A. Najib Burhani
Now that Idul Fitri has passed, can mainstream Muslims in Indonesia forgive Ahmadiyah? Can they accept Ahmadis as fellow citizens? Can’t we all start living in harmony with those who have different beliefs?
Perhaps these questions are unrealistic, and expect too much from the annual religious ritual that has lost many of its divine objectives. For some people, the meaning of Idul Fitri is nothing more than festivity, traveling back to their hometowns on the mudik , reuniting with family and friends, buying new clothes and gorging on ketupat , rice cooked in coconut leaves.
We have to be realistic and stop expecting the “magic” of Idul Fitri to reconcile those who involved in conflicts over the issue of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, particularly between mainstream Muslims and Ahmadiyah followers.
It has never worked before and seems unlikely to work in the future if we look at this from the perspective of theology. Ahmadis will never give up their distinctive belief in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, while mainstream Muslims will never accept Ahmadis because of such doctrines.
The only way to make reconciliation between mainstream Muslims and Ahmadis possible is on the basis of nationality, i.e. by accepting Ahmadis as fellow citizens and acknowledging their right to practice a different belief.
While hard-line groups see the Ahmadis only as a source of trouble, they have made some positive contributions to this country since 1925. I am personally not convinced about the claim by Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia that W.R. Soepratman, the composer of Indonesia’s national anthem, was an Ahmadi, but Ahmadis have made at least three big contributions to the country.
First, Ahmadis introduced a rational understanding of religion. This particularly comes from the Lahore Ahmadiyah or the Gerakan Ahmadiyah Indonesia. In his book “Dibawah Bendera Revolusi” (“Under the Flag of Revolution”), Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno, made a list of Ahmadiyah books that had influenced his thinking.
Among them were Mohammad Ali’s “Mohammad the Prophet” and “Inleiding tot de Studie van den Heiligen Qoer’an,” as well as Khwaja Kama-ud-Din’s “De bronnen van het Christendom.”
The second contribution of Ahmadiyah was in introducing the comparative study of religions to the country, although in an apologetic and polemical way. This is particularly true during two unstable periods: colonial times and the first two decades after the declaration of independence in 1945.
This can be seen from books on comparative religion during those two periods, such as Hasbullah Bakry’s books on Christianity and Judaism, and Djarnawi Hadikusumo’s books on comparative religion.
With the collapse of Sukarno’s Old Order in 1965, the study of comparative religion in Islamic higher education took on a new direction, i.e. it was no longer apologetic and polemical, and therefore no longer used Ahmadiyah books as sources of reference.
The third contribution of Ahmadiyah in Indonesia was in introducing the Koran in vernacular languages. The first Dutch translation of the Koran, for instance, was from the Ahmadiyah. Since Dutch was the language of Indonesian intelligentsia at that time, the translation was warmly welcomed and became a prized possession for many people during this period.
Agus Salim, one of the nation’s founding fathers, praised the Ahmadiyah translation for its success in reconciling religion and science without slipping into materialism, rationalism or mysticism. Without the translation, according to former Foreign Minister Roeslan Abdulgani, some Indonesian intellectuals would have slipped away from religion and become atheists or hedonists.
It is true that all of these contributions are from the past. People may be curious about the contribution of the community to present-day Indonesia, although many people seem reluctant to acknowledge any positive contributions by Ahmadis to Indonesia’s progress.
One contribution can be found in Manis Lor village, in Kuningan, West Java. This is a very unique village; 80 percent of the residents are followers of Ahmadiyah. Before Ahmadiyah emerged there in the 1950s, it was a poor village inhabited by pagans and nominal Muslims. Ahmadiyah transformed it into a prosperous and religious village.
It is a religious village not only in the sense of rituals, but in the sense of its cleanness, neatness and the daily attitude of its residents.
In the Ahmadiyah part of the village, visitors will not find anyone smoking or drinking alcohol. Rather, they will find smiles, friendly attitudes, hard-working people, a safe place to stay and a strong bond and cohesion among residents.
Anyone who visited the compound of the popular Muslim preacher Aa Gym in Gegerkalong, Bandung, between 1996 and 2006 and then visited Manis Lor would have been able to make a comparison between the two. And what they would have seen was a beautiful combination between this-worldly and an other-worldly orientation of religiosity.
Compared to Gegerkalong, Manis Lor was a living success story of community development, but on a larger scale. It was not one block or one neighborhood as in Gegerkalong, but an entire village. Visitors would not find people tossing trash anywhere but in garbage cans. Of more than a thousand houses in Manis Lor, only 12 could have been called run-down.
Given all of these contributions by Ahmadis to the modernization of Indonesia, can’t we stop treating Ahmadiyah as the enemy? Can we stop hating these fellow citizens? As compatriots, can we forgive their “deviant” or distinctive beliefs and allow them to live in harmony with us as part of Muslim society? The recent Idul Fitri should have given us a renewed awareness of the need to treat them more humanely.
A. Najib Burhani, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.