Muslim Leader’s Threat to SBY: Outlaw Ahmadiyah or I’ll Bar All Votes for You

Jakarta, Indonesia - One of the country’s most senior Muslim leaders on Thursday threatened to issue an edict banning people from voting for the incumbent president in the upcoming election because of the government’s reluctance to outlaw the Ahmadiyah religious sect.

Cholil Ridwan, a chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema, or MUI, said that the fatwa, or edict, would be prepared unless President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono outlawed Ahmadiyah, which the council considered deviant.

“If you don’t want to ban Ahmadiyah altogether, Mr. SBY, MUI will ban Muslims from voting for you or any other presidential candidate who won’t support us,” Cholil said.

It was not immediately clear whether Cholil, who was addressing a rally by about 2,000 members and supporters of the hard-line Islamic People’s Forum, or FUI, was speaking for the MUI, which holds the highest authority on Islamic affairs in the country, or for himself.

The MUI last year issued an edict declaring Ahmadiyah a deviant sect and called on the government to outlaw it. Jakarta, however, has only banned the group from conducting their worship in public and from proselytizing.

“SBY is backed by international donors and sponsors, particularly the United States, Israel and European countries,” Cholil said. “All of them want to keep Ahmadiyah alive in Indonesia.”

Cholil’s remarks contradicted a separate MUI edict issued last month that banned Muslims from not voting as long as there was a Muslim leader worthy of leading the country.

Members of Ahmadiyah, a sect founded in India more than a hundred years ago, hold that the group’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet, a belief that runs directly against a tenet of Islam that reserves that claim for the Prophet Muhammad.

FUI chairman Mursalim said the government’s joint ministerial decree on Ahmadiyah served only as a warning and was open to multiple interpretations.

“It hasn’t had any effect. Ahmadiyah has even gotten bolder in their activities,” Mursalim said. “If SBY calls himself a Muslim then he should issue a presidential decree.”

However, another MUI chairman, Umar Shihab, said later that Cholil’s statement was his own and did not represent the MUI as a whole.

“We do urge the president to issue a decree, but we’ve never threatened to urge Muslims not to vote for him if he doesn’t,” Umar said in a phone interview. “The statement is just [Cholil’s] own.”

An MUI edict can only be issued after a long administrative process and discussion at a national convention of the council, which acts as an umbrella organization for the country’s major Islamic groups.

Presidential spokesman Andi Malarangeng dismissed the move as a political one.

“It’s very common for people to say that, especially with the upcoming legislative and presidential elections. We don’t need to worry about it at all,” Malarangeng said.