Indonesia's president restricts Ahmadiyah, a sect that believes Muhammad was not the last prophet.
Fundamentalist Muslims have repeatedly attacked the group, and the decree urges practitioners of Ahmadiyah to "return to mainstream Islam." Freedom of religion is guaranteed in Indonesia, but only to five religious groups.
MANIS LOR, Indonesia â€” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree on Monday ordering members of a minority Muslim sect to stop practicing their form of Islam or face arrest.
Members of the sect, known as Ahmadiyah, do not believe that Muhammad was the last prophet, contrary to a central tenet of mainstream Islam. They have been the victims of violent attacks by extremists in recent years.
Mr. Yudhoyono, who is expected to seek re-election next year, has been caught between moderate Muslim and human rights groups that are fighting for pluralism in Indonesia and fundamentalist Muslim organizations that are pressing for the country to adopt Shariah law and become an Islamic state.
About 5,000 members of a group calling itself United for Islam demonstrated Monday outside the presidential palace in Jakarta, demanding that Ahmadiyah be banned.
Last week, members of a hard-line group called the Islamic Defenders Front attacked an interfaith rally in support of Ahmadiyah. Dozens of people were wounded.
Although the wording of the decree did not explicitly ban the group, it warned Ahmadiyah members that they were no longer free to practice their religion and strongly encouraged them to â€œreturn to mainstream Islam,â€ according to Bonaventura Nainggolan, a spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general.
â€œThe government decree forbids Ahmadiyah from spreading their religion and calls for it to halt all its religious activities,â€ he said.
Indonesiaâ€™s Constitution guarantees freedom of worship, but a national law allows only five official religions: Islam, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism and Buddhism. About 90 percent of Indonesiaâ€™s 240 million people are Muslim.
In the small village of Manis Lor in West Java, where thousands of Ahmadiyah members have lived for generations, several mosques and a number of houses were attacked and burned in December, forcing residents to pray in secret.
A ban on Ahmadiyah was issued by local authorities here shortly after the attack and the central mosque was closed. But the authorities said that without an official decree from the central government, they could not prevent Ahmadiyah members from praying inside their homes.
Residents said they were concerned that the government order issued Monday would cause them to face prosecution and additional threats of violence.
Police officers stood outside the closed mosque on Monday and were stationed throughout the village to protect residents from possible attacks from extremist groups.
â€œWe are doing nothing wrong,â€ said Kulman Trisna Prawira, 67, an Ahmadiyah elder. â€œWe are harmless. We are peaceful. We donâ€™t do anything but pray. We will follow the presidentâ€™s order, but we arenâ€™t going to change our beliefs.â€
Mr. Nainggolan, the spokesman for the attorney general, said the decree was based on recommendations from the attorney general, the religious affairs minister and the minister of domestic affairs.
The decision is certain to anger human rights groups and moderate Muslim organizations that work to promote pluralism in Indonesia. A prominent group of human rights lawyers said it planned to challenge the crackdown on Ahmadiyah in court.
â€œThe governmentâ€™s action today, to stop the activity of Ahmadiyah, is clearly against the Constitution,â€ said Uli Parulian Sihombing, a lawyer who represents minority religious groups. â€œWe will be bringing this to court.â€
Indonesia is often cited as an example of a working Muslim democracy. 90% of its population is Muslim, but unlike most middle eastern countries (and sort of like Turkey), politics in Indonesia has usually revolved around nationalism rather than Islam. Is the restriction on Ahmadiyah a nagging imperfection in an otherwise decently secular country, or is this a portent of ill omen and rising fundamentalism?
I will admit right off the bat that I don't know much about Indonesia, but the interplay of religion and politics there seems very similar to other Muslim countries that have been ruled by post-colonial nationalist dictators. Sukarno and Suharto seemed to occupy the same political niche as people like Attaturk and Saddam Hussein. Their governments, whatever atrocities they committed, provided a social glue that Islam had formerly provided. As these governments fade, lose power, or are overthrown, Islam seeps back in.