JAKARTA — Radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir called Tuesday for the ban of an “infidel” Islamic sect as debate raged in the world’s most populous Muslim country over religious freedom and tolerance.
Bashir said the government must swiftly disband the minority Ahmadiyah branch of Islam to protect mainstream Indonesian Muslims and prevent violent sectarian unrest.
“Ahmadiyah is an infidel organization using the name of Islam, which aims to disrupt Islam,” he told a press conference called to urge the government to act on the recommendation of an inter-departmental team to outlaw the sect.
“We urge the Indonesian government to immediately and officially ban and dissolve Ahmadiyah. We warn the government that any delay to do so will potentially create horizontal conflicts,” he said.
He explained that by “horizontal conflicts” he meant sectarian violence between mainstream Indonesian Muslims and Ahmadis, who number only about 200,000 in Indonesia.
Without a ban, people might take matters into their own hands, he said, a warning made all the more resonant after a mob attacked and razed an Ahmadiyah mosque last week.
“We never recommend any attacks or destruction but Muslims will fight each other if the government doesn’t want to ban Ahmadiyah,” said the cleric, who served almost 26 months for conspiracy over the 2002 Bali bombings before being cleared and released.
He was speaking to reporters after several hardline Muslim clerics issued a joint statement calling for the sect to be banned.
Habib Rizieq Shihab, head of the militant Islamic Defenders Front, said his followers would not resort to violence but stood ready to help the government enforce a ban through dialogue.
“If the government issues the ban, we agreed to help the government to convince the Ahmadiyah followers to return to the real Islam through dialogue. We won’t use any violent approach,” he said.