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Indonesia, Aḥmadīyah in

Herman L. Beck
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Indonesia, Aḥmadīyah in

The history of the Aḥmadīyah in Indonesia (then called the Netherlands East Indies) began with the arrival of Aḥmadīyah missionaries in the 1920s. They came from the homeland of the Aḥmadīyah, the province of Punjab in British India, where its founder, Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad (1835–1908), lived and taught. Against the background of British colonial rule, the intensive missionary activities of Christians and Hindus among Muslims, the deplorable situation in which (in his opinion) the Muslims around him found themselves, and the messianic hopes among Muslims in his time, Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad devoted himself to cleansing and reforming Islam. His claims to be the mujaddid (reformer of Islam) and the Mahdī, the promised Messiah (his “Christology,” so to speak), as well as his view of jihād, must partly be understood in this light. However, what was most controversial and, to Sunnī Muslims, ultimately unacceptable was the fact that Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad claimed to be a prophet. This conflicted with the orthodox doctrine that Muḥammad was the last prophet sent by God to mankind.

Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad’s claim to prophethood also led to a conflict within the Aḥmadīyah community itself. Together with the difference of opinion on who should succeed Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad as caliph and a number of other minor matters, this conflict resulted in the schism of 1914. Since then, the Aḥmadīyah has had a “Qadiani” and a “Lahori” branch, named after the places (Qadian and Lahore) where the branches had their headquarters. The official name of the Qadiani branch is the Aḥmadīyah Movement in Islam or Jamāʿat-i Aḥmadīyah, while the Lahori branch is officially referred to as the Aḥmadīyah Lahore Movement or Aḥmadīyah Anjuman Ishaʿat-i Islam. After the division of the subcontinent in 1947, when Qadian became part of India, the Qadianis moved their seat to Rabwah, a city they created on Pakistani soil. In 1984, the Qadiani headquarters were moved to London. The most important theological point of difference between the two Aḥmadīyah branches is that the Lahoris see Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad only as mujaddid; the Qadianis also consider him to be a prophet, which the Lahoris do not.

The Lahori Branch.

Missionaries from the Lahori branch were the first to set foot in Indonesia. At the end of March 1924, Mīrzā Walī Aḥmad Baig (1887–1971) and Mawlānā Aḥmad arrived in Yogyakarta, Central Java, where a congress of the Muhammadiyah was to take place. The Muhammadiyah, a reformist and innovation movement, was founded in Yogyakarta in 1912. Some members of the Muhammadiyah Central Board considered the Aḥmadīyah to be a sister organization, which they admired for its missionary zeal and its self-confident, militant attitude towards Christianity. They also believed that they saw other Muhammadiyah ideals in the Aḥmadīyah, such as the conviction that Islam is compatible with modernity, the central role that the principle of ijtihād (the use of independent reasoning) should occupy in Muslim thought, and its open attitude toward the potential advantages of Western-style education compared to traditional Islamic education. Moreover, like the Muhammadiyah, the Aḥmadīyah was strongly committed to purifying Islam by combating all forms of superstition and unlawful innovation. The two Aḥmadīyah missionaries were therefore warmly welcomed and were offered a platform during the congress to convey their message.

