Jakarta – The Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI) and the Setara Institute, a human rights group, have urged the newly appointed Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas to prove his commitment to upholding religious rights amid persistent discrimination against minority religious groups.
Members of the Ahmadiyah minority religious group voiced their appreciation of Yaqut's recent statement that he would work to protect the rights of minority religious groups such as Ahmadiyah and Shia.
"That was daring and exemplary. We hope that he will be consistent and strong in facing various pressures because I am certain there will be many pressures," JAI spokesman Yendra Budiana said on Friday, as reported by tempo.co.
He said that to ensure equal religious rights for all, the new minister should reconsider the 2008 joint ministerial decree on Ahmadiyah.
The decree bars followers from engaging in religious activities that are not in accordance with mainstream Islam and bans the proselytization of the creed.
Yendra said the decree was often used by local authorities and mass organizations as a grounds to discriminate against Ahmadiyah congregations.
"The decree was made as a tool by several local heads to ban religious activities," he said.
In the spirit of affirming citizens' religious rights, Yendra continued, the minister should also address a joint ministerial decree on houses of worship. The decree has made it difficult for minority religious group to construct such buildings.
Halili Hasan, research director at the Setara Institute, concurred that Yaqut should revoke the decree on Ahmadiyah, which he said was the legal root of the persecution of the religious sect.
The ministry, he said, should not focus on the differences between the group and mainstream Islam and should instead seek to end discrimination against the group.
"The first thing to do is to have the state's position be that they are citizens. Their rights must be guaranteed regardless of their beliefs," he added.
A day after being sworn in as religious affairs minister by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Wednesday, Yaqut said he would uphold the rights of minority religious groups such as Ahmadiyah and Shia.
The statement was in response to noted Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra, who urged the government to protect the rights of minority groups and to give them stronger official recognition as followers often faced impediments to practicing their beliefs.Despite the positive responses from the aforementioned groups, Yaqut subsequently clarified his statement, saying that he never said he would give special protections to Ahmadiyah or Shia.
"I did not say that I would protect the Shia and Ahmadiyah groups. My stance as a religious affairs minister is that I will protect them as citizens," he said as reported by Antara on Friday.
The ministry, he said, would serve as mediator if the two groups had tensions with others.
Robikin Emhas, chairman of the country's largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, said Yaqut's statement was clear: all citizens were entitled to equal legal protections.
"There should not be any discrimination," he said as reported by tempo.co.
Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) deputy chair Anwar Abbas said the minister should be careful about making statements regarding plans to uphold the religious rights of Ahmadiyah and Shia followers.
"I suggest the religious affairs minister be careful because this is a theological issue, a sensitive matter," Anwar said on Friday, tempo.co reported.
He said the government could facilitate more in-depth dialogue to settle differences but that the minister should speak with Islamic mass organizations and noted clerics to establish a stance on Shia and Ahmadiyah. (ami)