Hundreds of supporters of a minority Islamic sect dubbed heretical by a government panel rallied in Jakarta yesterday for protection of religious freedom.
Representatives of the minority Ahmadiyah sect, as well as mainstream Muslims and Christians, gathered in central Jakarta to urge the government to reject a proposed ban on the sect.
“We are here to show to Indonesia, to the world, that Indonesians love peace. To show that there are more Indonesians who love peace than those who don’t,” an organizer told the crowd.
The more than 500 demonstrators carried banners in support of religious freedom and against any effort to ban Ahmadiyah. Some of the banners read “Stop religious fascism” and “Stop violence in the name of religion.”
Islamic scholar Siti Musdah Mulia told the rally that a ban on Ahmadiyah would be “inviting disaster” for the nation and warned of the growing influence of “robed thugs” and strict Wahabist interpretations of Islam.
The rally stopped at the UN mission and some of the protesters met officials from the world body.
“We are not here to make a demand, we are only here to draw their attention ... It is their duty to make sure that the international covenants guaranteeing religious freedom are respected,” Mulia said.
The Coordinating Body for Monitoring Religions and Beliefs — a panel set up during the Suharto dictatorship — last month recommended the government ban Ahmadiyah because of its unorthodox Muslim faith.
The sect, which has around 200,000 followers in Indonesia and has been established in the country since the 1920s, believes Mohammed was not the final prophet, contradicting a central tenet of Islam.
Tensions have grown since the panel proposed the ban, with some hardline Muslims calling for an immediate crackdown on the sect and a mob setting fire to an Ahmadiyah mosque in West Java.
Twelve men have been charged over the incident and will face trial.