Ulema cannot dictate religious policy: Official

Jakarta, Indonesia - No matter how influential it is, the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) can not dictate government religious policy, a senior government official said Monday.

"The government will continue to make their own decisions to ensure public order and to strengthen law enforcement," said Azyumardi Azra, deputy secretary to Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

The result of the government's Coordinative Council for Monitoring Sects meeting on Jan. 15, for example, allows Jemaah Ahmadiyah Indonesia three months in which to prove that their 12 statements regarding faith and social values are not contradictory to Islamic values.

The government's decision ran counter to the MUI's calls for the dissolution of Ahmadiyah.

"Islamic organizations should respect the 12 Ahmadiyah statements and stop the attacks on the group," Azyumardi told The Jakarta Post.

The MUI has rejected Ahmadiyah's statements and demanded that they declare that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyah group, was not the last prophet, but only "a teacher".

Azyumardi said tough law enforcement and measures to maintain public order were necessary to enable people to exercise their freedom of religion.

MUI deputy chairman Ma'aruf Amin said the council respected freedom of religion, but could not tolerate deviation from Islamic principles.

"Some rules applied will guarantee that freedom of religion does not violate the law; does not stain religion values; does not bother public order and peaceful life; and does not bother people's harmony," said Ma'aruf, the MUI's head of edicts.

He said that, in a departure from usual MUI procedure, the council did not conduct an investigation into Ahmadiyah before declaring it heretical.

"The Ahmadiyah group is an exception. We didn't have to do any investigating since the group has long been internationally known as a heretical Islamic sect," he told a discussion.

Abdul Muti, chairman of the Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation Among Civilizations, however, said that religion is a private area that should have guaranteed human rights.

"Rules are supposed to guarantee freedom in faith, not limit it," he added.

Another Muslim scholar, Ridwan Hasjim, said Indonesia was still looking for an appropriate form of freedom of religion for the country.

"Previously, feudalism gave prerogative rights to some people to judge whether something was right or wrong," he said.

"The harmony between communities before the country's reform process was only artificial. Conflicts and violations emerged in many places as the country's reform began," said Ridwan. (rff)