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Who is to Blame, the victims or the perpetrators? A study to understand a series of violence targeting the accused heretic group Ahmadiyya

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Abstract

Conducted in Indonesia, this study analyzes how a religious group accused of being heretical ended up receiving threats and a number of violent reactions, a situation in which the victims were considered to have caused the violence. The study presented here focused on this case of the Ahmadiyya, a minority Muslim group in Indonesia that are the most frequently reported as being victims of violence. In total, 309 Sunni Muslims participated in filling out open-ended questions, and 10 Sunni Muslims (all male) participated in interviews discussing the Ahmadiyya and interreligious groups. We found that a substantial number of majority Sunni Muslims think that the values of the Ahmadiyya group are incompatible with common, mainstream Muslim values. As a consequence, their existence is considered a threat and a disruption to the Muslim community. Therefore, violence is justified if the group insists upon continuing their religious activities. In the eyes of these Sunni Muslims, Ahmadiyya members undermine the coherence within the Muslim community, and occurrence of violence against Ahmadiyya members is thus thought to be the victim’s own fault.
Victim blaming within religious groups 1
Who is to blame, the victims or the perpetrators? A study to understand
a series of violence targeting the accused heretic group Ahmadiyya
Idhamsyah Eka Putra1, Peter Holtz2, & Any Rufaedah3
1 Persada Indonesia University & Daya Makara Universitas, Indonesia.
2 IWM Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien (Knowledge Media Research Center), Tübingen,
Germany.
3 Sekolah Tinggi Agama Islam Nahdlatul Ulama, Jakarta, Indonesia
Second and final revision of the manuscript that was accepted for publication pending minor
revisions at Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (PRS) on March 22 2017; the revision was
accepted for publication on February 13 2018.
Corresponding Author: Idhamsyah Eka Putra idhamsyah.ekaputra@gmail.com
Victim blaming within religious groups 2
Abstract
Conducted in Indonesia, this study analyzes how a religious group accused of being heretical
ended up receiving threats and a number of violent reactions, a situation in which the victims
were considered to have caused the violence. The study presented here focused on this case of
the Ahmadiyya, a minority Muslim group in Indonesia that are the most frequently reported as
being victims of violence. Three hundred and nine Sunni Muslims participated in filling out open
ended questions and ten Sunni Muslims (all male) participated in interviews discussing the
Ahmadiyya and interreligious groups. We found that a substantial number of majority Sunni
Muslims think that the values of the Ahmadiyya group are incompatible with common,
mainstream Muslim values. As a consequence, their existence is considered a threat and a
disruption to the Muslim community. Therefore, violence is justified if the group insists upon
continuing their religious activities. In the eyes of these Sunni Muslims, Ahmadiyya members
undermine the coherence within the Muslim community, and occurrence of violence against
Ahmadiyya members is thus thought to be the victim’s own fault.
Keywords: social exclusions, victim blaming, heretic group, social identity, intra-group relations
Victim blaming within religious groups 3
Who is to blame, the victims or the perpetrators? A study to understand a series of violence
targeting the accused heretic group Ahmadiyya
Groups that are accused of being heretics are prone to receiving threats and acts of
violence (Putra, Mashuri, & Zaduqisti, 2015; Yildiz & Verkuyten, 2011). In Indonesia, members
of the Ahmadiyya, a minority Islamic group, are most frequently reported as being victims of
violence (Human Rights Watch, 2013). Up to now, many Ahmadiyya members have been exiled
from their hometown, forcing them to live in shelters (Burhani, 2014). Surprisingly, on February
11, 2011, an Islamic bulletin, Al-Islam, stated that the Ahmadiyya group is to blame itself for
becoming a target of violence. According to Al-Islam, Ahmadiyya’s ideology or beliefs are the
causes for the violence that occurred. The study presented here was conducted to understand
more deeply what is behind the victim blaming of Ahmadiyya group.
Victim blaming: Individual and social perspectives
A tendency to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator is not a new phenomenon.
There are several theoretical explanations for this phenomenon. One line of explanation assumes
that people usually believe that the world is a just place (Hafer, 2000; Hafer & Bѐgue, 2005).
