TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The expulsion of Ahmadiyah followers from Bangka has shown once again the weakness of the state when it comes to protecting minorities. It is even more unfortunate that local government officials were involved in the eviction. This means that the state supports and participates in acts of discrimination.
Last week, hundreds of Sri Menanti villagers at Sungai Liat in Bangka Induk regency asked Ahmadiyah followers to leave not just Bangka but Belitung province as well. Their mosque was sealed. They were ordered to convert to Sunni Islam. Instead of ordering these fanatics to be tolerant, Bangka Regency Secretary Ferry Inani called for the Ahmadiyah followers to repent. Bangka Regent Tarmizi Saat even gave them a deadline, telling them to leave Bangka by February 5.
Regional leaders should comply with the constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to life as long as they break no law. It is shocking that government officials always give in to the demands of hardline groups. There is a paradox in the way the government works so hard to eradicate terrorism, but gives free reign to those groups opposing pluralism and diversity. It is not impossible that if the Ahmadiyah followers are still in Bangka by February, local residents could resort to violence.
The home affairs minister must act against the Bangka regent. It is also time that the home affairs and religious affairs ministers, as well as the attorney-general, revoke the June 2008 joint ministerial decision. This decree was issued during the administration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and asked Ahmadiyah followers to cease religious activities that were not in line with mainstream Islam.
According to the religious affairs minister at the time, the joint decision was not aimed at banning Ahmadiyah but merely at requesting its adherents to abandon their recognition of other prophets besides Muhammad. But this is an old dispute. Ahmadiyah theology still recognizes Iman Mahdi, while Sunni tradition does not. The Indonesian Encyclopedia of Islam, edited by Harun Nasution, states that Ahmadiyah still recognizes Muhammad as the 'seal of the prophets'. He is still recognized as the final law-bearing prophet, but Ahmadiyah followers believe in other messengers who come after Muhammad but did not bring laws.
What we often forget is that the Indonesian government issued a ruling on the legality of Ahmadiyah as a religious organization in the form of Ministerial Decree No. JA.5/23/13 issued on March 13, 1953. This was included in the Indonesian State Gazette No. 22, March 31, 1953. But radical Islamic organizations used the 2008 ministerial decree as the basis for their demand to have Ahmadiyah banned. This demand was followed by numerous attacks on Ahmadiyah communities, including the one in Cikeusik, Pandeglang, Banten, which killed three people in 2011.
Expulsions show that we are not as tolerant of differences as we claim to be. People are finding it easier to attach labels such as deviant or misguided to other groups who hold different views and beliefs, and try to force minorities into following the majority line.
All this moves us further away from the pluralistic society that the nation's founders wanted us to be. The issue of Ahmadiyah in Bangka is a challenge for the government. If Ahmadiyah followers are not allowed to live in Bangka, the pluralistic basis of this nation is in danger of becoming meaningless. (*)
Read the full story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine