Radical Islamist units in Syria are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists' goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. Special Report
Muslims rally to ban sect in Indonesia
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Thousands of hardline Indonesian Muslims rallied outside the presidential palace and Jakarta police headquarters on Monday to urge the president to disband a sect branded by many Muslims as "deviant".
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has to decide on the fate of the Ahmadiyya after a government team tasked with monitoring religious groups recommended it should be banned as the sect's teachings deviate from fundamental Islamic tenets.
The Ahmadis refuse to accept the Prophet Mohammad as Islam's final prophet, and say their founder is a prophet and messiah.
The group has been a subject of heated controversy after Indonesia's Ulema Council, the country's Islamic authority, branded the group "deviant".
The protesters -- who called themselves "United Muslims' Action to Disband Ahmadiyya" -- wore traditional Muslim skull caps and shouted slogans such as "SBY, be clear in banning Ahmadiyya".
Yudhoyono is popularly known by his initials, SBY.
"Today is the beginning of our fight. We are ready to die for the Ahmadiyya sect's dismissal," said Abdurrahman of Indonesia's Muslim Forum (FUI). "If SBY ignores us, we will bring him down."
An unnamed speaker urged all Muslims to unite to support a ban. "There's only one word, disband Ahmadiyya. To all of you who feel that you have faith in Islam, (you) must support the disbanding of Ahmadiyya."
The latest protest comes after an attack by members of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), well-known for its attacks on bars and nightclubs in Indonesia during the Muslim fasting month, on an interfaith rally in Jakarta, which provoked an outcry among moderates.
A Jakarta police spokesman put the crowd at 2,000, although it appeared to swell to more than 5,000 as the rally snaked its way through Jakarta's busy business district from the palace to the police headquarters, where an FPI leader is being held.
At a news conference on Monday, ministers stopped short of banning Ahmadiyya, but warned that followers could be charged for tarnishing religion.
"As long as Ahmadiyya Indonesia members admit they are Muslims, they must stop the spread of deviant interpretation of Islamic teaching," according to the text of a joint ministerial decree read by Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni.
It also urged other parties not to violate laws by taking action against Ahmadiyya followers.
Moderates in predominantly Muslim Indonesia have criticised the government for not taking a tougher stance on militant Islamic groups following several recent incidents in which places of worship were damaged and individuals intimidated.
Outbreaks of violence over religious issues have become more common in recent months, particularly over Ahmadiyya.
Militant Muslim groups have attacked mosques and buildings associated with Ahmadiyya, and are lobbying the government to outlaw the sect.
Analysts say Yudhoyono, whose coalition government depends on the support of some Islamic parties and who is expected to seek a second term next year, should have been much tougher in cracking down on other groups that incite violence.
(Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia)
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