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Indonesia's Shia Muslims face pressure

Amid increased harassment of Shia Muslims and other religious minorities, the country's moderate Muslim organisations are calling for tolerance.

By Elisabeth Oktofani for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

May 10, 2012
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Numbering around 6 million, Shia Muslims form under 3% of Indonesia's population. Despite its history of tolerance and religious diversity, they have become the target of intimidation in recent years, even being driven out of villages by mobs of vigilantes.

  • People cover their mouths as a sign of protest during a rally in Jakarta on August 15th, 2010, demanding the government do more to protect freedom of religion and to punish hardline groups which have attacked minority faiths. Shia Muslims are among the groups which have recently come under pressure in Indonesia despite its history of tolerance and pluralism. [Supri/Reuters]

    People cover their mouths as a sign of protest during a rally in Jakarta on August 15th, 2010, demanding the government do more to protect freedom of religion and to punish hardline groups which have attacked minority faiths. Shia Muslims are among the groups which have recently come under pressure in Indonesia despite its history of tolerance and pluralism. [Supri/Reuters]

Some Muslim organisations in the Sunni-dominated country have been calling for the government to impose restrictions on them, arguing the Shia Muslims are not practicing real Islam.

Last month, the Indonesian Ulema Forum (Forum Ulama Ummat Indonesia, FUUI) issued a fatwa demanding that the Ministry of Justice and Human Right and the Ministry of Religious Affairs revoke the licence of all organisations with a Shia viewpoint and ban their activities.

"We've been monitoring Shia groups in West Java for more than 20 years and they seem to be braver in practicing their belief openly. Shia is actually a form of blasphemy against Islam because they have different view on the leadership of Muslim people," FUUI leader Athian Ali Muhammad Da'i told Khabar Southeast Asia.

"Please don't get us wrong. We respect any religion. But if Shia people want to keep practicing their view, they must establish their own religion without Islam's name because Shia is not part of Islam," he said.

"It is just like our demand to [the minority sect] Ahmadiyah to establish their own religion if they want to practice their view," he added.

But not all Muslim leaders agree. According to Imdadun Rahmat, deputy secretary general of the moderate Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, Sunni and Shia Muslims have the same God, Allah; the same prophet, Mohammad; and the same holy book, the Qur'an.

"Even though Shias differ on who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim community after the Prophet died, we still consider Shia as part of Islam and we do not dismiss Shia," he said.

It is not the government's role to intervene in religions disputes or enforce fatwas, he added.

Religious organisations can issue fatwas or decrees on certain topics but they must not force any individual or government to implement them, Imdadun said.

"Fatwa is a study which is conducted by Islamic jurists (ahli fiqih Islam) on a certain topic," he went on to explain.

"In other words, a fatwa is a religious opinion that is issued by a religious organisation on any topic and it is not a legally binding instrument. It is implemented by an individual who has a belief in the fatwa," he said.

"Therefore, no one can be forced to implement a fatwa in his or her life. Or force the government to make it a foundation for public regulation."

A Shia cleric, Tajul Muluk, is currently on trial in Sampang, East Java for blasphemy. Muluk, the head of a Shia Muslim boarding school on Madura Island, was arrested after the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa describing his teachings as "deviant".

According to a report in The Jakarta Globe, more than 300 members of Sampang's Shia community were displaced in December 2011 when a mob of 500 people attacked and burned Shia houses, a boarding school and a place of worship there.

The persecution of religious minorities has little precedent in Indonesian history, Rumadi, a senior researcher at the Wahid Institute, noted in an April 29th article in The Globe.

"One of our conclusions is that society has become prone to intolerance. What used to be considered as acceptable has become unacceptable," he said, citing mob violence against Shia Muslims in particular.

Abdullah Beik of Ahlul Bait Indonesia (ABI), an organisation that advocates for Shia Muslims, described FUUI's demand as odd.

"It needs to be understood that even in Saudi Arabia, Shia Muslim has a place and we can go there for Umrah. Therefore, the FUUI demand is very odd," he told Khabar.

