Ahmadiyah Intolerance Has Flourished on Indonesian President's Watch: Survey

Jakarta, Indonesia - The level of intolerance among the Muslim community toward the Ahmadiyah sect has more than doubled during the six years of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s rule, a survey indicates.

In the study by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI), 30.2 percent of 1,000 respondents in 100 towns and cities across Indonesia supported acts of violence against the sect, which many mainstream Muslims deem deviant.

LSI researcher Adrian Sopa said this was a sharp increase from a similar survey in 2005 that showed only 13.9 percent of respondents backed such moves.

“The government must do something before the problem escalates,” he said.

“[President Susilo Bambang] Yudhoyono must put an end to hate speeches and attacks and ensure religious freedom.”

However, in a speech on Tuesday, Yudhoyono blamed the rise of hard-line activity on the country’s transition toward a fully fledged democracy.

“In a large-scale transformation, there might be disorientation and resistance,” he said.

“It often causes uncomfortable feelings [and leads to different groups] blaming each other. It happens because the old values have been abandoned while the new values have not been properly established.”

The LSI’s latest survey comes on the heels of an attack against the Ahmadiyah and a plan to banish them to an island.

On Oct. 1, hundreds of attackers ransacked and burned down houses, schools and a mosque in Cisalada village, home to 600 followers of the minority sect.

On Monday, meanwhile, the district head of West Lombok announced plans to relocate a group of Ahmadiyah refugees to a deserted island to quell the local community’s unrest over their presence there.

The LSI concluded the growing number of attacks against Ahmadiyah was rooted in the government’s failure to prosecute the perpetrators.

A similar study released last month by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society found “a worrying increase” in religious intolerance among Muslims in 2010 compared with 2001.

Of 1,200 adult Muslim men and women surveyed nationwide, 57.8 percent said they were against the construction of churches and other non-Muslim places of worship — the highest level recorded by the study center since 2001.

More than a quarter, or 27.6 percent, said they would object to non-Muslims teaching their children in school, up from 21.4 percent in 2008.

Center chief Jajat Burhanudin said the results were “good news for radical groups” in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority state.

“Religious intolerance encourages people to become radicals, join terrorist networks or at least support the agenda of fundamentalists who commit violence in the name of religion,” he said.

Indonesia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, while the country of 240 million people, 80 percent of whom are Muslim, has ratified the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Followers of Ahmadiyah, a sect founded in India in 1889, profess the group’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet, a belief that runs counter to mainstream Islamic beliefs that reserve that distinction for the Prophet Muhammad.

In 2005, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa, or edict, calling the sect’s teachings blasphemous.

Since then, a string of violent acts and discrimination against members of the group have gone mainly unpunished.