indonesia throughout much of the twentieth century. 

Origins of the movement

Ahmadiyah has been present in Indonesia since the 1920s, when Ahmadi teachers first came as part of the Ahmadi missionary movement from India. This religious movement originated in India in the mid-1880s, and was named after its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. From the beginning, Ahmad declared Ahmadiyah to be an Islamic movement. His teachings, however, differ in several respects from traditional Islamic doctrine and have therefore been a source of tension for many conservative Islamic religious leaders. The greatest conflict with orthodox Islam is caused by Ahmad’s claim that revelation did not cease with the Prophet Muhammad, but that he himself was the spirit of the Prophet incarnate or the mahdi, the Messiah expected by Muslims to arrive before the end of the world to lead the faithful.

Since Ahmad’s death in 1908, there have been ongoing differences within Ahmadiyah over the leadership of the group and over the status and authority of the founder. As a consequence of disagreements about these issues, Ahmadiyah split into two factions, Lahore and Qadiani. Ahmadiyah Lahore, named after the birthplace of its first leader, Muhammad Ali of Lahor, accepts the founder Ahmad as a reformer, but not as another prophet after the Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, Ahmadiyah Qadiani, named after the birthplace of Ahmad, accepts Ahmad’s claims to prophethood. 

These two factions are known in Indonesia as Gerakan Ahmadiyah Indonesia (GAI), which is the Lahore branch, and Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia (JAI), which is the Qadiani branch. Although the disputes concerning Ahmadiyah in Indonesia have primarily involved the Qadiani branch, which is the larger group, those who oppose Ahmadiyah do not always distinguish between the two streams. Together, these groups claim a membership of between 100,000 to 300,000 followers across the archipelago.

Opposition to Ahmadiyah

Since its arrival in Indonesia, some mainstream Islamic religious leaders have denounced Ahmadiyah and its teachings as ‘deviant’. Most prominent among its opponents is the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) which issued a fatwa (Islamic legal opinion) against Ahmadiyah in 1980 and again in 2005. Many radical Islamic groups continue to express their opposition to Ahmadiyah in the form of demonstrations and violent attacks.

One of the most prominent incidents was the attack on supporters of Ahmadiyah by radical Islamic groups that took place on 1 June 2008 at the National Monument in Jakarta. On this day, a peaceful rally was held by activists of the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Faith, a coalition representing over 70 organisations in support of the right to religious freedom. During this rally, around 400 members of radical Islamic groups, including the Islamic Defenders Front, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia and the Islamic Community Forum, violently attacked the Alliance demonstrators with clubs and sticks. Around 70 people were injured, some hospitalised, with many also suffering trauma as a result of the attack.

This incident prompted the Department of Religion, the Attorney General and the Department of Home Affairs to issue a joint regulation several days later as a ‘warning’ to followers of Ahmadiyah. It made four key points. First, it warned citizens not to support or conduct activities that ‘deviate’ from the teachings of the six state-sponsored religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism). Second, it warned followers of Ahmadiyah not to promote ‘deviant’ teachings, namely the belief in a prophet after Muhammad. Third, it informed followers of Ahmadiyah that if they did not comply with this warning they would be liable to penalties under existing laws, although such penalties were not specified in any further detail. Fourth, it prohibited vigilantism, presumably in response to the National Monument incident, by warning the public that vigilante action against Ahmadiyah would not be tolerated.

This warning, however, has failed to prevent further violent attacks against Ahmadis, such as the incident in Cikeusik. In addition, the warning has provided justification for local government authorities intent on banning Ahmadiyah.

1141 Demonstrators assembled at the National Monument in Jakarta on 1 June 2008 to show support for Ahmadiyah. The banner reads ‘Stop violence in the name of religion’ Photo: Salbiyah Mushanif

Banning Ahmadiyah

Provincial and district regulations that seek to ban Ahmadiyah are not a new phenomenon in Indonesia, with at least 40 district or provincial governments passing bans on the group’s activities since the 1970s. 

There has, however, been an increase in the number of district and provincial governments that have issued regulations to limit the activities of Ahmadiyah. On 28 February 2011, for example, the Governor of East Java issued a ban on Ahmadiyah in that province. It prohibited the spread of the teachings of Ahmadiyah in written, oral or electronic form. It also banned the use of the name ‘Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia’, the largest Ahmadiyah organisation in Indonesia, on public sign boards, or on billboards marking mosques and educational institutions. 

At least 40 district or provincial governments have passed bans on Ahmadiyah or its activities since the 1970s

Just three days later, on 2 March, the Governor of West Java issued a regulation banning the activities of Ahmadiyah in the province. This regulation borrows some key provisions from the East Java regulation, and extends its scope by creating an investigative team with the specific task of monitoring the Ahmadiyah community in the province. The regulation also gives power to local authorities – including the police, local government, community leaders and the Indonesian Ulama Council – to inform and educate the community about this regulation.