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Treating minorities with fatwas: a study of the Ahmadiyya community in Indonesia


The term “minority religious community” in the Muslim country of Indonesia refers not only to those embracing religions other than Islam, but also to minority groups like the Ahmadiyya. Recently, the treatment of Ahmadis has been worse than the treatment of non-Muslims. This article, therefore, intends to study the status of ‘deviant’ groups under Islamic law and the treatment of them in Muslim society. Specifically, this article addresses the following questions: How did ulama in the past define and treat minority groups? How do contemporary Sunni ulama define and treat the Ahmadiyya? What is the status of this group under Islamic law? Are they apostates, heretics, or unbelievers? And what are the legal consequences of these charges? To answer these questions, this article employs two methods. First, for theoretical treatment of minority groups in the past, this article focuses its analysis on al-Ghazāli’s Fayṣal al-tafriqa and Faḍāiḥ al-bāṭiniyya. Second, following a discussion of classical Islam, the article moves to contemporary time by analyzing fatwas against the Ahmadiyya from five institutions: the Rābiṭa al-‘Ᾱlam al-Islāmī, Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), Muhammadiyah, Council of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). This article argues that, first, fatwas against the Ahmadiyya issued by these institutions were intended as a device to sustain orthodoxy of umma and, second, orthopraxy or devoutness in observing religious rituals, as practiced by the Ahmadis, does not exempt them from the charge of apostasy because theologically they are believed to deviate from orthodox beliefs.

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  1. The Ahmadiyya referred to in this article are specifically the Qadiani Ahmadiyya, not the Lahore Ahmadiyya, except where otherwise stated.

  2. The term mulḥid in contemporary Arabic usage is usually used as translation of atheist. Cf. Kudsi-Zadeh (1972: 25).

  3. Sociological discussion on this issue commonly uses different terms such as orthodoxy, heterodoxy, heresy, orthopraxy, and apostasy. The discussion usually deals with the issue of whether the Ahmadiyya is an orthodox or heretical movement.

  4. John Locke’s A letter concerning toleration is originally published in 1689.

  5. The term Bāṭiniyya refers to several groups including the Khurrāmites, the Qarmatians, and the Ismā`īlīs, but this term refers mostly to the last two (Jackson 2002: 137).

  6. Elaboration on this can be found in Zafrullah Khan (1978: 38–39).

  7. Al-Ghazālī defines ‘unbelief’ as those who reject anything brought by the Prophet as lies (1993: 25)

  8. The MUI makes quite similar criteria for those who can be called Muslim. Al-Ghazālī proposes three criteria, while the MUI proposes ten. The more criteria applied, the stricter Islam would be or, using Jackson’s statement, “a narrower criterion would make it easier to increase the number of doctrines branded as heresy” (Jackson 2002: 4; MUI 2009: 8).

  9. Al-Ghazālī considers philosophers to be ‘unbelievers’ if they believe in one of the following three views: “(1) the eternity of the world, (2) God’s ignorance of the particulars of the world, or (3) that bodies are not resurrected in the afterlife (Ahmad 2009: 160; cf. al-Ghazālī 1993: 56).

  10. Al-Ghazālī considers what the Bāṭiniyya do as ‘new heresies’ (bida‘mustaḥdatha) created by the groups of ‘heretics’ (al-mulḥida) and masked apostates (al-zanādiqa) (al-Ghazālī 1964: 159). The fatwa from the MUI and the Rābiṭa seem to adopt al-Ghazālī’s policy since they consider the Ahmadiyya apostates, not heretics.

  11. “isrāfuhā fī takfīri ba‘ḍahā ba‘ḍan” (their excessiveness in charging and counter-charging of each other as unbelief) (al-Ghazālī 1993: 27).

  12. In an Indonesian context, the first group could be represented by the Front Pembela Islam (FPI—Front for the Defense of Islam) and the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI—Council of Indonesian Holy Warriors), while the second group could be represented by the Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL—Liberal Islam Network).

  13. In this context, al-Shāfi‘ī disagrees with al-Ghazālī. He equates the status of zandaqa with munāfiqūn. The legal status of munāfiqūn is ruled based on what they say, while what is in their hearts is given to God. The Prophet also does not punish munāfiqūn during his time until they clearly breach the law (Griffel 2001: 346–347).

  14. Discussion on the concept of khātam al-nabiyyīn can be found Yohanan Friedmann (1989), particularly the chapter on “the finality of prophethood” (pp. 49–52).

  15. Sometimes, the terminological category used by al-Ghazālī to designate this group is unacceptable heretics (mulḥidūn), or those who create new unacceptable innovations. This term is different from the deviation made by Shi`a and Mu`tazila that, for al-Ghazālī still acceptable, although they are located just inside the border of the outer limits of Islam. This term is also different from unsanctioned innovation (bid‘a) because bid‘a would not qualify as belonging to the category of unbelievers. However, in several places, al-Ghazālī equates the term zandaqa with mulḥidūn.

  16. Among them are fatwa from Hasanayn Muhammad Makhlūf in 1953 that can be found in his compilation of fatwas, Fatāwā Shar‘iyya wa buhūth Islāmiyya (1965), pp. 86–96, the fatwa from the Syaikh of al-Azhar, Gadul Haq Ali Gadul Haq, in 1983, and the fatwa from Maulana Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi of India (1856–1921) (Sanyal 2005).

  17. This fatwa is available at The Arabic version of this fatwa is available at (accessed 25 December 2011).

  18. The context of the issuance of this fatwa still needs to be studied. Discussion on the 1974 Constitutional Amendment can be found in Saeed (2007).

