The Ahmadiyah community is building new homes for the families of those killed at Cikeusik.
The history of increasing difficulties facing the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) can be traced in the pages of Inside Indonesia. The origins of the Indonesian branch of this Muslim minority movement were explained by Munawar Ahmad in edition 89 (Jan-Mar 2007). The movement originated in late nineteenth century India (contemporary Pakistan), was first proselytised in the Netherlands Indies in the 1920s, and currently has around 500,000 Indonesian followers. One sub-group within Ahmadiyah attributes revelation to its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908), thereby taking a doctrinal position that has attracted disapproval from orthodox Sunni Muslims who argue that divine revelation ended with the Prophet Muhammad.
Disapproval towards Ahmadiyah has been expressed constantly in Indonesia since the group was established there, but threats and violence against the group’s members and infrastructure have increased alarmingly in recent years. In edition 85 (Jan-Mar 2005), Akh Muzakki described a number of such conflicts occurring in West Java, and also examined the role of the Indonesian Council of Scholars (MUI) in the violence. The MUI had released a fatwa asserting that Ahmadiyah’s teachings were not Islamic in 1980, at a time when the Suharto government granted no space for activist organisations to implement programs of action. But in 2005, when the MUI republished its fatwa, Muslims were enjoying far greater freedom of expression, and in this climate, Muzzaki argues the fatwa played a role in encouraging violence against the group.
Defending freedom of religion
Few Indonesians have taken issue with the MUI’s disapproval of Ahmadiyah, but some have defended the group, arguing that there is an important principle at stake. The Indonesian constitution, they argue, protects freedom of religion. As Joanne McMillan wrote in edition 94 (Oct-Dec 2008), the resulting conflict has polarised society. On 1 June, 2008, supporters of religious freedom gathered at a rally held at Jakarta’s national monument. This date is celebrated annually as the day on which Sukarno delivered a speech in which he outlined his version of the state ideology known as Pancasila. The demonstrators, who included influential religious leaders, were attacked by thugs belonging to the very same groups that had carried out threatening actions against Ahmadiyah. The violence, which resulted in injuries to 19 people, shocked many Indonesians, and led to the imprisonment of members of the vigilante groups.
It is not only public apathy that has placed Ahmadiyah in such a vulnerable position. Indonesia’s politicians are also wary of the implications of the Ahmadiyah case. As Bernhard Platszdasch reported in edition 97 (July-Sep 2009), the country’s mainstream parties are eager to capture support from pious voters, and their positioning on the Ahmadiyah issue reflects a desire to accommodate them. The government’s strongest statement on Ahmadiyah was a joint ministerial decree released in June of 2008. It did not outlaw the group, but forbade its members from spreading its teaching as long as they continued to claim an Islamic identity. By refusing to support either of the conflicting principles being argued in the debate, the decree was a safe option for a government reluctant to court controversy.
However, after the decree, some accused the government of ignoring rights enshrined in the Indonesian constitution, making the Ahmadiyah congregation the focus of a debate about the nature of the protection offered by the country’s legal framework. In edition 105 (July-Sep 2011), Melissa Crouch described bans on Ahmadiyah that have appeared in legislation passed by governments at the provincial and district levels. But many critics doubt the power of these governments to make laws restricting religious activities. As Crouch pointed out, there is also a contradiction at work: laws have been passed that make Ahmadiyah teachings and observances illegal, but the operation of the law has hardly been felt by the vigilante groups whose violence and threats have incurred little legal sanction.
The Cikeusik tragedy
One of the most tragic developments in this worsening trajectory of religious conflict occurred in Pandeglang, Banten Province on 6 February 2011, when a mob attacked the house of an Ahmadiyah follower in the village of Umbulan, in the sub-district of Cikeusik. The attack was not spontaneous. In the days before, messages were sent around local religious networks calling people to a demonstration against Ahmadiyah in Umbulan. The message stated an intention to ‘expel Ahmadiyah from Cikeusik’.
On 5 February, an Ahmadiyah leader, Suparman, and his family were ‘evacuated’ by police, who knew in advance of the impending demonstration. The police’s hopes of avoiding a dangerous confrontation on the following day were dashed when 17 Ahmadiyah supporters arrived in cars from Jakarta, Bogor and Serang, stating an intention to protect Ahmadiyah property. They were led by the Ahmadiyah’s national security chief, Deden Sudjana. Police tried, but failed to persuade these men to leave Suparman’s house.
After the departure of the police negotiators from the house, a mob of between 1000 and 1500 people attacked it, while the police and army helplessly looked on. In the ensuing violence, which was captured on video and later circulated via the internet, the mob murdered three Ahmadiyah members from Deden’s group, Warsono, Chandra and Roni. In a particularly distressing image, mob members were seen striking and kicking victims’ bodies, even after they appeared to be dead.
Criminal prosecutions resulted. Twelve people, including students and leaders of local Islamic schools, were charged and tried in the Serang court on various counts including assault and incitement. Their light sentences caused further public concern. In July, 2011, they were found guilty and sentenced to periods of imprisonment between three to six months. Taking into account the time already served, they all walked free within 15 days of being sentenced.