According to this ‘just world’ perspective, good things happen to good people and bad things
happen to bad people, thus, the victim is blamed, because they supposedly only got what they
deserved. A rape victim, for example, may be blamed because she may have been wearing a
seductive or provocative dress. Therefore, such misfortune is believed to be the victim’s fault
(e.g., Sebby & Johnston, 2012). With regard to intergroup blaming, victims who are members of
an outgroup are blamed because that group is thought to have done wrong things.
To a member of a ‘mainstream’ religious group, and in particular to radical or extremist
members of the group, heretics may appear to be ‘enemies within’ (Finlay, 2007, p. 330): Their
Victim blaming within religious groups 4
defection from the group norms and values held by the mainstream group is not only despicable
in itself; it may even endanger the group more than an external enemy could. In particular,
whenever religious norms and values are considered to be sacred and beyond question, any
deviance from the prevailing group norms constitutes a threat to the religious group as a whole
at least in the eyes of those who endorse a fundamentalistic interpretation of their religion (cf.
Herriot, 2007). This is because the heretics’ supposedly ‘aberrant’ behavior could – in the radical
group members’ perception – ‘spread over’ to other members of the ingroup ‘like a disease’
(Holtz & Wagner, 2009). In view of the fact that religious groups are defined by the beliefs,
values, and practices they share, they only exist “as long as there are members willing to engage
in the labour of identity construction and identity confirmation” (Wagner, Holtz, & Kashima,
2009; p. 369). Hence, religious fundamentalists may regard violent action against such ‘deviants’
as not only justified, but necessary to prevent further evil (cf. Finlay, 2007).
Likewise, focusing on societal states and influenced by a social identity perspective, a
study conducted by Putra, Mashuri, and Zaduqisti (2015) showed that the reason why
Ahmadiyya members are blamed is because the Sunni Muslim participants think that Ahmadiyya
has undermined Islamic values and conspired to abolish Islam. From a social identity perspective
(Tajfel, 1982; Tajfel & Turner, 1979), a person is seen as part of a reflexive group in which the
members of the group “know their affiliation and have criteria available to decide who else is
also a member” (Wagner, 1995, p. 127). This group identity brings along with it values and
emotional attachment between the group members (Tajfel, 1982). Group membership may also
imply certain ways of thinking and living.
Another possible explanation for the derogation of members of Ahmadiyya group is
based upon an attribution perspective, that is, that people’s judgment is influenced by how
Victim blaming within religious groups 5
people attach meaning to others’ behavior in a particular event (i.e., by their attributions). It is
important to note that there are two general attribution types, internal and external attribution. In
internal attribution, the causal explanation of an event is based upon internal characteristics (e.g.,
personality) of the victim. On the other hand, the causal explanation of external attribution is
related to outside forces, such as the environment or situational factors. A victim of domestic
violence, for instance, will often be blamed by the perpetrator(s) because of the victim’s
personality, such as an offensive personality (i.e., internal attribution). However, we assume that
this kind of perspective can only be used to explain interpersonal relations, but not intergroup
relations. In the case of blaming Ahmadiyya members, a person is most often blamed because
they are a member of Ahmadiyya group, rather than because of their personality or internal
factors. Such perceptions of ‘bad personalities’ can only emerge after a person is known to be
part of the negative outgroup (Putra, Holtz, Pitaloka, Kronberger, & Arbiyah, 2016).
A study conducted by Castano and Giner-Sorolla (2006) revealed that violence
perpetrated against a group is perceived as justified and exempted from sanctions only when the
group is dehumanized. Ingroup members may feel that such violent action is wrong, but it still
cannot be deemed bad if the victim of the violence is categorized as not fully human.
Characterizing a victim as part of a derogated group (i.e., dehumanization as less human,
infrahuman) or a threatening group can help ingroup members to defend such wrongdoing
perpetrated by their own group.
In constrast to Castano and Giner-Sorolla’ (2006) findings, a study conducted by Bilali,
Tropp, and Dasgupta (2012) demonstrated that whenever ingroup members believe that the
outgroup sparked an intergroup conflict, ingroup members tended to feel less responsible for past
acts of mass violence that were commited by members of their group. This finding can shed light
Victim blaming within religious groups 6
on the question as to why the Turkish government (Study 1) does not admit past wrongdoings
toward the Armenian people: This is is because they believe that the Armenians themselves were
responsible for the occurance of intergroup conflict.
