Jakarta, Indonesia - When 55-year-old Joni Jailani became the leader of Ciaruteun Udik village in Bogor two years ago, it never crossed his mind that he would be mentioned in newspapers, let alone in the same articles as leaders of the Indonesian Council of Ulema and the local office of the Religious Affairs Ministry.
But that was exactly what happened shortly after 33 of his fellow villagers, including children, said they wanted to return to the fold of mainstream Islam — after long having been adherents of the controversial Ahmadiyah sect.
“This article tells the truth, but the news on television has been exaggerated,” Joni told the Jakarta Globe, pointing to an article recently run by a local newspaper, which he said would be framed and put on a wall as a reminder of his “achievement” in converting those who follow the “blasphemous” sect’s beliefs.
“There was never any intimidation, any coercion or even persuasion, as television reports state. The Ahmadis here just want to live peacefully with their neighbors. Yes, some of them decided to stay with Ahmadiyah and leave, but what good does that do? At their new place they’re not going to be accepted, because of their faith.”
The Ahmadiyah Issue
In recent years, persecution and violent attacks have marked the lives of Ahmadis living across Indonesia. On Feb. 6, three Ahmadis in the subdistrict of Cikeusik, Banten were killed in a brutal attack by a lynch mob of more than 1,500 villagers. And more attacks have followed since.
Instead of protecting this minority sect, the government accuses the Ahmadis of leading more and more Muslims “astray.”
The main bone of contention is the Ahmadiyah view of the Prophet Muhammad.
A crucial tenet in Islam is that Muhammad was the final prophet and the Koran is its holy book. But mainstream Muslim organizations accuse Ahmadiyah of considering its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), to be a prophet as well.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has also repeatedly said that his officials had found the Ahmadis had a different holy book altogether: Tazkirah.
Ahmadis here however have strongly denied both claims, stressing that Mirza was nothing more than a reformer of Islam, and the Tazkirah was simply a compilation of Mirza’s writings used as a book of religious-philosophical learning.
Indonesian governments at various levels however are not taking chances. Several regions have issued regulations on the basis of a 2008 joint ministerial decree, which bans Ahmadiyah members from proselytizing.
Most recently, East Java Governor Soekarwo and West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan issued decrees that further restrict the movements and activities of the sect.
West Java took matters a step further, coordinating with the local military command and urging mainstream Muslims to occupy Ahmadiyah mosques, with non-Ahmadis leading Friday prayer sermons in hopes to get Ahmadis to “convert to Islam.”
Just a week after the West Java decree was issued, dozens of unidentified men came to Ciaruteun Udik, home to 18 Ahmadiyah families, to target Ahmadis’ homes, pelting them with rocks. But village leader Joni claims the attack was not aimed at converting them.
“I don’t even know who the attackers were. Yes, some villagers here were provoked and joined the attack,” he said. “After the incident, four Ahmadis renounced their faith and joined Islam. The initiative was theirs. I didn’t even try to persuade them.”
The village chief added that four other Ahmadis soon followed suit. “I told them if they were really serious about renouncing their faith they should produce a written statement. And so they did.”
Converting Under Pressure?
Joni agreed to show signed statements that were handwritten by the recent converts.
“You see, they made the statements themselves. This is not formulated by the government. You can see their own handwriting in these statements,” he said.
“See, this letter was written by a man who didn’t finish elementary school. You can’t forge handwriting as terrible as this.”
But converts in Ciaruteun Udik, as well as in the Ahmadiyah community in the neighboring villages of Cimanggu and Cisalada, tell a different story. “You have to ask yourself, if there weren’t any attacks in Ciaruteun Udik, would people convert? Of course not,” one Ahmadi woman who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Globe.
The woman added that after four Ahmadis in Ciaruteun Udik renounced their faith, local officials harassed the rest of the Ahmadiyah community, urging them to follow suit. “They visited our homes, rounded us up. Even called us round the clock. We were intimidated,” she said.
“I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not. But [on March 13] at around 6 p.m., dozens of people attacked the homes of Ahmadiyah members in Cibuntu [West Java]. Afterward, they marched to Cimanggu and ransacked Ahmadis’ homes at around 8:30 p.m.”
This attack took its toll on the remaining Ahmadis in Ciaruteun Udik. A total of 29 men, women and children quickly announced they would renounce their faith.
“At that point I felt I had had enough,” 47-year-old Nur Hasan told the Globe. “I just want to live in peace. I don’t want to run away. Where would I go? Where would my children go?”
He recently renounced his Ahmadiyah beliefs and managed to persuade his wife and four children to do the same. Hasan’s father and siblings felt similar pressure and did so as well.
The remainder of those who refused to convert, estimated at around 60 people, have now left the village with their belongings, seeking refuge elsewhere. Their homes, some badly damaged due to attacks, remain abandoned.
Among those who fled Ciaruteun Udik fearing for their safety is 70-year-old Dayat, a Ahmadiyah cleric whose whereabouts are unknown.
“The fact is, the people who converted never felt intimidated by the attack. They told me they had always wanted to convert to Islam, but each time Dayat told them not to,” Joni claimed.
Calls for Violence
In Ciaruteun Udik, there is an eerie silence that looms at every corner of this small village of less than 500 souls.
Outside almost every home people have put up signs reading “Ahlusunnah Wal Jamaah” — signifying the homes belong to members of the mainstream Muslim community. The signs are put up in the hopes that they won’t fall victim to further attacks.
With the exception of Hasan, who agreed to speak at Joni’s home, the remaining former Ahmadis refused to talk about their reasons for renouncing their beliefs. When approached by the Globe, one recent convert specifically asked to be contacted by phone claiming that it was not safe to discuss the matter openly in Ciaruteun Udik.
“My neighbors are watching me, observing my every move to make sure I am not practicing the [Ahmadiyah] faith in secret. I also can’t let you into my house, they might get suspicious and I could be in trouble if I do,” the man said.
Later attempts by the Globe to contact him over the phone were unsuccessful.
Muhammad Isnur, from the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH), said Ahmadis in Ciaruteun Udik and Leuwisadeng, also in Bogor district, including Dayat, were rounded up a day after the first attack on March 11, shortly after Friday prayers.
“They were briefed by the Bogor Police, officers from the regional military command and the village’s ulema [religious leaders], among others, on the contents of the new gubernatorial decree,” he said. Even though the decree itself is unconstitutional, Muhammad said, the Ahmadis were strongly urged to obey.
“The preaching at mosques has gotten worse — there are calls to kill, attack and hang the Ahmadis,” he said.
Local and international human rights groups have also documented cases where military officers have visited the homes of Ahmadis in several districts in West Java, collecting data and asking people to sign sworn statements renouncing their faith.
“They were intimidated into signing a statement,” said Firdaus Mubarik, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI).
“The village administration leader also informed them that if they insisted on remaining Ahmadis, it would be difficult for them to get their ID cards processed, and to get their children into schools.”
“The Ahmadis were also offered up to Rp 150,000 [$14] to renounce their beliefs.”
Ruhdiyat Ayyubi Ahmad, a JAI leader, said he did not know where the Ciaruteun Udik Ahmadis who refused to renounce their faith were hiding.
“Ahmadiyah came to Indonesia not through force or coercion, but in peace, so I am saddened to see that it takes violence and intimidation to make them renounce their faith,” Ruhdiyat told the Globe.
“I can understand why some of our brothers and sisters felt they had to leave Ahmadiyah. We don’t see them as enemies or traitors. I am certain that for some, they still feel that Ahmadiyah is the right path for them.”