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Aceh teachers join bid to oust 'deviant' sects

Jakarta Globe - April 8, 2011

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Thousands of Muslim teachers and students on Thursday thronged the streets of Banda Aceh, demanding that the governor clamp down on "deviant" religious sects.

The protesters, waving placards bearing condemnations of groups that "deviated from the true teachings of Islam," marched toward Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf's office.

Ramli Rasyid, chairman of a teachers' union in Aceh that helped organize the protest, said the contentious sects deserved "the harshest of punishments" and urged the administration to dismantle them for "insulting Islam, the majority religion followed by the people of Aceh."

Of particular concern to the protesters is the minority Muslim sect Millata Abraham, which counts around 700 members since its launch in 2007.

Millata Abraham's devotees do not recognize the Prophet Muhammad and only pray once a day at midnight, instead of five times a day as mainstream Muslims are required. The religious organization was declared haram, or forbidden, by the West Aceh Ulema Council (MPU).

"So far, Banda Aceh Police have arrested three members of Millata Abraham," Ramli said on Thursday.

"We curse every form of deviance from the teachings Islam," he added. Irwandi met with protest leaders on Thursday and assured them that he had already issued a gubernatorial decree banning Millata Abraham from conducting religious activities in Aceh.

The decree, promulgated on Wednesday, also banned 13 other "deviant" sects from practicing their faith.

"According to law, they can be sentenced to a maximum of 5 years in prison," he said. "Not only that, what is actually worse for them is being declared haram and being ostracized by the public," he said.

Ramli said the government should carefully monitor the activities of these sects to ensure that they did not recruit students, who the union leader said were "prime targets for this kind of Islamic deviancy."

"These people are recruiting more and more from student groups," he said, adding that this was the reason they encouraged students to join the protest.

"This is the result of our neglect. This is the responsibility of the government," Ramli said. "The teachers of Banda Aceh are sick of the actions of [sects like] Millata Abraham."

However, not all students who joined Thursday's demonstration appeared to understand the issues. "We were asked by our teachers to protest, so we followed," said Rahmad, a junior school student.