Ahmadiya and Freedom in Islam

Debate about Ahmadiya, a sect in Islam, now comes to a new arena because of oppression and violence for them. The anti-Ahmadiya campaigns support the marginalization of this marginal group. The argument that Ahmadiya as a party of Islam is very powerful. However, so many people have other perspective and accused Ahmadiyah as a deviant sect or non-muslim. The problem is that the argument Ahmadiyah as a deviant or non-muslim is used by some groups to violate, terror, and kill the member of Ahmadiya.

In Constitution, law, Human Rights, and common sense we can find clearly that there is no reason to violate anyone, particularly only in the name of religion or belief. But, the violence actors think that they don’t have duty to implement the Constitution, law, Human Rights, and common sense in their barbaric actions. They suggest that the religious teaching or argument is more and more powerful than any other arguments.

But, are they really have any religious, particularly in Islamic tradition, argument supporting their barbaric actions? Let’s take a look at the case of apostasy (riddah/murtad) as the biggest rebellion in religion. Apostasy (murtad) is more seriously than deviant or heresy. Deviant or heresy is a condition when someone rejected or has different opinion in one or some religious doctrines. But apostasy is a declaration to reject all of the doctrines.

There is not verse in the Qoran showing punishment consequencies for apostacy. The basic argument in the Qoran is to support the religious and belief freedom. It is very clear that in the verse la ikraha fi al-din the Qoran state that there is not compulsion in religion. The verse explains the religious freedom in some levels. Firstly, there is not compulsion for someone to engage in particular religion or leave it. In the beginning of Islamic formation, we can find that so many cases of “engage and leave” Islam. These are common phenomenon in every religion. If in the beginning Islam try to punish who leave the religion after they declare themselves as Muslim, maybe it is very difficult for Islam to get followers. And we found that in few year majority people in Middle-East, Africa, and Asia engaged this religion.

Secondly, the verse “There is no compulsion in religion” also explains that we have freedom to choose our groups in one religion. If in the religion level we have freedom to choose, so why we have burden to choose any groups in one religion? There is no compulsion in religion means that there is not compulsion in religious schools to engage or leave it.

Thirdly, the religious freedom verse also shows that Islam concern about freedom of thought or interpretation. Once more, if in the level of religion we have freedom to choose, we also have the same freedom in the level of thought or interpretation. The debate about Ahmadiya is debate at the level of thought or interpretation. In the Muslim tradition, there are doctrines about messiah. In the end of history Isa al-Masih (Jesus Christ) and Imam Mahdi will be come back to the earth. Many Muslims are still waiting for the Messiah, but the Ahmadiya group belief that the Messiah already came. They believe that Isa al-Masih and Imam Mahdi revealed in one body, i.e. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. If the first group is still waiting for, the second has met. All of these debates are in the level of thought and interpretation of Islamic doctrines. The Holy Book, Qoran, strictly concerns about the freedom in this kind of interpretation debate. The ensuring of freedom make Islam has a rich of the Qoran interpretation literatures. The process of interpretation is still happen until now. And we have good news that Indonesia has one of the famous of Qoran interpreter, Prof. Dr. Quraisy Shihab. He published a lot of book about the Qoran. One of his famous Qoran interpretation book is “Al-Mishbah.”

The absent of punishment for the apostate in the Qoran consistently was supported by hadit (the tradition of prophet). Off course some hadit talked the punishment for the apostate, but according to Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq, all of the hadit are weak and have many problems in validity. There is no one hadit allowing punishment for the apostate merely because of the apostasy. In the Shahih Bukhari (one of the most authoritative book of hadit) explains about story of one Beduin who already engage Islam but came to the prophet and ask to cancel his shahadah (the declaration to engage Islam). Three times he came to prophet to propose same intention, and three times also the prophet ignored it. So, the Beduin leaved Madina, but the prophet still didn’t do anything and didn’t ask any punishment for the apostate.

The radicals use an experience in Islam history that the Caliphate Abu Bakr attacked Musailamah group and one weak hadit “man baddala diinahu faqtuluh” (kill everyone who changes his religion). They use this experience and hadit to support their action violate the apostates, including Ahmadiya. They also think that punishment for apostate is a consensus of the majority of ulemas (ijma’).

According to Mohammad Omar Farooq, since the classic Islam until now there is not any consensus among ulemas that the apostate has to be punished. The common interpretation among prominent ulemas about the war for Musailamah group was not merely that they leave or convert their religion, but only because their actions had implication to political rebellion.

Omar Farooq tells a moment in the era of Caliphate Umar Ibn Abd Azis. Some people declared to leave Islam. Maimun Ibn Mahram told this to Umar. Umar ask to give them freedom but they had to pay taxes as other people did in that country.

Sufyan Ats-Tsaury (Amirul Mukminin fi al-Hadits/The King of Muslim in Hadit) and Ibrahim al-Nakha’i (Tabi’in) agreed to refuse dead punishment for apostate. According to them, they always have change to come back to truth. So, the best thing that we can do is ask them persuasively. In the same boat, Syamsuddin al-Sarakhsi (an expert in Islamic law from Hanafi school of thought) said that apostasy is a very serious kind of sin, but it is only relation between man and God and its punishment must be postponed until the Judgment Day. Syeikh Mahmud Syaltut (The Former of Syaikh Akbar al-Azhar) has a same idea: apostasy is a sin. In the Qoran, according to Syaltut, punishment for the sinner is only in the hereafter. Syeikh Gamal al-Banna (younger brother of Hasan al-Banna/founder of Muslim Brotherhood) explicitly said that there is not punishment for apostasy. Freedom of thought is a foundation for Islam.

From common sense, Constitution, law, Human Rights, the Islamic doctrines, until ijma (the consensus of ulemas) all of them support the idea of religious freedom, freedom to change religion, freedom to join a group in one religion, freedom to interpret religions doctrines, and even freedom to become an atheist or agnostics. Belief or faith is man and God affairs. So, we can propose a question, what reason is used by people who violate and kill Muslim Ahmadi in many places in Indonesia? Off course, common sense and religion are not in the side of killers and terrorists. []

*Published by Koran Tempo in Bahasa Indonesia, April 15, 2011

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