A large group with many members usually has sub-groups or even sub-subgroups (Putra
et al., 2015). Groups are considered to be part of a superordinate group or a common ingroup as
long as their members share core values or goals (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2010; Gaertner, Dovidio,
Anastasio, et al., 1993). Subgroups that do not share these values and goals will eventually be
demonized, scolded, or excluded by the majority members; the non-conforming subgroup is then
labeled as deviant or heretic. In the case of Islamic groups, Ahmadiyya is one group that is
frequently scolded by majority Sunni followers. Recognizing the multiple factors of victim
blaming, this study explores how members of Ahmadiyya group are blamed. We also analyze
whether other reasons for blaming a victimized group can be found in the case of the
Ahmadiyya.
Ahmadiyya in Indonesia: The past and the present
Throughout the world, Ahmadiyya is a minority group within Islam which has frequently been
the victim of violence. Initially, Ahmadiyya’s teaching was spread aound 1889 in Qadian, a
town located in the area between Pakistan and India which became the headquarters of
Ahmadiyya movement. In the partition of Pakistan-India in 1947, the headquarters was moved to
Lahore and in 1948 to Rabwah, Pakistan. However, because of prosecution by the Sunni
majority and prohibition of spreading Ahmadiyya teaching by the Pakistan government in 1984,
the Ahmadiyya headquarters was moved to London.
Many Muslims perceive severe differences between Ahmadiyya’s teachings and the
teachings of Sunni Islam. First, their founder Mirza Gulan Ahmad is believed by the Ahmadis
Victim blaming within religious groups 7
(the adherents of Ahmadiyya) to be the Messiah and a prophet, although he did not bring a new
religion or a new holy book. This belief is a major difference to the two biggest denominations of
Islam, Shia and Sunni, where Muhammad is considered to be the last or the end prophet.
Second, an Ahmadi can only engage in congregational prayer in his/her own community and
with an Ahmadi Imam (leader). On the other hand, other Muslims can pray congregationally
anywhere, even when the Imam is not from the same community. Third, even though Ahmadis
also accept the Quran as their holy book, their interpretation of it is different from that of Sunni
and Shia Muslims. Ahmadiyya does not accept Quran interpretations from non-Ahmadis, while
other Muslim communities are comparatively open to interpretations that have been developed
by other congregations (Hanafi, 2011). Mainly because of these three points, Ahmadiyya’s
existence has triggered fierce debates within majority Sunni Muslim groups. The debate centers
around the question of whether Ahmadiyya is still part of Islam or not. These issues have also
even been covered by national TV stations in Indonesia.
Persecution of Ahmadiyya members has become more intense since the early 2000s.
However, there have been criticisms of Ahmadiyya ever since the beginning of its arrival in
Indonesia in the late 1920s. For example in 1932, Muhammadiyah, one of the two biggest Sunni
Muslim groups in Indonesia, issued a fatwa to forbid their followers from following
Ahmadiyya’s teachings (Firdaus, 2007 in Farkhan, 2012). Long after that, in 1980, the
Indonesian Ulema Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia/MUI), issued a fatwa declaring Ahmadiyya
as a heretical, deviant sect (Prodjokusumo, 1994 in Farkhan, 2012).
Between 2000 and 2015, there were several severe acts of persecution and rejection
against Ahmadiyya. For example in Selog, East Lombok, in September 2002, Ahmadiyya
members experienced physical abuse. In 2005, an attack happened in Parung, Bogor (Yuswanto
Victim blaming within religious groups 8
& Afifi, 2007 in Farkhan, 2012). In 2006, Ahmadis in Ketapang, West Nusa Tenggara province,
were exiled and still live in shelters up to now. In 2011, a violent attack occured in Cikeusik,
Pandeglang, Banten, resulting in the death of three people. In Manis Lor village, Kuningan,
attacks occured in 2002, 2007, and 2010 (Farkhan, 2012). In 2015, an Ahmadiyya Mosque in
Tebet, Jakarta, was sealed after quarrels between Ahmadis and other Muslims (Murti, 2015).
Currently, Ahmadiyya members have been banned, even by the government, from doing certain
religious activities, such as giving sermons outside of their group or holding mass recitation
openly (Mahmuddin, 2008 in Farkhan, 2012). Religious activities can only be conducted inside
their own domain to avoid social turmoil. As a consequence, Ahmadiyya members have
difficulty getting an e-KTP (electronic identity card), because they are not recognized as
legitimate.
