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Ahmadiyah members welcome Ramadhan
Panca Nugraha, The Jakarta Post, Mataram
Children were playing outside while their mothers were busy preparing food to break the fast in a makeshift kitchen at Transito building in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara.
It was a familiar scene as Muslims around the world observe the fasting month of Ramadhan, the only difference being that these 33 families or 155 people are members of Ahmadiyah congregation.
The Ahmadiyah followers were driven from their homes in Ketapang hamlet in Lingsar district in West Lombok and have stayed in the shelter for the past eight months. Members of Ahmadiyah frequently face persecution from other Muslims who consider them heretics.
“If you ask whether we’re happy or not, it’s clear that all Muslims are happy to greet Ramadhan, the month of mercy,” said Zainal Abidin, the leader of the Ahmadiyah people in the building.
“But during the first tarawih prayer, we all broke into tears. Don’t ask whether they were tears of sadness or joy, we don’t know. It’s just a feeling of great relief, like our burden is being taken away.”
The Ahmadiyah people observe Ramadhan like any other Muslims, following the schedule set by the government, including the time to celebrate Idul Fitri next month. After breaking the fast, they perform the tarawih prayer in a small mosque inside the building.
The Ahmadiyah people said this year’s Ramadhan was a test of their patience and faith as life gets worse for them.
“All of our people are farmers so none of us can work while we’re staying here. We rely on government assistance. But we take this as a test from God,” Zainal said.
He said they were receiving rice, cooking oil and sardines from the government, but the amount kept declining, from a previous 12 kilograms per month for each person to 7.3 kg now.
Six of them who own motorcycles are working as motorcycle taxi drivers, while others have had to spend their savings.
Clean water has continued to be a problem, running only from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, making it only available for cooking and bathing before praying.
In Praya, Central Lombok, around 15 families or 50 Ahmadiyah members were also driven from their hometown in Kaliagek village and have been living at a former hospital in the city.
The West Lombok administration is undecided whether Ahmadiyah members from Ketapang can return home.
“A five-member team has been set up to discuss the problem, comprising representatives from the Indonesian Ulema Council and Ahmadiyah, but no agreement has been reached,” said the administration’s spokesman Basirun Anwar.
The West Nusa Tenggara administration is also finding it hard to solve the problem of people’s rejection of Ahmadiyah. “We’re still waiting for the central government’s stance on the matter,” the province’s spokesperson Lalu Gita Aryadi said.
The Ahmadiyah faith developed out of Islam in India in the late 19th Century. Its members believe that its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is God’s messenger after Muhammad.
Groups in Indonesia have been the subject of attacks by hard-line Muslim groups after the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) outlawed the faith in a fatwa earlier this year.
But following the February attacks in Ketapang, President Yudhoyono said the state “guarantees the freedom of each citizen to practice his or her own religion”. He said the government did not differentiate between religious groups or categorize them as “recognized or unrecognized”.
Despite their problems, life goes on for the Ahmadiyah children in Transito building, with many playing while waiting to break the fast.
“They don’t have to know their parents’ burden,” said Ridwan, one of the members at the shelter.