Hardliners torch "heretical" Indonesian mosque

JAKARTA Mon Apr 28, 2008 7:44am EDT

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the Muslim sect Ahmadiyya in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta April 20, 2008. REUTERS/Crack Palinggi

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the Muslim sect Ahmadiyya in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta April 20, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Crack Palinggi

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Hundreds of hardline Indonesian Muslims burnt a mosque early on Monday belonging to a sect that has been branded heretical by most Muslims, police said.

The attack, in West Java's Sukabumi district, came after a government team recommended this month the Ahmadiyya sect be banned because its teachings deviate from the central tenets of Islam.

Sukabumi police chief Guntor Gaffar told Reuters the attack followed an ultimatum by the Jamaatul Mubaligin Forum, a little known group, on Friday to the Ahmadiyyas to remove a signboard from the mosque within two days.

He said a policeman guarding the mosque was hurt in the attack and police were questioning eight people in connection with the incident. Later, national police spokesman Abubakar Nataprawira said two men had been named as suspects.

The Ahmadiyyas refuse to accept the Prophet Mohammad as Islam's final prophet, and claim their founder to be a prophet and messiah.

The sect views itself as Muslim but has been branded a heretical group by the Indonesian Ulema Council, the secular country's highest Muslim authority.

Earlier this month, an Indonesian government team, which includes officials from the religious affairs ministry, recommended the government ban the sect because its teachings deviate from the central tenets of Islam.

An Ahmadiyya spokesman told reporters in Jakarta the agency's recommendation to ban the group on the grounds that it is heretical had led to increased attacks on its mosques.

"The recommendation has caused an escalation of mosque destruction run by Ahmadiyyas across Indonesia," the spokesman, Shamsir Ali, told reporters.

Police said they would heighten security after the attack.

"There are some groups that dislike Ahmadiyya group, but we are a state of law and, like it or not, we don't put justice in our own hands," Nataprawira said.

In the past, Islamic radicals have damaged mosques and other property belonging to Ahmadiyya followers in Indonesia.

Ali said the destruction had increased since the government agency's announcement and four mosques had been attacked in less than a month.

Mainstream Muslims reject Ahmadiyya's claim of the prophethood of its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908 in India. Most Muslims believe that Mohammad is the last of the prophets.

Estimates of the Ahmaddiya population in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, vary. Experts peg the number at about 200,000, but Ali said the sect has more than 2 million followers.

About 85 percent of Indonesia's 226 million people are Muslim. Most Indonesian Muslims are moderate and tolerate other beliefs.

(Reporting by Telly Nathalia; Writing by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Sugita Katyal and Alex Richardson)

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