About 20 members of the beleaguered Ahmadiyah sect in Tasikmalaya, West Java, supposedly embraced Sunni Islam on Monday and declared their devotion to Indonesia’s most popular religious sect during a ceremony at a mosque.
“They pledged allegiance to their [new] faith three times. [The event] was witnessed by the Minister of Religious Affairs and the Tasikmalaya district head,” Nurul Mubin, the head of the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) in Tasikmalaya, said on Monday, as quoted by Detik.com.
In addition, the Ahmadis were required to recite the syahadat — an affirmation that there is only one god and that Muhammad was his last prophet.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said that he was so proud that he “began to cry when they recited the syahadat.”
The minister also promised to provide school scholarships for the children of the newly-converted Ahmadis.
Meanwhile, Nurul claimed that prior to these new converts, a total of 728 Indonesian Ahmadis have accepted mainstream Sunni Islam.
“This is not a new development,” Firdaus Mubarik, a spokesman for the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Congregation (JAI), said. “It’s normal that the government would bring up the issue of Ahmadiyah conversions after recent attacks on Ahmadiyah mosques.”
He was skeptical of the validity of the supposed conversions, and in his view, there were two possible scenarios that could have unfolded.
One possibility is that these Ahmadis were forced to convert to Sunnism on threat of being expelled from their villages with their families, as what happened in Cianjur, West Java, in March 2012.
“The second possibility is that they’re actually the same people who claimed to embrace [Sunni] Islam several months or even years ago. Journalists should seek out the data and find out if they have truly converted,” he said.
Firdaus went on to recommend that the government make available the list of Ahmadis who supposedly converted to Sunni Islam.
According to Firdaus, there are more than 10,000 Ahmadis living in Tasikmalaya.
Furthermore, he did not understand why people think that the Ahmadiyah need to declare their faith by reciting the syahadat, as Ahmadis also utilize the same affirmation.
The Ahmadiyah community has faced years of discrimination in Indonesia, where the sect’s branch of Islam has been named “deviant” by the FPI.
Last month, 30 Ahmadiyah members were sealed in the Al-Misbah mosque when the Bekasi government shuttered the building.
Religious intolerance is on the rise in Indonesia, where minorities find themselves targeted by members of an increasingly vocal hard-line fringe. In few places is intolerance more routine than West Java.