Cases of heretic groups in Indonesia
Apart from Ahmadiyya, there are also other religious groups in Indonesia that are labeled
as heretics. This label is mostly given by the majority Sunni Muslims. Some of the groups are ,
for example, Shia Muslims, Gerakan Fajar Nusantara (Gafatar), Agama Djawa Sunda (ADS),
Himpunan Penghayat Kepercayaan (HPK) Masade, and Aji Saka.
According to those who are opposed to Shia, Shia is labeled as heretical because some of
their beliefs are considered different from those of the Sunnis. The biggest difference is in the
recognition given to Khalifa Abu Bakar, Umar, and Usman. Whereas the Shias only
acknowledge Khalifa Ali bin Abi Thalib, the Sunnis acknowledge all four. For an example of
outgroup treatment, persecution toward the Shia in Sampang in 2012 caused 37 damaged houses
(of Shia members), one death, and dozens of injured people. This conflict ended with the Shia
Victim blaming within religious groups 9
community relocating to Sidoarjo, giving in to the demands of the Sunnis (Mawuntyas, 2012;
Rufaedah & Hanifah 2015).
The Indonesian government also recently banned Gafatar, an organization that was
regarded as a deviant sect. Gafatar was founded by Ahmad Mushadeq, a member of Negara
Islam Indonesia (NII), in 1987. He established an organization called Al-Qiyadah al-Islamiyah in
2000 after discord between him and other NII members. The organization had around 8000
followers from various cities in Indonesia. In 2007 it was declared heretical and banned by MUI.
The reasons given were that they did not make mandatory the five pillars of Islam , and their
Shahada (declaration of faith) was different.
In 2009, Al-Qiyadah changed its name to Komunitas Millah Abraham (Komar). The
tenets were the same as Al-Qiyadah. Three years afterwards, Gafatar was established, with 14
provincial level managing organizations (Evan, 2016). Gafatar continued to grow, but was
banned from doing any activities by MUI and the government. MUI issued a fatwa on February
3, 2016, which declared Gafatar as deviant and heretical. On March 3, 2016, the government
issued a joint decree (Surat Keputusan Bersama/SKB) from three Ministries callin for order and
containing a warning to stop religious activities that deviate from the principal teachings of
Islam. Because of the fatwa and SKB, former Gafatar members could not socialize or do any of
their activities freely. They also could not give out any information about Gafatar for fear of
being accused of spreading their teachings, as was stated in the SKB (Wahid Institute, in
preparation).
Another example is the cult of Kyai Madrais or Agama Djawa Sunda (ADS) in Cigugur-
Kuningan, West Java, that had existed since before Indonesia’s independence. This group was
used as a political tool by the Dutch colonial government, because it was rejected by most santris
Victim blaming within religious groups 10
(students of Islamic boarding schools). The Kyai Madrais group was considered deviant because
their teachings were different from those of the majority Sunni Islam. For example, they did not
require circumcision and they buried bodies in coffins. In 1964, this group was officially
dissolved by the government due to pressure from the people of Kuningan and the santris
(Kemenag, 2011). Most Madrais followers then chose Catholic as their official religion. Even
though their beliefs were closer to Islam, the strong hate that they had experienced made them
unwilling to choose Islam. There were at least 1.770 Madrais followers who converted to
Catholic, including Pangeran Tejabuana, their leader at that time. In 1981, the second generation
of the Kyai Madrais founder, Pangeran Djatikusuma, founded Paguyuban Adat Cara Karuhun
Urang (PACKU). But that group was again dissolved the following year because it was
considered the same as Kyai Madrais. Because of this obstacle, the leader made PACKU a
traditional custom group, not an organization. He named it Adat Karuhun Urang (AKUR), and it
still exists today (Rosidi, 2011).
Another cult group was Masade in Lenganeng Village, Sangihe, North Sulawesi. This
group was close to Islam, but in 1990 it was declared un-Islamic by MUI and the Muslims
outside the Lenganeng Village. After that labeling, Kantor urusan agama (office of religious
affairs) refused to perform any religious marriage ceremony for Masade followers. Since then,
the followers have left behind the term “Islam Kaum Tua” and have changed their name to
Himpunan Penghayat Kepercayaan (HPK) Masade (Rosidi, 2011).
