REPORT – Indonesian Ulema Council forbids calling Shia Islam apostasy

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SHAFAQNA - The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, stating that only government-recognized Islamic organizations, such as itself, should be able to call any people or groups kafir, or infidels. The MUI said the move is meant to prevent religious hate speech, but some scholars and activists are expressing fear that the MUI just wants to expand its power in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Zacky Khairul Umam, a research fellow at the Institute of Islamic Studies at Freie University, Germany, said the edict was positive, but he reminded all Islamic organizations to refrain from labeling anyone as infidels.

“It is better for Islamic organizations to just focus on the well-being of the Islamic society [rather than on labeling],” Zacky said.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy chairman of the human rights group Setara Institute, claimed that the edict could become grounds for the council to gain momentum to attain a more powerful position in the future.

“The edict is good for minimizing provocative actions. However, the edict will make the MUI the sole organization to issue Islamic rulings. Single interpretations by an organization will, of course, bring out consequences. With the MUI getting stronger and stronger, the government will think twice when responding to an MUI policy,” Bonar explained.

The fatwa, which was issued by the council’s Edict Commission during its fifth meeting in Tegal, Central Java, is meant to prevent individuals from easily calling others kafir, a word that is usually considered highly offensive by the people or groups so labeled.

“The edict was issued because there are tendencies in our society to underestimate the word kafir and to easily call a person or a group of people kafir,” Antara news agency quoted Muhammad Zaitun, one of the lead formulators of the edict, as saying on Wednesday.

“The labeling of a kafir is a religious law that individuals or illegitimate organizations cannot do,” Zaitun said, adding that Islamic society should refrain from easily labeling others and should take moderate stances instead.

The labeling of people or groups as kafir has become an issue recently. The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) reported in April that religious intolerance has been on the rise in Indonesia in recent years. The commission said that most religious intolerance and religious-based violence has been driven by religious hate speech, such as the labeling of people as infidels.

“We found banners that could be considered as provocation to hate other groups, such as the Syiah (Shia Islam) group,” Komnas HAM said in a statement in April, referring to the Shia community that was targeted by several groups of people in different places in Indonesia because of their distinctive religious traits.abna24.

The Setara Institute also had similar views regarding what drives religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia.

According to the institute’s report, which was released on Monday, religious intolerance and violence are, among other things, driven by hate speech.

“The government has to stay vigilant in case Ramadhan is used by intolerant groups to preach against others,” the institute’s chairman, Hendardi, told reporters on Monday.

Basnang Said, a senior leader of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, however, said he appreciated the council’s move because it could prevent people from labeling others as infidels.

“It is a positive move. Many groups have become the victims of labeling. In fact, in Islam if you call somebody an infidel when he is not, the label returns to you,” Basnang told The Jakarta Post on Thursday over the telephone.

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