Hardline Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir speaks in front of his followers during an anti-Ahmadiyya protest in front of presidential palace August 4, 2008.
JAKARTA (Reuters)–Several hundred Indonesian Muslims rallied on Monday in Jakarta and Surabaya, urging the government to disband the Ahmadiyya sect which many followers of Islam consider heretical.
The government of the world’s most populous Muslim country has come under increasing pressure from hard-line groups in recent months to ban Ahmadiyya, whose followers refuse to accept the Prophet Muhammad (s) as Islam’s final prophet.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government issued a ministerial decree in June that stopped short of banning the sect, but warned that followers could face five years in jail for tarnishing religion.
Radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir addressed supporters of the hard-line organization Muslim Forum (FUI), including women and children, at a rally near the presidential palace in Jakarta on Monday.
“Ahmadiyya is not Islam, so Ahmadiyya must be disbanded. Anyone who admits to being Muslim but is still defending Ahmadiyya is an apostate,” Bashir said, adding that Ahmadiyya must not claim to be part of Islam.
Indonesia, a secular nation with a population of 226 million, is predominantly Muslim.
Moderate Muslims have criticized the government for not taking a tougher stance against militant Islamic groups following several incidents in which places of worship were damaged and individuals intimidated.
Ahmadiyya, estimated to have anywhere between 200,000 and 2 million followers in Indonesia, has been a subject of heated controversy after Indonesia’s Ulema Council, the country’s Islamic authority, branded the group “deviant”.
A government team tasked with monitoring religious groups had previously recommended that Ahmadiyya should be banned.
(Reporting by Telly Nathalia; Editing by Sara Webb and David Fox)