Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ahmadiyah Sect mosque burned in Indonesia

A mosque belonging to followers of the Ahmadiyah Sect was burned by rioters in West Java, Indonesia this week. The sect, believed to have between 200,000 and two million followers in Indonesia, has coexisted with mainstream Muslims in the island country for over 100 years. Many adherents live on the island of Lombok which is near Bali.

The attack was the latest to target the Ahmadiyah sect in Indonesia, the country with the largest number of Muslims in the world. Hard-liners claim that the sect, founded in 1889 in Pakistan, was devised by British colonialists to divide Muslims.

The Ahmadiyah sect, part of the Sufi strain of Islam, refuses to accept Muhammad as Islam's final prophet. The group claims its founder to be a prophet and messiah.

A team of prosecutors, religious scholars and government officials said April 16 that the sect "had deviated from Islamic principles" and recommended it be outlawed. Four Ahmadiyah mosques have been destroyed in Indonesia since that announcement, and the sect has been subject to other acts of vandalism. (IHT)

Today, the Jakarta Post reports that a coalition of civil society groups is petitioning Indonesian president Bambang Yudhoyono not to ban the group, citing fears that this move would encourage further violence against Ahmadiyah sect members.

Indonesia's democratic leaders seem unwilling to stand up to pressure from hard-line Islamic groups, despite the fact that they speak for only a minority of Indonesian Muslims. On a positive note, last week an Indonesian court declared a group which sponsored the Bali bombings, Jemaah Islamiyah, to be a terrorist organization. The Indonesian government had previously refused to declare it as such.

Because Indonesia's political leaders seem scared to offend hard-line Islamic groups, let us hope the country's courts are up to the task of defending the secular state. Corruption here seems to be getting worse; and with food prices rising -- in this food and energy rich nation -- the poverty rate is likewise poised to rise. The religious extremists may attempt to take advantage of this situation, made worse by a perceived leadership vacuum.

For now, the West should offer far greater support to Indonesia's education system.

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