  19. Mohammad Natsir assumed his role as the Secretary General of the Rābita in 1969. It is still not clear for the present author how long he was in that office. However, what is clear is that he was an active member of that organization until his death in 1993 (Ma’mur 1995: 35; von der Mehden 1993: 61)

  20. Seeing the reluctance of the secular government of Indonesia to ban the Ahmadiyya, according to Ismatu Ropi, some ulama then sent a petition to the Saudi government asking them to pressurize the Indonesian government into helping the MUI implement the fatwa. As a sequel to this petition, in 1981 the Indonesian Ministry of Religion received a formal letter from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia requesting them to issue a legal prohibition of the Ahmadiyya in Indonesia. On 20 September 1984, the Ministry of Religion finally issued a circular to its offices to keep their eyes open to the activities of the Ahmadiyya, that this movement could preach only their beliefs within their own community (Djamaluddin 2011: 137–145; Ropi 2010: 300–301; Zaenal Abidin 2007: 183–184).

  21. Before 28 June 2011, the OIC stood for Organization of Islamic Conference. The OIC was established in 1969 as a response to the attack to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerussalem. General information regarding this organization can be found at (Accessed 25 December 2011). Among academic discussion on the role of the OIC in Islamic world can be found in Eickelman and Piscatori (1996), particularly Chap. 6, “Muslim politics: a changing political geography.”

  22. The Arabic version of this fatwa is available at (Accessed 25 December 2011).

  23. Actually, there was a debate in the forum on how Indonesian Muslims should respond to the OIC fatwa. However, at the end, the leaders of the MUI preferred to follow that fatwa since Indonesia is a member of the OIC (Karni and Alfian 2005).

  24. The transformation of the MUI from being a “servant of the state” (khādim al-hukūma) into a “servant of the umma” (khādim al-umma) can be found in Moch. Ichwan (2005). As elaborated in this article, one of the factors that contributed to the shift of MUI’s religious stance was the involvement of conservative Muslims, such as from the MMI, in its officials.

  25. The meaning of ‘forbidden’ (telah dilarang keberadaannya) here is based on the MUI fatwa and has no legal basis since there is no decree from the Indonesian government that forbids the Ahmadiyya. A fatwa from the MUI does not have the status of law. There are a number of prohibitions to the Ahmadiyya issued by some offices of District Attorneys such as Kejari of Sidenreng South Sulawesi, Kerinci Jambi, and Meulaboh in West Aceh, but these prohibitions are valid only for these districts (Susanti 2008; Crouch 2009).

  26. A discussion on this issue can be found in the works of Yohanan Friedmann (1989, 1998, 2011), where he elaborates Islamic discourse on khatm al-nabiyyin from early Islam until contemporary time.

  27. These three points of the fatwa reflect three steps of implementation of law in classical fiqh: declaration, request for istitāba, execution or punishment. However, in modern times this last step could be implemented mostly only in civil law, not penal law.

  28. Taushiyah or tawṣiya is usually translated as ‘non-legal recommendation’. Taushiyah is usually issued of iftā’ institution after considering that issuing of such kind of fatwa is necessary, regardless of the existence or non-existence of istiftā’ (request for fatwa) from umma. Discussion about various terms used in the fatwa or fatwa-like decisions in Indonesia can be found in Moch. Nur Ichwan (2005).

  29. This fatwa is available in Karni et al. (2010: 16) and at (accessed 26 December 2011)

  30. Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, a son of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the second caliph of the Ahmadiyya, states, “So, while we of the Ahmadiyya Jama‘at declare ourselves Muslims, nobody has the right to say that our Islam is a pretence; that at heart we deny Islam or deny the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace); that we subscribe to a new Kalima or turn to a new Qibla in our prayers” (Mahmud Ahmad 1980: 5–6).

  31. The concept of the ‘seal of the prophets’ is also interpreted that there is not true claim of prophethood without confirmation of Muhammad (Mahmud Ahmad 1980: 43–7).

  32. There is a different numbering system between the Ahmadiyya version of the Qur’an and the Sunni version. The Ahmadiyya counts bismillāh in the beginning of sūra as the first verse. In the Sunni Qur’an, the quoted verse is Q. 17.1.

  33. This is also the view of Muhammad Iqbal (1974).

  34. Quoting Majma‘ al-anhur written by the Hanafi scholar ‘Abd al-Raḥman ibn Muḥammad, often called Shaikh-Zādeh, Rudolph Peters and Gert J.J. De Vries (1976–1977) mention a list of sayings or acts that could bring someone to the charge of apostasy, including ridiculing scholars and celebrating Nawrūz. If someone follows this, everything could make someone apostate. Anybody can make their own distinctive criteria of Muslim and non-Muslim. Abdullah Saeed mentions that there are a large number of ‘apostasy list’. Even a rejection to a ‘letter’ of the Qur’an could qualify someone with apostasy (Saeed 2011: 33).

  35. Both Ahmad and Griffel quote al-Shāfi‘ī’s al-Umm, but they use different editions. Ahmad uses the one edited by Muhammad Zuhri al-Najjar (Cairo: Maktabat al-Kulliyyat al-Azhariyya 1961), 6: 156–7. Griffel uses the edition published by al-Matba‘a al-Kubra al-Amiriyya, 1903–08. I have not had a chance to consult with these books.

  36. A discussion on collective apostasy can be read in Ahmad (2009: 151–153).


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Burhani, A.N. Treating minorities with fatwas: a study of the Ahmadiyya community in Indonesia. Cont Islam 8, 285–301 (2014).

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  • Ahmadiyya
  • Orthodoxy-orthopraxy
  • Apostasy
  • Religious minority
  • Fatwa
  • Ideological persuasion