Aji Saka group in Rancagong, Legok, Tangerang, Banten, is another group that was
considered deviant. This group has existed in Legok since 1984. In 2015, they were disturbed
when their leaders were summoned by the village officials to explain their beliefs. The local
leader then declared a ban on Aji Saka’s activities because they were considered deviant. This
Victim blaming within religious groups 11
matter has been handled by Komnas HAM, but Aji Saka members still cannot conduct their
activities as freely as previously, and their good name has not been restored (Komnas HAM,
2015).
The present study
The present study was conducted in Indonesia, as there has been an increasing tendency
of violence and social exclusion by the majority Sunni Muslims toward minority religious groups
(Human Rights Watch, 2014). In particular, we recuited participants in and around Jakarta, the
capital city of Indonesia.We focused the study of victim blaming on Ahmadiyya, the group that
has been the most frequently reported as a victim of violence. By understanding the reasons why
Ahmadiyya is blamed, we hope that this study can help answer why groups accused of being
heretical are socially excluded, and can help find ways to resolve cases of victim blaming.
Method
Data collection and procedure
We collected qualitative data from three different field research projects. Two of them
included open-ended questions, which were parts of a questionnaire in an interreligious study.
We named these data as Data 1 and Data 2. Another set of qualitative data was collected from
interviews solely conducted for this study. We named this set Interview Data. Quotes from
interviewees’ statements, Data 1, and Data 2 are marked with ‘M’ for males and ‘F’ for females
(only from Data 1 and Data 2), followed by their age.
The open-ended questions and interview sections were presented in Indonesian language,
and participants with a clear religious identification of Sunni Muslim were invited to participate.
Before starting, participants were asked to fill in an informed consent form to confirm their
Victim blaming within religious groups 12
agreement to voluntarily participate in this research. Upon finishing, participants were debriefed
and thanked.
Data 1. Two hundred and eight Sunni Muslims (Males= 125; Females= 83; Mage= 23.65,
SD= 7.33, Minimum= 16, Maximum= 58) participated in the study and responded to 3 questions
regarding Ahmadiyya. First, participants were asked to rate which group, if conflict happened
between (Sunni) Muslims-Ahmadis or Muslims-Christians, would potentially face a worse
situation compared to the other ‘conflicting’ group [Ahmadiyya or Christians]. Subsequently
they were asked to write their reasons. Next, the participants were asked to describe their
attitudes towards the Ahmadiyya group and Christians in general.
Data 2.One hundred and one Sunni Muslims (Males= 32; Females= 69; Mages= 23.26,
SD= 8.84, Minimum= 17, Maximum= 53) participated in the study and responded to 2 questions
about Ahmadiyya. First, participants were asked to respond to a statement that the Ahmadiyya
group itself is the cause of the problems it faces. After that, they were asked to explain the
reasons of their response.
Interview data. Ten males participated in the interviews, with age ranging from 19 to 45
years (M= 26.10, SD= 7.08). We decided to use an all-male sample for several reasons. First, in
the Muslim world, males tend to be dominant and hold authority in interpreting how Muslims are
(Al Munajjid, 2001). Second, females, as a wife and/or a daughter, are supposed to follow the
leaders; a wife must obey her husband (Islamweb.net, 2014). Whereas we only interviewed male
participants, we already had information on women’s perception of Ahmadiyya from Data 1 and
Data 2.
In the interviews, interviewees were asked about interreligious groups: How Muslims
should see other groups, what they think about the Ahmadiyya group, and what Ahmadiyya
Victim blaming within religious groups 13
members think about majority Sunni Muslims, what they supposedly think about Christians, and
what Christians supposedly think about Muslims (i.e., Sunni Muslims). In the present study, we
will only report the data concerning Ahmadiyya.