Deden Sudjana, the Ahmadiyah security adviser who had arrived in Umbulan on the morning of the incident, and who was seriously wounded in the attack, was charged with incitement. He was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment.
A West Java perspective
Many of the attacks on Ahmadiyah have taken place within West Java, the Indonesian province occupied by the Sundanese ethnic group. Cikeusik is located in the new province of Banten, but the region is a Sundanese-speaking one, and is considered part of the Sundanese cultural region.
Three Islamic intellectuals from West Java were recently invited to Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, to give their impressions of the Cikeusik incident at an event organised in cooperation with the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. Specifically, they were requested to contextualise the Cikeusik incident in the social, political and religious setting of contemporary West Java. The province has been the site of many recent incidents of religion-based conflict, but this needs to be qualified: West Java is the most densely populated province in Indonesia (after Jakarta, which in fact has the administrative status of a province), so any social problems manifesting generally in Indonesia will appear prominently in the West Java region. In fact, attacks on Ahmadiyah have also occurred in other provinces.
But there are nevertheless good reasons to ask for explanations from West Java-based scholars. First, the Ahmadiyah conflict is one of a number of conflicts with roots in religious difference that are ongoing in West Java. These include conflicts arising over the issuing of permits for places of worship, over new Islamic movements (other than Ahmadiyah), and over the freedom of nightclubs and entertainment venues to operate.
Second, the populations of West Java and Banten include, by Indonesian standards, a high proportion of Muslims. While the national average is 88 per cent, Muslims make up 97 per cent of the West Java population. Christianity did not establish itself in West Java during the colonial period, and its rural areas lack the heterogeneity brought to other regions of Java by the presence of Christians and other religious orientations. This homogeneity is relevant to the capacity of the province’s populations to accept difference.
Third, the large Muslim population displays incredible diversity. Bandung, the capital of West Java, has been the centre of modernist thinking and activism (although that strand of contemporary thought labelled ‘liberal’ has been weak). At the same time, the province’s rural populations display loyalty to well-established Islamic traditions. The province has been home to purification movements, to Islamically-informed resistance to colonial and post-colonial governments, and to some of the nation’s largest sufi orders (tariqa). At times, this diversity generates conflict.
The three speakers at the Monash/Castan Centre event were Sundanese, and were experienced researchers and commentators about religion and society in West Java. Professor Dr Dadang Kahmad, a sociologist by training, is Director of Post-Graduate Studies, Islamic State University (UIN), Bandung. He is currently a member of the Muhammadiyah Central Executive, and has served as head of the West Java branch. He was formerly the chair of the West Javanese chair of the Inter-Religious Harmony Forum (FKUB), and has written books on the sociology of religion in West Java. Professor Dr Asep Saeful Muhtadi was formerly dean in the Faculty of Predication (dakwah) and Communications at the Islamic State University (UIN), Bandung. He has acted as an adviser to the West Javanese Provincial Government on social inclusion, and acts as a provincial coordinator for a US-funded education program. Mr Hendar Riyadi, the youngest of the speakers, also lecturers in the State Islamic University, Bandung, and is a member of the Muhammadiyah Young Intellectuals Network (JIMM), as well as the West Javanese chapter of the Interfaith Harmony Network (JAKATARUB). He is the author of books and articles on Islamic law and other subjects.
The three analyses – each sensitively translated by Keith Foulcher – take up different threads and will be published as a series over two weeks. In the first of these, Kahmad identifies a background of social alienation in which rapid change has damaged local values that promote tolerance and harmony between distinct groups. In part two of the series, Muhtadi's description of Indonesia’s recent political liberalisation provides a relevant context. The third perspective from Riyadi, an affiliate of the youth movement of Muhammadiyah that has been in conflict with the group’s conservative wing, is critical of Indonesia’s Islamic organisations in supporting a homogenous worldview that is resistant to diversity.
Some readers might notice a lack of ‘finger-pointing’ in these analyses. Other articles on these subjects published in Inside Indonesia specifically name certain organisations as promoters of conflict or ideologically-based intolerance. Our three contributors do not do this, and it is not hard to see why. In their roles in West Java, these men have responsibilities that require them to maintain good relations with a diverse range of groups, so their freedom to mention specific actors and groups is limited.
But at the same time, these absences make their outlooks more sobering. If the problems manifesting in the Cikeusik incident could be attributed to identifiable provocateurs, they would seem to be capable of resolution. But our three contributors point to a graver situation. They all identify collective religious dispositions that, in the right circumstances, transform doctrinal differences into threats, and thereby sustain acts of aggression. It is clear that the Cikeusik demonstration was organised in advance by opponents of Ahmadiyah, but the murderers themselves do not appear to have been card-carrying zealots, but ordinary rural santri.
There will always be Indonesian Muslim leaders who will claim that the public is harmed by groups such as Ahmadiyah, or who point at distinctive Islamic subgroups and announce them as threats. But the Cikeusik tragedy points to more serious problems that arise when society at large interprets difference as a threat, and justifies the resulting violence on that basis. Based on the perspectives from our three contributors, such a situation is currently unfolding in contemporary Indonesia.
Julian Millie (Julian.Millie@monash.edu) teaches in the anthropology section at Monash University.