Indonesian Muslim rally calls for ban on a deviant sect
Thousands of Indonesian Muslims staged a peaceful but noisy protest outside presidential palace on Monday, calling for the government to immediately ban the minority Ahmadiyah sect that the country's top cleric called "deviant."
Members of Islamic organizations around the capital Jakarta and nearby areas, including hardliner groups the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Hizbut Tahrir, also demanded the police released FPI chairman Habib Rizieq from jail, reported .
"This peaceful action is again to remind the government to immediately finish its homework, disbanding Ahmadiyah which have clearly proven to besmirch Islamic teachings," said Muhammad Al-Khaththath, secretary-general of the Islamic Forum.
About 5,000 demonstrators shouted "Disband Ahmadiyah! Disband Ahmadiyah.!" The rally sparked heavy traffic jams in the capital's thoroughfares.
"We are demanding President SBY to soon outlaw Ahmadiyah," Musthofa Assegaf, told reporters after a meeting with presidential spokesman, Andi Malarangeng. SBY is the abbreviation for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
After gathering outside the presidential palace, the protesters marched to the Jakarta city police headquarters to pay respects to jailed FPI chairman Rizieq.
Rizieq and eight FPI members were arrested for their roles in the June 1 stick-wielding attack by militant supporters against a rally for religious tolerance, injuring dozens of people.
Several lawmakers also demanded an official ban on Ahmadiyah as one way to end the controversy.
"This is no longer concerns of freedom of religion, but links to blasphemy. If the government does not take action, we are afraid more conflicts will occur in society," Hazrul Azwar, lawmaker from the Muslim-based United Development Party, was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post.
Attacks on followers of Ahmadiyah have been on the rise since a government commission declared in April the sect deviant and recommended the minority group be outlawed.
The Indonesian Ulema Council, the country's highest authority on Islam, has declared the Ahmadiyah sect heretical for believing its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908 in India, is the last prophet - instead of Mohammed, whom mainstream Muslims worldwide believe was God's final messenger.
Human rights activists and civil liberties groups argue that followers of Ahmadiyah - believed to have 200,000 followers in predominantly Muslim Indonesia - are protected under the country's constitution, which guarantees the right to religious freedom.
Ahmadiyah has also faced persecution in other Muslim countries. Its followers insist it should be considered part of Islam.
Indonesia is the world's most-populous Islamic nation, with nearly 88 per cent of its 225 million people being Muslims. The country has a long history of religious tolerance.