Sat, 06 Aug 1994

Al Arqam in Indonesia offers debate

JAKARTA (JP): The Al Arqam movement in Indonesia yesterday offered its critics a discussion on the legality of its existence as pressure mounted on the government to ban the organization.

The Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) increased pressure to follow in the footsteps of Malaysia, the headquarters of the organization, and declare Al Arqam illegal.

MUI chairman Hassan Basri was quoted by the Antara news agency as saying yesterday that he expected the government to make up its mind within this month.

MUI has sent a recommendation to the Attorney General's Office to ban Al Arqam as it believes the denomination deviates from the core of Islamic teachings.

The Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday said that Darul Arqam, which is the more popular name of the movement in Indonesia, is not registered with the government and henceforth is illegal.

Ahmadi Rafei, chairman of the denomination in Jakarta, called a press conference immediately after news of the Malaysian ban, stressing that there was no cause or reason for the Indonesian government to ban the organization here.

"What aspects of Al Arqam will they ban? Al Arqam is not a separate teaching. It is a missionary organization to promote the teaching of Islam, there is no Al Arqam teaching," he said.

Ahmadi Rafei declined to comment on what he would do if the sect was banned here. "Let's talk about the current situation. We are happy about the government's policy towards us now."

When asked about the government's refusal to allow Al Arqam's leader, Ashaari Muhammad, to enter Indonesia, Ahmadi said, "We are Indonesians, and of course we follow Indonesia's rules of the game."

He promised he will not go to the streets with demonstrations, but will invite those who differ with Al Arqam for discussions instead.

"If it's about religion, tell us what aspect of our practices have deviated from Islam. And if it's about politics, pinpoint to us which of our activities are deemed political," Ahmadi said.

He also commented on the criticism by Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Tarmizi Taher of Ashaari's book, entitled Presiden Soeharto Ikut Jadual Allah. Tarmizi said the book is politically oriented because it features pictures of a number of Indonesia's high ranking officials.

"The minister is too excessive in interpreting the photos. They are just pictures of silaturrahmi (brotherhood), not more than that," he said.

Also present at the press conference were the group's leaders Abdurrahman Riesdam Effendi from Bandung, M. Rizal Chatib from Padang and G. Irawadi from Pekanbaru. (rid)