Although the relationship between the Muhammadiyah and the Aḥmadīyah was initially warm, it began to sour in 1925. In that year, the reformist Haji Rasul (1879–1945) from West Sumatra, in a debate with Mīrzā Walī Aḥmad Baig in Yogyakarta, informed the leaders of the Muhammadiyah of the differing and, in his eyes, mistaken tenets of the Aḥmadīyah. Haji Rasul opened the eyes of the Muhammadiyah leaders, who realized that they did not share the religious views of the Aḥmadīyah. One year later, Haji Rasul wrote his book al-Qawl al-ṣaḥīḥ [The Authentic Word], in which he showed why the beliefs of the Aḥmadīyah were objectionable. In 1927, the Muhammadiyah leaders were further confirmed in their increasingly negative views of the Aḥmadīyah by the Indian preacher ʿAbdul ʿAlīm Siddīq al-Qādirī (1892–1954), who was traveling around Java. At a public meeting of the Muhammadiyah, he informed its members about the Aḥmadīyah. The Central Board of the Muhammadiyah came to the conclusion that the religious views of the two movements were incompatible. The increasing divide between the Muhammadiyah and the Aḥmadīyah was also reflected in the fact that the Muhammadiyah withdrew its support of the Qurʾan translation by H. Omar Said Tjokroaminoto (1882–1934), the leader of the Indonesian mass political movement Sarekat Islam, in 1928. At Mīrzā Walī Aḥmad Baig’s initiative and with the approval of the Muhammadiyah, Tjokroaminoto had started to translate into Malay the English Qurʾan translation by Muḥammad ʿAlī (1879–1951), who, after the schism of 1914, had become the first amīr and president of the Lahori branch. At the Muhammadiyah congress in Solo in 1929, it was decided that anyone who confessed the existence of a prophet after Muhammad must be considered an unbeliever. Although the Aḥmadīyah was not explicitly mentioned, it was clear that the resolution was aimed against the organization. The break between the Aḥmadīyah and the Muhammadiyah was thus complete.

However, a number of Muhammadiyah board members had identified with the Aḥmadīyah to such an extent that they decided to establish an autonomous Lahori branch of the Aḥmadīyah before the definitive break. On 10 December 1928, Djojosoegito, general secretary of the Muhammadiyah, set up the Gerakan Ahmadijah Indonesia, the Indonesian Aḥmadīyah Movement (since December 1973, its official name has been Gerakan Ahmadiyah Lahore Indonesia [GAI]). Djojosoegito became its first chairman and led the GAI until 1966. Mīrzā Walī Aḥmad Baig acted as advisor until he left for Europe in 1936. In 1930, GAI headquarters were established in Purwokerto, a town in Central Java, and its first mosque was built there. An important aid in the GAI’s efforts to spread Islam were books and pamphlets by Aḥmadīyah authors that were translated to make them accessible to the Indonesians. At Mīrzā Walī Aḥmad Baig’s initiative, Muḥammad ʿAlī’s English translation of the Qurʾan was translated into Dutch by Soedewo (1906–1971) and published in Batavia (Jakarta) in 1934. This successful translation, with an introduction and comments by Muḥammad ʿAlī, went through many editions. Soedewo not only translated Muḥammad ʿAlī’s The Religion of Islam and many other writings into Dutch, but was also a prolific author for the cause of the Aḥmadīyah.

The GAI always remained a marginal and limited group in terms of membership and geographical reach: in the 1970s, it had an estimated one thousand adherents, increasing to between two thousand and three thousand members by the turn of the millennium, most of them living in Central Java. Nevertheless, the movement had a relatively significant influence on Islamic thought in Indonesia, mainly as a result of its publications and its short-lived participation in the Majelis Islam A’la Indonesia (MIAI; High Islamic Council of Indonesia) 1937–1943. The GAI was condemned by the Muhammadiyah in 1929 and also by the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama in 1930. At the behest of the latter organization, the GAI was also expelled from the MIAI. Still, it was not subjected to discrimination and persecution, at least to a much lesser extent than the Qadiani group, even after the anti-Aḥmadīyah fatwā s of 1980, 1984, and 2005 by the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI; Council of Religious Scholars of Indonesia).

The Qadiani Branch.

