11/02/2007, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Small theocratic fiefdoms emerging in Bogor and Padang

The leader of the “heretical” sect al-Qiyadah surrenders to police. Debate inflames opinions in Indonesia. Some Indonesians fear the growing influence exercised by Muslim religious leaders on public life and warn against small “theocratic fiefdoms.” Police actions against the sect have in fact been carried out without input from proper civilian and judicial authorities.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Ahmad Moshaddeq, head of a religious sect called al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah, could be tried by the country’s main Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Council of Ulamas (MUI), on charges of “heresy.” The leader of the allegedly heretical group handed himself into police custody after the MUI issued a fatwa against him, and is now in detention at the National Police Headquarters in Jakarta for tarnishing the image of Islam, head of the police state security unit, Adj Sr Commander Tornagogo Sihombing, said on Wednesday.

The case has also opened up another public debate in Indonesia with regard to the apparent emergence of local theocratic fiefdoms in the provinces of West Java and West Sumatra in which local law enforcement seem to enforce the will of religious leaders rather than that of elected officials or the courts.

According to police estimates, al-Qiyadah has some 41,000 followers across the country. Mainstream Muslim groups consider it deviant from orthodox Islam because it does not believe that Hajj (the pilgrimage to Makkah), fasting and the five daily prayers to be compulsory. Moshaddeq has also called himself a new prophet, coming after Muhammad.

Indonesia's two largest groups , Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, have joined MUI in condemning al-Qiyadah.

For his part National Police Chief Sutanto said that sect members would not be tolerated in the capital.

Increasingly, voices are rising from across the country calling for harsh measures against the group, demanding that it be outlawed and dismantled.

For the time being however, neither the Attorney general’s Office nor the Indonesian president have taken steps to that effect. Only one division of the Attorney General’s Office, the Bureau of Overseers of People’s Beliefs, has come out in favour of a ban.

In the meantime al-Qiyadah offices have been attacked in Bogor (West Java) and Padang (West Sumatra) by fanatics. Police have also arrested about ten sect leaders on the pretext of “protecting them from attacks.”

This has led some commentators to warn that small theocratic fiefdoms are emerging in some parts of the country.

In places like Padang and Bogor, Islamic religious leaders have begun a campaign to eliminate all those who are seen to deviate from orthodox Islam and seem to carry more weight than established civilian authorities.

These areas have also become the scene of anti-Christian activities.

In the world’s most populated Muslim country, the increasing public interest into this matter has led The Jakarta Post to launch a poll among its readers, asking them: “A new prophet? Tell us you opinion.”

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