Analysis
This study used thematic content analysis in order to identify common themes in the texts
provided for analysis. The text data were identified, coded, categorized into themes, and
translated (see Table 1). Two independent raters coded messages / statements that referred to the
themes we developed (see Hallgren, 2012). The results of inter-rater reliabilities (Cohen’s kappa)
ranged from k = 0.42 (similar faith) to k = 1.0 (smart). We decided to exclude some other themes
because of their lack of reliability (e.g. exclusive, undermining Islam, and tolerant group). In the
conditons where respondents gave multiple statements, we used multiple response analysis There
were two general themes that were identified as common features: (1) the enemy from within is
more dangerous; (2) because victim groups are troubling, they need to be blamed. In the
following we present the results for these two general themes.
[Table 1]
Results
The enemy from within is more dangerous
From Data 1, Muslim participants (N= 208) perceived that if conflict happens between
(Sunni) Muslims-Ahmadiyya or Muslims-Christians, the worst resulting conditions would
potentially be borne byAhmadiyya (f = 83.7%) members instead of Christians (f = 16.3%). This
would be because Ahmadiyya (N = 150) is considered to be heretic /deviant (f = 72.0%),
different from Islam (f= 25.3%), and troubling or a threat to Muslim society. (f = 16.0%).
Victim blaming within religious groups 14
When separately discussing Ahmadiyya (N = 150) and Christians (N = 72)
1
(see Table 2),
Christians were mentioned more positively (good/nice group= 50.0%) than Ahmadiyya
good/nice = 3.3%). Ahmadiyya were the most frequently perceived in relation to the themes
heretic/deviant (f = 32.7%), different from Islam (f = 13.3%), and troubling/a threat (f = 12.7%)
respectively.
Note in particular an attribute like heretic/deviant. From participants’ comments, it seems
that one of the reasons why they are attributed as a heretical group is because they deviate from
Islamic teaching principles:
[Indonesia]
Umat Ahmadiyah di Indonesia dipandang sebagai umat yang sesat, umat yang
lebih memilih gelap daripada terang. Islam itu satu, mengacu pada al-quran
dana ajaran-ajaran dari Nabi Muhammad. Mereka mengaku Islam yang benar
tetapi mereka tidak mengamalkan al-quran dan syariat-syariat agama
Islam.hidup agar selamat, tetaplah berpegang teguh pada keimanan dan
berpedoman kepada al-Quran, bukan menciptakan segolongan "Islam" yang baru
bagi segolongan umat.(F16).
[English]
Ahmadiyya members in Indonesia is seen as a group of deviants, a group that
chooses dark over light. Islam is one, referring to Al Quran and the teachings of
Prophet Muhammad. They claim to be the true Islam but they don’t practice the
Quran and the sharia. To be saved, keep holding on to the faith and be guided by
Quran, instead of creating a new kind of “Islam” for a certain group. (F16)
1
We have excluded respondents whose statements not included for further analysis, because of lacking reliability.
Victim blaming within religious groups 15
There are norms, values, and goals in a group to be followed by the members. For a
group to be able to exist over ages, aspects of norms and values are essentialized (Holtz
& Wagner, 2009; Wagner, Holtz, & Kashima, 2009.). Thus when a novel norm is
appraised as different from the essentialized norms, such a novel norm will be understood
as incompatible with the member guidelines. It happens in Ahmadiyya, as stated in one
participant comment:
[Indonesia]
Ahmadiyah yang bersumber dari agama Islam tapi dalam pelaksanaannya ada
pengubahan isi agama sehingga agama Islam yang mereka anut sudah melenceng
dari esensi agama Islam (F18).
[English]
Ahmadiyya is based on Islam, but in implementation there are modifications to
the beliefs, so that their version of Islam is a deviation from the essence of Islam
(F18).
From the comment above, it is understood that different, incompatible values cannot be
placed together. Once an incompatible value is forced into the codex of the essentialized
values, it is considered to be a subversive element in the group values (Sindic & Reicher,
2009).
Muslims who see Ahmadiyya as a deviant or heretical group , seem to be troubled
as members of Muslim society by Ahamdiyya’s activities.
[Indonesia]
Ahmadiyah merupakan aliran yang memahami Islam dalam ajaran Mirza
Ghulan Ahmad yang kemudian dalam masa selanjutnya dipahami sebagai
Victim blaming within religious groups 16
nabi.Hal ini yang bagi umat Islam (saya) tidak nyaman dengan
aktivitasnya yang tetap mengatasnamakan sebagai Islam (M24.)
