Double Standard of Indonesia’s Blasphemy Law: The Case of a Controversial Muslim Cleric

By ICC’s Indonesia Correspondent

10/22/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)Ustadz Abdul Somad, 42, was born in North Sumatra.  The controversial Islamic preacher is known for causing religious issues, especially with the study of Hadith and sharia in his lectures. He also touches upon nationalism in his teaching sometimes.

He is a graduate of Al-Azhar University, Egypt. He became widely known when he started to give religious lectures on YouTube. Now, he is a famous lecturer who often tours the country with his teachings. His fame reached its peak when he was proposed as a vice presidential candidate for the 2019 elections, teaming up with presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto.

Last August, the name Ustadz Abdul Somad (hereinafter referred to as UAS) again made national headlines after his lecture video from three years ago, uploaded via someone else’s Twitter, went viral. In the video, UAS was giving a lecture at An’Nur Pekan Baru Riau Mosque. He was seen reading a question on a piece of paper from a member on the Qu’ran:

“Ustadz,  Why does my heart shiver when I look at a cross?”

”Satan!” He answered, and he continued to tell a story that he had a Tausiyah (“Tausiyah” is a term used among the Muslim community in Indonesia, referring to proselytizing which is conducted informally) engagement which was held at Batam Island.

On the way there, he was watching a movie called The Sinking of Van Der Wijck, a film adapted from a classic novel. After watching the film, he always imagined that along with the cross, comes an infidel spirit. He said that on the cross lies an infidel (pagan) genie that comes from a statue. That’s the reason why Muslims cannot keep statues. He stretched his arms out as a crucified person, while stating his opinion, and the audience responded with laughter.

He also added that if there is a pagan genie (cross) in the hospital, the Muslims must cover it. Furthermore, he commented on how non-Muslims attempt to convert Muslims, even before their death.

“If you are unable to convert him while he or she is alive, convert him before his or her death. Even before his or her burial, you see a cross on the ambulance,” he drew a cross as he imitated the sound of an ambulance.

His lecture upset many Indonesian Christians. Some Christian organizations took action and reported UAS to the Indonesian police. Meo Brigade filed the first complaint on August 19, 2019, reporting UAS to the Criminal Investigation Unit of the East Nusa Tenggara Regional Police. They alleged that UAS’s comments are defamation to the Christian symbol and demanded an apology.

The Horas Bangso Batak Organization (HBB) also complained to regional police in Metro Jaya. HBB’s attorney, Erwin Situmorang, said he went to file the case so that there would not be any repeat of Muslim clerics or other religious leaders insulting other religions with their lectures. “There should be no other religious teachers or priests or leaders to insult religion, because we are people who love each other, respect each other,” Erwin said at the Jakarta Metropolitan Police, South Jakarta, on August 19, 2019.

Indonesian Christian Student Movement (GMKI) also reported UAS to the Criminal Investigation Police Headquarters for alleged blasphemy on the same day. General Chairman of the GMKI Central Board, Korneles Jalanjinjinay, said that GMKI felt aggrieved because of the lecture. “Our visit to Criminal Investigation is to report a viral video related to UAS’s statement, which mentioned certain religious symbols that we feel were defamed,” He said. The report was made not to defend one particular group, but to create peace in the midst of the community.

On August 21, UAS came to the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to clarify the contended video. He made three points in his clarification:

First, the lecture was given over three years ago at the An’nur Mosque, Pekanbaru, Riau. UAS explained that the reference of the cross was in response to a question from the audience, not in the theme of the program. Since he regularly gives lectures there, it is common for him to conduct a Q&A after an hour of lecture.

Second, according to UAS, the lecture was not meant for the wider public. His message was intended for the congregation, which was comprised of all Muslims.

Lastly, he wondered why the video suddenly went viral after three years, and why is it being examined closely. “I leave it to Allah SWT. As a good citizen I will not run away, I will not complain. I will not be afraid, because I do not feel guilty, nor did I damage the unity and integrity of the nation,” he said.

After providing clarification related to his video, UAS was asked whether he will apologize to those who felt offended. He asserted that there was no need to apologize because he only explained about his religious creed, namely Islam.

Ironically, those who reported UAS to the police were soon counter-reported by several pro-UAS groups: the Ulama, Activist Defender Team (TPUA), the Alliance of the Nation’s Children (AAB), and the Voluntary Brotherhood Council, with demands to place them under defamation charges.

Those who reported UAS did not want the case to continue as long as UAS was willing to humbly apologize to Indonesia’s Christians. Yet, now, the plaintiffs suddenly became defendants themselves, while UAS walked free from this controversy.

Although the intended use of blasphemy law by Christians against UAS is controversial, given that they themselves often fall victim to this draconian law, and some Christians do not agree with the measures taken by the Christian groups above, UAS’s case further shows that the law has been used to target religious minorities and atheists in Indonesia.

A Buddhist woman of Chinese ethnicity complained about the neighborhood’s mosque being too loud, and was charged for blasphemy. Pastor Abraham Ben Moses shared the Gospel with his Muslim taxi driver, and was sentenced to four years in prison and fined. Former Jakarta governor “Ahok” made a reference of a verse from the Qu’ran in a campaign speech, and was jailed for two years for insulting Islam. These are well-known cases in recent years speaking to the fact that decades-old blasphemy law is only used to serve Muslims’ agenda.

While the founding ideology of Indonesia, Pancasila, is all about inclusion and religious tolerance, in reality, rights of religious minorities such as Christians and Buddhists are often ignored or undermined. As President Jokowi prepares for his second term, he must re-examine his policies to prevent further Islamization of the state.

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