Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama has come out strongly in favour of Ahmadi Muslims, an Islamic group considered heretical by majority Sunni Muslims because they do not view Muhammad as the final prophet.
Also known as Ahok, the capital’s chief magistrate personally spoke on behalf of a local Ahmadi community, after it became the victim of attacks by local Islamist extremist groups.
A Christian of Sino-Indonesian origin, he is one of the few Indonesian political leaders daring to fight for freedom of worship, a battle that not even the current "reformist" president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, Ahok’s former boss, seems intent on pursuing.
In an official statement, Governor Purnama said that he "would not submit" to pressure from any fundamentalist group. For him, this is nothing new. He had already come under fire from radical movements in the past, for being a Christian and for defending religious freedom and equal rights for all.
The latest incident took place on 10 July, when an Islamic extremist group forced the closure of an Ahmadi mosque in Tebet district, South Jakarta, disrupting Friday prayer with violence and threats.
Two days earlier, a district official had issued an order to halt religious services in the two-storey building because it lacked the required permits as a place of worship.
Speaking on the issue, Ahok said that he would on the legality of the Ahmadi faith, but that he plans to enforce the law and uphold the constitution in accordance with his role. Ahmadi believers have a right to pray and use the building as a mosque based on existing rules.
For this reason, the governor signed a directive authorising the re-opening of the place of worship. "The State should not meddle in such issues [of faith],” he warned.
"I asked the head of the South Jakarta district the reasons for closing [the Ahmadi place of worship],” said the governor. “I told him in no uncertain terms that hundreds, if not thousands of Muslim places of worship exist without a permit as required by the law, but no one dreams of shutting them down.”
For Jakarta’s first citizen, Indonesia "was not born under the tyranny" of the majority over the minority, "but based on the Constitution. That is my opinion."
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Increasingly however, it has become the scene of attacks or episodes of intolerance against minorities, whether they are Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or people of other faiths.
In addition, building regulations are often used to stop non-Muslims from having their own places of worship, as was the case for the Yasmin Church in West Java.
Although the constitution guarantees Christians the right to freedom of religion, they have suffered from acts of violence and religious persecution.