As Islamist right-wingers are dominating Indonesian public opinion in regard to the Ahmadiyah sect, it would be wise to reflect on the fact that when performing their obligatory prayers, all Muslims must recite Al Fatiha, the opening chapter of Islam’s holy book, known as “the mother of the Koran,” and that the sixth verse of that chapter translates as “show us the straight path.”
Even the Prophet Muhammad recited this verse every time he performed sholat . Taken at face value this can mean one of two things: Either the prophet was acting like a fool before God and pretended not to know “the straight path,” or he was sincere in his prayer and genuinely needed God’s guidance and grace to keep on the straight and narrow path. Therefore, if any Muslim claims to be following this path and knows how to herd others along the same route, surely this person is speaking out of arrogance rather than knowledge and is far from following the footsteps of the gentle and humble Muhammad.
Whoever claims to know the straight path should not recite Al Fatiha in his or her sholat. When you know something, should you stand before God and ask for that thing to be revealed to you? God is all-knowing, and thus asking God for something that you already have would be silly and disrespectful. Therefore, all thinking Muslims (and the Koran repeatedly urges us to think) should refrain from claiming clear and certain knowledge of the straight path, for to do so is tantamount to claiming superiority to the spiritual knowledge of our beloved prophet, who is our spiritual beacon. Can one claim to be Muslim while believing oneself to have greater knowledge about spiritual matters than Muhammad?
Recently people claiming to have superior knowledge of Islam and to represent Muslims have been calling for the Ahmadiyah sect to be banned in Indonesia if its members continue to call themselves Muslim and to use Islamic symbols. The only acceptable option for the Ahmadiyah sect to continue to exist in Indonesia, they say, is for them to declare that they are followers of a new, different and separate religion.
Many lay Muslims seem to agree with this solution, but what its advocates tend to forget is that to become a Muslim, one need only to declare that there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet. This simple declaration of faith has been enough to make someone a Muslim since the time Muhammad begun preaching Islam in 7th century Arabia. All Ahmadiyah followers say this declaration of faith each time they perform sholat.
While some people who call themselves learned in matters of Islam declare that the Ahmadiyah sect has left Islam, let us recall a hadith (tradition) that tells us how Muhammad was seriously upset when, in battle, one of his disciples put to the sword an enemy who recited the declaration of Islamic faith. The tradition tells us that the disciple defended his actions by claiming that his victim had only declared his faith because he was afraid of death, but the prophet rebutted him, declaring that only God knows the truth in man’s heart.
Are not these religious experts who would judge others telling us that they know more about Islam than the Prophet Muhammad? Ahamdiyah followers not only profess the declaration of faith that makes them Muslims, they also perform the prescribed prayers, pay the zakat alms for the poor, fast during Ramadan and, if they are able, make the pilgrimage to Mecca to follow the rituals of the hajj at least once in their lifetime.
Just like mainstream Muslims, Ahmadiyah followers also believe in the six pillars of faith: in God, in his angels, in his books, in his prophets, in fate and in the Day of Judgment. The small difference between the Ahmadiyah faith and the belief of the mainstream is that Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet — the Messiah, Jesus in his second coming. That there will be a Messiah near the end of time is a belief also held by mainstream Muslims, only most Muslims believe that the Messiah has not yet revealed himself.
Still, believing that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the promised Messiah should not exclude one from the Islamic community, for to be a Muslim, since the times of the Prophet Muhammad, one is obliged only to declare that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is his prophet. Perhaps the scholars of this new type of Islam — one that preaches hatred and violence — have added to the declaration of faith, and now to be a Muslim one also should declare that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is definitely not the promised Messiah.
If only these knowledgeable scholars would be honest and state their new declaration of faith, things would be much simpler, because in doing so they would also openly declare a new religion, somewhat different to the message of peace and love brought to mankind by Muhammad 1,400 years ago.
One important Islamic doctrine is that there is no priesthood. Muhammad had many disciples of all backgrounds — powerful and humble, male and female, young and old, black and white, free man and slave — but they were taught that in the eyes of God all people are equal and only their faith and deeds can differentiate them in front of God. Scholars of Islam have constricted the word ulema to mean only scholars of religious disciplines, thus excluding all other branches of knowledge that, in their search for truth, are also fundamentally Islamic.
They have elevated their status to become “priests” within Islam, with the authority to declare what is righteous and what is forbidden in the eyes of God. Instead of forcing Ahmadiyah people out of Islam with violence, intimidation and murder, it is these people who should declare a new non-peaceful, priest-led, non-Islamic religion.
Bramantyo Prijosusilo is a writer, artist and broadcast journalist in East Java.