, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 11/09/2007 5:25 PM | Opinion
Ahmad Junaidi, Jakarta
Today, followers of various religions in Indonesia tend to view freedom and those different from them with a sense of unfriendliness and differences, as evident in the recent attack on al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah sect members and the detention of its leaders.
In marketing, differentiation can be a key strategy to winning market competition, but in religion, here, it could lead one to police detention.
The violence against al-Qiyadah is believed to be triggered by a fatwa (religious edict) issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) which declared the sect a deviant. The Attorney General's Office has banned the sect nationwide.
It was not the first fatwa of its kind. MUI has released many edicts which labeled other groups as heretical. Some of the fatwas triggered violent attacks on the sects' members, as in the case of Ahmadiyah.
Activists of the Islamic Liberal Network (JIL) reportedly received death threats after the MUI issued an edict forbidding liberalism, pluralism and secularism in 2005.
For Muslim intellectuals a fatwa, which is not binding anyway, often means nothing, but for radicals it's like a license to kill.
An edict is just an opinion of a group of ulemas without any legal consequence. But the grassroots, particularly simple-minded followers, perceive an edict as an order from ulemas who they consider representatives of God. They will fight it out to make other people obey the fatwa.
Unfortunately, the state could not really protect their citizens from the radicals. State apparatus have often come under pressure from religious groups.
MUI leaders have denied responsibility for the violent reaction to its edicts, saying it has never suggested in the fatwa that Muslims should take law into their own hands. But the facts speak differently. Many hardliners even campaigned to assassinate ""deviant groups"" after reading the edict.
History has taught that after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, many Muslim leaders were killed after groups of ulemas accused them of defying Allah and the Prophet.
Until now, many traditional ulemas have hobbies to stamp out groups or individuals as infidels. Hardliners still believe that infidels deserve the death sentence. They pretend to forget the Koran which says la ikraha fiddiin (there is no coercion in the religion).
The verse on freedom of religion was divulged when a friend of Muhammad complained to the prophet about his children who converted to Christianity, while at the time (Medina period) Muslims made up the majority in the Arab land.
To justify their hostility against freedom of religion, the ulemas used to refer to another verse on a fight against infidels which was revealed later. None of them seemed to read the context of the verse, which was more a political solution to challenges to Islam.
Young Muslim intellectual Muhammad Guntur Romli in his recently launched book Ustadz, Saya Sudah di Surga (Teacher, I'm in Heaven Already) views the narrow-minded scriptural method is also advanced by convicted terrorist Imam Samudra and his accomplices when they exploded Bali and killed more than 200 people in 2002.
Some of the terrorists have sent video recordings to their religious teachers and relatives, saying or reporting they were already in heaven when teachers and relatives watched the recordings.
Certain media even made the convicted terrorists, who are on a death row, symbols of heroism in recent reports.
Which is more dangerous, killing people in God's name or declaring a new prophet?
Still smiling, the terrorists expressed their beliefs they would get to heaven for defending the religion from the infidels. They were referring to the United States, Australia and other prosperous countries as the enemies of Muslims.
We never heard MUI declaring terrorist groups deviant or infidels, instead of just stating that the groups had mistakenly interpreted the concept of jihad or holy war.
The new ""prophet"", Ahmad Moshadeq, reportedly did not oblige his followers to pray five times a day, fast and perform a haj pilgrimage -- rituals which might be considered heavy burdens among many common Muslims.
Most of Moshadeq's fans are youths and students who might see many examples in the society that many Muslims still committed corruption although they conducted all the prayers, fasting and even, going to Mecca several times.
The ulemas should not be worried much about the teachings of Moshadeq and other prophets. Through the natural selection, the thoughts would vanish if they could not fulfill the people's needs.
Instead of branding other people as infidels, the preachers might be better to make self introspection and reviewing their teachings. Probably, they have taught an imbalance between ritual obligation and social devotion.
They should teach their followers that fighting against corruption is the same important as conducting the rituals. Corruption and conflicts, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in his book Making Globalization Work, has trapped Indonesia in the so-called Natural Resource Curse, a country with rich natural resources but large poor population.
Changing the curse into blessing could not be materialized only through praying. Settling the conflicts through peaceful dialog and addressing corruption through transparency and legal enforcement are ways to make the country blessed and prosperous.
But hoping and waiting for the ulemas to change their mind would take too much time. The situation will worsen and become out of hand. For the time being, the state, through its law enforcers, should take firm actions against people who perpetrate violence.
The writer is a journalist at The Jakarta Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.