The genesis of the Qadiani branch of the Aḥmadīyah in Indonesia is inextricably linked to the name of Mawlānā Raḥmat ʿAlī (1893–1958). He was sent over from Qadian by Mīrzā Bashīr al-Din Maḥmūd Ahmad, the second caliph, who headed the Qadianis from 1914 until his death in 1965, at the request of three students from Sumatra, among them Abu Bakar Ayyub (1906–1972). Raḥmat ʿAlī landed in Aceh, Northern Sumatra, in 1925 and traveled on to Padang, West Sumatra, in 1926, where he set up the first local section of the Qadiani Aḥmadīyah in Indonesia. He soon encountered stiff opposition from orthodox Sunnīs, including Haji Rasul, who played a prominent role with his book al-Qawl al-ṣaḥīḥ. In this book, Haji Rasul refuted six of Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad’s claims: that, as a prophet, he had received revelations; that he was the helper of the prophet Muḥammad; that he was the Imam-Mahdī; that he was the Messiah, son of Mary; that he was the mujaddid; and that he was the caliph of God on earth. Although Haji Rasul did make a distinction between the Qadianis and the Lahoris in his book, he still condemned the doctrines of both branches as false. Anti-Aḥmadīyah Qadiani sentiment on Sumatra culminated in 1935 when its founder and adherents were condemned as murtadd (apostates) and kāfir (unbelievers) by orthodox Sunnī religious scholars.

In 1931, Raḥmat ʿAlī shifted the focus of his missionary activities to Java, where he expected to have more success than in West Sumatra. In 1932, he established local sections of the Qadiani Aḥmadīyah in Batavia (Jakarta) and Bogor. A group of adherents began to publish a monthly magazine, Sinar Islam, to disseminate the message of the Qadiani Aḥmadīyah as broadly as possible. Raḥmat ʿAlī and Abu Bakar Ayyub were both energetically committed to spreading Qadiani Aḥmadīyah doctrine by many means, including publications, lectures, and public debates. Amid great public interest, Raḥmat ʿAlī and Abu Bakar Ayyub debated in Bandung and Batavia in 1933 and 1934 with Aḥmad Ḥassān (1887–1958), a fierce opponent of the Aḥmadīyah and leader of the Persatuan Islam (PERSIS), a strict, reformist movement set up in Bandung in 1923. In one such public debate in Medan in 1934, Abu Bakar Ayyub, representing the Qadiani Aḥmadīyah, took on the modernist Fachruddin. Central themes in these debates were the following three questions: Did Jesus die or did he not? Is there or is there not a prophet after Muḥammad? Is Mīrzā Ghulām Aḥmad a prophet or not? Obviously, the representatives of the Qadiani Aḥmadīyah answered these questions in the affirmative and its opponents were of the opposite opinion.

In 1935, Raḥmat ʿAlī organized the first National Congress of the Aḥmadīyah, which decided to set up a central board in Batavia (later moved to Bogor), called the Aḥmadīyah Qadiyan Department Indonesia (since 1949, Jamaʿah Ahmadiyah Indonesia, or JAI: Indonesian Aḥmadīyah Congregation). Its first general chairman was R. Muḥammad Muhyiddin, who had converted to JAI as a result of the public debate in Batavia in September 1933. In the controversy between JAI and the orthodox Sunnīs, “conversion stories” were published by both parties in an attempt to uphold the rationale of their respective points of view. Whereas JAI proudly boasted about Muhyiddin’s conversion, it was silent on the conversion of its prominent member ʿAbdoer-Razaq to orthodox Sunnī Islam. ʿAbdoer-Razaq had been impressed by Aḥmad Ḥassān’s performance during the public debates, left JAI, and joined Aḥmad Ḥassān’s PERSIS, a movement that aggressively opposes the Aḥmadīyah to this day. ʿAbdoer-Razaq described the reasons behind his conversion in his Apa sebab saja keluar dari Ahmadijah? [Why I Left the Aḥmadīyah], published by PERSIS in Bandung in 1937. In the 1980s, this kind of conversion story was deployed against the Aḥmadīyah by PERSIS and other strictly orthodox Sunnī groups, through subsidies from Saudi Arabia and other sources.