Moreover, Abdullah added, we must not forget that since we live in Indonesia, which has a motto of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), we must respect each other and live side by side in harmony with other people who have different backgrounds.

Jakarta resident and Sunni Muslim Ahmad Aqiqi, 30, also does not agree with the FUUI edict.

"As long as their religious practice does not violate any human right and regulation, I think every Muslim has the right to choose what kind of Islam they want to believe," he said.

Reader Comments
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    • ddng r
      March 27, 2014 @ 02:03:27AM
    • There is bound to be many opinions for and against. We can see the truth in Syria, the slaughter of Sunnis by the crazy Shia when the Shia philosophy is actually the same. Be careful, Sunnis of Indonesia, there can be no tolerance for the crazy Shia.
    • hamed
      July 25, 2014 @ 11:07:58AM
    • you are crazy.
    • Abdullah M.
      March 2, 2014 @ 10:03:01PM
    • The real core of the conflicts and become enmities to each others is not new,among the Muslims nation or even in other nations ,as Al Quran mentioned readiky in Surah Al Baqarah Verse 213 ,just for the convenience of memorising this verse,please see the Hadith as briefly saying ,the 70 grops of the Jews,71 groups of Nasranee and 72 groups of Muslims wiil be doomed to hell ,except only one group of each will be heaven dwellers.How and why every one can contemplate for himself. So to conclude total numbers of hell dwellers are; 70+71+72 =213.The words of Allah is always truthful.
    • Rendhy.Ambon
      November 29, 2013 @ 11:11:56AM
    • Just think wisely.
    • Jaga Sukma
      September 3, 2013 @ 01:09:11AM
    • The Shia religion has existed ever since the Prophet Nuh and was succeeded by Ibrahim As. (Read Ash-Shooffaat)37) : 73. And the followers of Musa were also of the Shia of Musa As "religion" (Read QS Al-Qoshshosh (28) : 15 whereas the religion of Fuui (where worshipers flock where the money is) led by the Cleric Athian was only founded yesterday afternoon. To know who is indeed The Imam, yeah, look at his character. Who told them to create a new religion? It's clerics like these.
    • syam
      August 5, 2013 @ 08:08:22AM
    • Ban the Shia in Indonesia.
    • your friend
      January 9, 2014 @ 12:01:46AM
    • why? one answer? Are the shiah more dangerous than Buddhism or Hindu?
    • A.Gajali R
      May 3, 2013 @ 08:05:58AM
    • To the honorable readers, if we listen to the fatwas issued by prominent figures from certain groups concerning the Shi'ite, we see that the fatwas reflect the interests orchestrated by the enemies of Islam through strong funding, misleading doctrine to foster a human character that is blindly fanatical. In assessing all of their statements, we need to be smarter than they are, even though we are not prominent figures in any group.
    • Abdullah Mohammad
      July 1, 2012 @ 02:07:05AM
    • As those ignorent and nerrow minded, so-called ulamah, driven by Wahabi unjustice plitical view and provokative hatered, still the unfair and unjustce treatment of other muslim will presist. they are lunching an agrrasive war at all level to distort shia image by all means. the fact of the matter is shia are practicing and believing in all islamic basic foundemantals and duties, except who should be the khalifa ( islamic leader after Mohammad). yes some shia groups worldwide,celebrate certain flocloric practices related to historical events, like ASHURA, as traditional memorial of IMam Hussain. an event Wahabi don't like to see it happening for political reasons only. dispite the urgent need of an Islamic cooperation and unity still these " hate speaders" utilize the simplicity and ignorance of the majority of common muslim people in countries like Indonesia where the level of islamic education is so very basic and they have niether knowledge ,nor interest behind these historical and political reasons behind Islamic sects division. Indonesian muslims are very simple, humble and trusty people. hard efforts should be tried to spread good islamic behaiviors and practices among youth to eliminate many of the social problems indonisan muslim people are going through, like poverty, adutlry, nudity and so on.the fact that westren media is playing a dangrous role to spoil Indonesia youth by all means to eliminate the spirit of Isalm (sunni& Shia) in this country. pls look ahead.
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