Muslims can be a terror target, even if they are devout: The Jakarta Post columnist

Indonesian police investigate the site of an attack after a suspected Islamist militant stabbed two Indonesian police officers after prayers at a mosque near the national police headquarters in Jakarta.
Indonesian police investigate the site of an attack after a suspected Islamist militant stabbed two Indonesian police officers after prayers at a mosque near the national police headquarters in Jakarta.PHOTO: AFP

Ary Hermawan

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The latest terrorist attack on Indonesian soil has sent a clear and chilling message to Indonesian Muslims: no matter how devout you are, you could easily be classified as infidels by extremists and therefore regarded as legitimate targets.

Adj. Comr. Dede Suhatmi and First Brig. M. Syaiful Bakhtiar had just finished their evening prayers at Falatehan Mosque across from the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta on Friday, when a man shouting "Thogut!" attacked them with a knife bayonet.

The officers are not members of the National Police's Densus 88 counterterrorism squad, which is directly involved in the bloody war against local militants. They are just ordinary Muslims who were carrying out their religious duty. But that did not stop the suspect, identified as 26-year-old Mulyadi, from attacking them.

The officers survived the attack and the assailant was shot dead.

Police personnel have been targeted by Islamic militants for years. On May 24, two suicide bombers killed three police officers on duty in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta; even on Idul Fitri on June 25, a policeman was stabbed to death in Medan, North Sumatra.

Muslims were among those who perished in previous terror attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings and the Sarinah attack last year in Central Jakarta. But beyond being collateral damage in attacks targeting foreign "infidels" or an infidel government, any "infidel" Muslim can now become a target.

The incident at Falatehan Mosque, where Muslims including police officers pray, was the first terror attack near the National Police headquarters.

In 2011 a suicide bomb attack during Friday prayers at the mosque of the Cirebon Police headquarters in West Java injured several policemen. Such attacks are a clear manifestation of the violent ideology espoused by terrorist groups like the Islamic State (IS), known among counterterrorism scholars as takfirism, which have targeted Indonesian Muslims.

The term takfiri stems from the word takfir, a term used by classic Muslim scholars to declare that one has strayed off the path of Islam and thus become a murtad (apostate) or a kafir (infidel). The term is pejoratively used by Muslims, including some jihadists, to label those who recklessly regard other Muslims as kafir.

IS militants are known to be the most extreme takfiri, as they consider anyone who rejects their ideology as kafir.

Pro-IS ideologues, such as Aman Abdurrahman and Abu Bakar Bashir, argue that the government is a thogut (idol/tyrant) and thus everyone who works for it should be regarded as an infidel.

All members of the police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) and also civil servants and, according to Aman and Bashir, are thus by default anshorut thogut (helpers of the idol/tyrant), whose blood can be shed, even though they are practising Muslims who have pronounced the Islamic testimony of faith.

The majority of Indonesian Muslims are against IS's violent takfiri ideology, but we have reasons to fear that takfirism, in a less violent and perhaps subtler form, is growing among Muslims. Just because most Muslims reject takfiri ideology does not mean they will refrain from making takfir on fellow Muslims.

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has already issued fatwas declaring that Ahmadiyah followers and Shiites, who consider themselves Muslims, are heretics, or kafir. The Sunni Islam clerical body may have the right to issue such fatwa, which it claims are based on careful reading of the Islamic scriptures and thus could not be regarded as reckless takfir.

However, the edicts could make some Muslims suspicious of others, who interpret the Islamic scriptures differently - be they Ahmadiyah adherents or even top Muslim scholars like Quraish Shihab.

The practice of reckless takfir, for instance, was visible in the lead-up to the highly sectarian Jakarta gubernatorial election in February. Some Muslims argued that fellow Muslims who voted for Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, were hypocrites and therefore kafir and should not be given an Islamic funeral.

History has shown that being labelled a heretic can have terrible consequences. The terror attack at Falatehan Mosque may anger some Muslims, who question why anyone claiming to be a Muslim would attack worshippers at a mosque. But the fact is that some groups claiming to be Muslims have in recent years attacked Ahmadiyah and Shiite mosques; some of them were even burned down.

Only last week, on the eve of Idul Fitri, an Ahmadiyah mosque in Depok, West Java, was vandalised, weeks after the local government had sealed it. For years, Ahmadiyah and Shia followers have been victims of takfir and the accompanying terror.

Takfirism is among the most extreme forms of religious intolerance, and many Muslims, including Dede, Syaiful and other police officers, have become victims of this ideology.

The government and mainstream Islamic organisations, such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, must recognise the growing threat of takfirism and step up the fight against any forms of religious bigotry that could metastasize and transform into a violent ideology that will only benefit the extremists.

The target now is the kafir police officer. But at a time when people can easily declare others, even respected Muslim scholars, as less Muslim or even murtadin or kafir just because they read the Quran and the history of Islam differently, it is just a matter of time before the extremist groups decide to widen their target range.