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Ahmadi in Indonesia – a case for Altruism and Pluralism

On Wednesday (6 April 2016) several Mitra Wacana WRC team members attended the “Wednesday Forum”, hosted by the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and the Centre for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS) at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. This week’s discussion was called “Indonesian Ahmadi Women’s Strategies in Resisting and Preventing Violent Conflicts”. Dr Nina Mariani Noor presented her PhD dissertation about the narrative of Ahmadi women dealing with daily conflicts in relation to their faith since 1998, the post-Reformasi period in Indonesia.

When we arrived (a little bit late), Bu Nina was talking about altruism and how Ahmadi women in Indonesia had used it as a way to build good relationships with their local communities. Knowing that Bu Nina was interested in gender issues, one of the audience members from CRCS asked her how Ahmadi view women. Bu Nina admitted that Ahmadi is a patriarchal society, the highest positions are held by men. However, they believe it is important for women to participate in religious activities so they have groups for both men and women. Bu Nina highlighted how Ahmadi women in Indonesia are active in social and humanitarian domains, and gave examples of the programs the women she interviewed were running in their communities. Their efforts constituted non-violent defence mechanisms to resolve and prevent conflicts.

For some Mitra Wacana team members, this was their first introduction to Ahmadi. Luckily, Bu Nina gave an overview of their beliefs. She explained that the key difference between Ahmadi and other Muslims is their interpretation of Khatam Nabiyyin (the Seal of the Prophets). For Ahmadi, Muhammad was the seal of the Prophets, not the last of the Prophets, as other Muslims believe. This means that, for Ahamdi, there is the possibility of a new Prophet, however, she stressed, a new Prophet would not bring new law. Ahmadi also believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already occurred in the form of Ghulam Ahmad (who founded the sect in 1889).

Bu Nina also outlined some key misconceptions about Ahmadi. Some people say that the Prophet for Ahmadi is Ghulam Ahmad, but it is actually Muhammad. Some say that their holy book is the Tazkirah, but it is actually the Qur’an. Some people also say that Ahmadi are required to perform a pilgrimage to Rabwah, whereas it is actually Mecca (read an article with more details about misconceptions spread about Ahmadi here). Bu Nina emphasised that Ahmadi follow the same five pillars of Islam as all Muslims, the Declaration of faith, obligatory prayer, compulsory giving, fasting in the month of Ramadan and (if financially and physically able), pilgrimage to Mecca (read more about the five pillars of Islam here).

One of the questions raised by the audience was the difference between how Ahmadi are treated in Indonesia compared to Pakistan. Bu Nina clarified that Ahmadi is legal in Indonesia, so they are protected by the law and can solve any problems constitutionally. In Pakistan, however, Ahmadi are classified as a non-Muslim minority and many of them have fled to Europe, the United States and Australia. Globally it is estimated there are around 200 million Ahmadi people, although it is difficult to confirm because many surveys do not specifically count Ahmadi Muslims. It is estimated that about one or two percent of Muslims in Indonesia are Ahmadi.

Another audience member questioned how Ahmadi feel about democracy in Indonesia since they had more religious freedom under the authoritarian government. The fact that there had been a significant increase in attacks on Ahmadi in Indonesia since 1998 suggests that democracy gave people the freedom to discriminate against minorities including Ahmadi. To this Bu Nina said that Ahmadi still have freedom but they have to be aware. Ahmadi accept that democracy has already arrived in Indonesia and Ahamdi are Indonesian so it’s where they want to live. A recurring theme in Bu Nina’s presentation was that Ahmadi are part of the Indonesian community. The women she interviewed for her PhD thesis all shared their hope for a harmonious and peaceful life, where all Indonesians received protection and equal treatment from the government. She expressed her personal desire as an Ahmadiah that her people could “Negotiate our space to be accepted as Indonesians with our own faith”. Sophia.

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