08/02/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Gus Dur against fundamentalist threat in Indonesia

by Mathias Hariyadi
Former Indonesian President opposes the extremism of the Indonesian Ulemas Council, condemning the persecution of the Ahmadi Muslims. Christians demand respect for religious pluralism, one of the nation's "cultural assets".

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, has come once again to the defence of inter-faith harmony in Indonesia in opposition to the dangerous threat posed by the gradual Islamisation of the most populous Muslim country in the world.

Mr Wahid, who is also a former chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—one of the largest Muslim organisation in the country—urged his fellow Indonesians to disregard the fatwas (religious edicts) issued last week by the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), or Indonesian Ulemas Council, that ban those interpretations of Islam that are based on "pluralism, liberalism and secularism".

The former President is especially critical of the new and violent fatwa—the first one dates back to 1980—pronounced against Ahmadi Muslims who are considered heretical by Orthodox Muslims and who have recently been the victims of fundamentalist violence.

"I call on Indonesian society not to take seriously the MUI's fatwas against the Ahmadis," Mr Wahid said publicly. "Only the Supreme Court can decide whether their teachings are to be considered heretical or not". Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim, but do not view Muhammad as the last of the prophets.

For this reason, Mr Wahid wrote to the chairman of the Supreme Court asking him to convene a special session to discuss the issue.

"The purpose of this is to make the public understand that Indonesia is a secular state, not an Islamic state," he said.

"Every edict must be based on the national interest and on universal moral principles, not on Islamic dogmas," he explained.

Many MUI members are known for the extremist views and for using the Council for personal interests.

Mr Wahid, who is one of the country's most influential activists and public figures, has strongly condemned the attack against the Ahmadi community in Bogor, West Java. Here, about 10,000 members from the extremist group Indonesian Muslim Solidarity stormed an Ahmadi community centre on July 15. Local authorities forced its members to vacate the premises where they used to meet.

Despite their small number—200,000 Ahmadis out of a population of 241 million—, members of the Ahmadi community are concerned about the new fatwa that calls on the government to outlaw the community and dismantle its institutions. But they are powerless.

"I can't say anything at the moment; all I can do is keep my mouth shut," an Ahmadi activist lamented.

In order to tackle this hot issue, former President Wahid has set up the Civil Society Association. It includes leaders with moderate and liberal views from different religious groups.

Not only has the Association asked the MUI to withdraw its fatwa, but one of its members, a young intellectual by the name of Ulil Abshar Abdalla, stated that "banning the activities of the Ahmadis is a violation of human rights. It is clear that MUI has misused Islam in order to ban religious beliefs in the name of religion".

"The Civil Society Association" calls on the government to act against those extremists—including the MUI and its members—"who, although they do not use physical force, try to do away with different ideas and thoughts within Islam," Mr Abdalla said.

The Department of Religious Affairs has also been contacted in order that it may meet the country's various Muslim and human rights organisations to discuss the issue.

Indonesian Christian communities have not been indifferent to the plight of the Ahmadi community. Father Edi, a Catholic priest, has urged religious leaders to act correctly to "preserve religious pluralism as a cultural asset" in Indonesian society.

But the wider picture is getting more dangerous now that the MUI's deputy chief, Dien Samsuddin, has become the chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country's largest Muslim organisation. Mr Samsuddin is well known for his extremist views.

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