The JAI’s Central Board not only created a clear structure in Indonesia (nationally, regionally, and locally; sections on the basis of age and sex; a separate women’s committee; schools), but also systematized and intensified its missionary activities. For instance, in 1936 in Garut, West Java, the first JAI mosque in Indonesia was built and officially opened by Raḥmat ʿAlī. In 1953, JAI was recognized as an official organization by the Minister of Justice. At about that time, JAI had approximately ten thousand adherents and had spread to Central and Eastern Java, to Lombok and Sulawesi. This recognition made it easier for JAI to continue its missionary work throughout Indonesia.

Role of the Indonesian Government.

Interestingly, there is a Letter of Authority from the Minister of Religious Affairs dating from that same year (1953) in which he warns that JAI’s deviant doctrine might lead to great unrest among Sunnī Indonesians and could thus be a threat to public order. However, it was not until 1974 that pressure on JAI mounted. The participants in that year’s annual conference of the Muslim World League in Mecca declared the Aḥmadīyah to be a false and deceptive religion under the guise of Islam, because it (1) believed that its founder is a prophet; (2) misinterpreted the Qurʾan; and (3) had a misguided view of the concept of jihād. Therefore the Muslim World League called on all Muslim countries to impose a ban on the Aḥmadīyah. As regards Indonesia, this call resulted in a fatwā of the MUI in 1980, which was more or less similar to the MUI fatwā of 1984. The MUI concluded that JAI, on the basis of its doctrinal principles and ritual and devotional practices, had to be regarded as non-Muslim and therefore posed a threat to social stability and national security. It advised the government to revoke its recognition of JAI. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did this in the same year, and this disapproval thus became the official view of the Indonesian government. Although the government did not feel compelled to take action or to formulate a policy of repression, the decree of the Ministry of Religious Affairs did lead to the restriction or banning of JAI activities by some regional and local authorities.

After the fall of Suharto (r. 1966–1998), religious pluralism seemed to flourish under president Abdurrahman Wahid (r. 1999–2001). JAI shared in this euphoria, which culminated in the visit of their fourth caliph, Mīrzā Ṭāḥir Aḥmad (r. 1982–2003), to Jakarta in 2000, where he was received by the president. Ṭāḥir Aḥmad said he expected JAI membership in Indonesia to grow very quickly. (In 2000, their numbers were 600,000 according to their adherents, 80,000 according to their opponents; the actual figure was probably around 200,000.) However, the democratization process after the fall of Suharto gave radical Islamic groups the opportunity to become more assertive in the public domain. In their aspiration to cleanse Islam and to Islamize society, they attacked what they perceived to be deviant groups. In several places in Indonesia (such as Lombok and West Java), JAI adherents fell victim to militant action by radical Sunnī Muslims, mostly belonging to Front Pembela Islam and Hizb Tahrir Indonesia. In 2005, when the MUI issued fatwā s against religious pluralism and the Aḥmadīyah, among other things, repression of the Aḥmadīyah increased, as did pressure on the Indonesian government to ban the movement. In its fatwā, which went beyond that of 1984, the MUI declared both GAI and JAI to be apostate and “outside Islam.”

For political and electoral reasons, president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (r. since 2004) is more strongly inclined than his predecessors to take the opinion of the MUI into account. In 2008, the dissemination and promotion of JAI tenets was prohibited by decree, although the movement itself was not outlawed. For radical Sunnī Muslims, however, this decree did not go far enough. In their opinion, JAI must either return to Sunnī orthodoxy, acknowledge that it is not an Islamic movement, or be banned. These radicals continue to resort to violent, raid-like actions to give impetus to their demands. Some JAI adherents have been killed as a result; others feel compelled to convert. The Indonesian government has remained conspicuously aloof and often appears to side with the perpetrators rather than with the victims. The Aḥmadīyah is thus a test case on the question of whether and to what extent Indonesia is serious about human rights, particularly freedom of religion.


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