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March 11, 2010
Raucous Crowd Churns Court at Hearing on Blasphemy Law
Heated debate and cries from a rowdy crowd marked Wednesday’s hearing in the judicial review of the 1965 Blasphemy Law, as leaders of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front and the conservative Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia took to the podium at the Constitutional Court to deliver their arguments in support of the law.
Packed with people wearing the uniforms of the Islamic Defenders Front, also known as the FPI, and Arabic-style outfits, the courtroom was filled with shouts of joy each time an Islamic leader took to the stand in support of the law, and jeers for plaintiffs who supported the review of the law.
Outside the courtroom at least 100 people from a number of conservative Islamic groups, calling themselves part of the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), declared that they were against the judicial review, saying it was an effort by the court to “harass Islam.”
“I disagree with the view that the state should not interfere with religious matters. If it were left only to the people, it would be dangerous,” FPI leader Habib Rizieq Shihab told the court.
Habib said that prior violence toward followers of Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect, was simply a result of “tardiness” on the part of the state, which had failed to act against the group in time.
“Look at Lia Eden. The government detained her immediately. But with the Ahmadiyah, the government did not do anything. So do not be surprised that the public took matters into their own hands with street justice,” he said. He was referring to jailed Kingdom of Eden sect leader Lia Aminuddin, who claimed to be the bride of the biblical figure Archangel Gabriel, who she said ordered that Islam and other religions be disbanded.
Indonesian law recognizes only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. All others are officially banned.
In 2008, the government used the Blasphemy Law to formally ban Ahmadiyah because the sect held that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet of Islam, a claim that contradicts mainstream Muslim beliefs. [*]
Habib also claimed that the judicial review was being used by more liberal Islamic followers to publish their own “critical interpretation” of the Koran.
“This is a big project for them. They are going to use Islamic hermeneutics to interpret the Koran, when hermeneutics is a method that is used to interpret the Bible,” he said.
Thahir Azhary, from the Islamic organization Al Irsyad Al Islamiyyah, also questioned the purpose of the judicial review.
“Are there foreign political interests at work here? Zionists? We cannot just import freedom from the Western world. Those non-Muslim Westerners only want to mislead us,” Thahir said.
At the hearing, the sixth in the review process, the Constitutional Court invited their own witnesses for the first time. They included Azyumardi Azra, dean of the graduate program at Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, and sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola, from the University of Indonesia.
According to Thamrin, sociology holds that religion is based on the fascination of everything mighty.
“Then it is institutionalized in three forms — religious teachings, ideologies and social groups. As a revelation, a religion is final, but as an ideological understanding, there can be multiple interpretations. It can never be final. Those forms are within the public realm and not under the state,” Thamrin said.
Thamrin said he doubted Habib’s opinion that eliminating the law would trigger rioting.
“This will not happen if the police are assertive in keeping public order, security and public convenience. The destruction of mosques, churches and other places of worship is about the security of people. It doesn’t have to be about religion,” he said.
Thamrin also stressed the importance of freedom in following their religion and faith.
“If there is someone who prays using Bahasa Indonesia, then let them. Everybody is entitled to perform their beliefs, as stated by the law. What is not allowed is if you ask other people, and they refuse, and then you use force,” he said.