[English]
Ahmadiyya is a group who understands Islam through the teachings of
Mirza Ghulan Ahmad, who was then regarded as a prophet. For a Muslim
(me), this causes discomfort, as in their activities they still bear the name
Islam (M24).
Ahmadiyya is interpreted as unrepresentative of Islam, thus their existence might
threaten the continuity of essentialized Islamic values. Ingroup Muslims are
uncomfortable with Ahmadiyya activities because they think that a tainted
religion will lessen the blessings received from the true religion.
Because they are troubling, they need to be blamed
For Data 2, Sunni participants (N= 101) were asked to respond to the statement that the
cause of the problems is Ahmadiyya itself. Sixty two participants (61.4 %) agreed with the
statement, 16 (15.8%) disagreed, and 23 (22.8%) took a neutral or ambiguous position.
Concentrating on participants who agreed with the statement and gave reasons (N = 49), we can
see that Ahmadiyya was perceived by them as a heretic/deviant group (f = 75.5%), as a group
which cannot exist/banned group (f = 22.4%), as troubling/threatening (f = 20.4%), and as
different from Islam (f = 12.2%).
The characteristics of deviant and threatening or troubling affected the most strongly the
reason why respondents agreed to the statement that the cause of the problems came from
Ahmadiyya itself. One of the statements given by a respondent was as follows:
[Indonesia]
Victim blaming within religious groups 17
…. [P]ada dasarnya ajaran Ahmadiyah memang sudah terang-terangan sesat
dengan mempercayai selain Nabi Muhammad SAW dan 24 Nabi lainnya.
Dikhawatirkan apabila kegiatan agama mereka terus berlangsung akan
berdampak buruk pada ajaran syariat Islam (F21).
Ahmadiyah merupakan sumber masalah tapi tidak terlepas dari pemegang
kekuasaan yang tidak menyikapi persoalan ini dengan bijaksana & seolah
membiarkan.(M46)
[English]
... [B]asically, Ahmadiyya is obviously heretical by believing in a prophet other
than Muhammad SAW and the other 24 prophets. It is feared that if their religious
activities keep going, it will have a negative impact on Islamic beliefs (F21).
Ahmadiyya is the source of the problem, but this is also connected to the people of
power who did not address this issue wisely and is letting them be (M46).
This extract from M46 clearly explains that the source of the bad things faced by
Ahmadiyya members is to be found within the group itself.
All Islamic groups accept the Quran as a sacred text. Their various interpretations of the
Quran and their different practices of worship are what differentiate them from one another.
Differences within Islamic groups are considered a grace, but this only applies to groups who are
still within the ‘Islamic corridor’ (Putra et al., 2016; Alam, 2008). But what are the limits of that
corridor? How far can a group be beyond the limits and still be categorized as Islam, and from
which point on are they outside the corridor of Islam? In the case of Ahmadiyya, some
Victim blaming within religious groups 18
respondents have determined that Ahmadiyya is outside of the Islamic corridor since they accept
a prophet after Muhammad.
2
From interview data, two of interviewees explained:
[Indonesia]
Sebenarnya ahmadiyah mengakui bahwa mereka itu adalah Islam akan tetapi mereka
menyatakan bahwa adanya Nabi setelah Nabi Muhammad SAW. Sedangkan didalam
Islam diajarkan bahwa Nabi terakhir itu adalah Nabi Muhammad SAW. Jadi Islam
memandang ahmadiyah itu seperti nggak punya pendirian (M19).
Itu ajaran terlarang, itu mereka dapat darimana bahwa ada rasul lagi setelah nabi
Muhammad SAW.mereka Itu ngarang. Yang saya tahu nabi terakhir itu Cuma nabi
Muhammad SAW.Itu mereka siapa gurunya.Gak bisa diganggu gugat lagi.Saya cari tuh
gurunya, dapat darimana ajaran itu, saya cari (M28).
[English]
Actually Ahmadiyya claim to be Islam, but they state that there was another prophet after
Muhammad SAW, while in Islam it is taught that the last prophet is Prophet Muhammad
SAW. So Islam sees Ahmadiyya as fickle (M19).
This is a forbidden teaching, where do they get the idea that there was another prophet
after Muhammad SAW? That’s made up. What I know is that the last prophet is only
Prophet Muhammad SAW. Who’s their teacher? That’s inviolable. I want to know the
teacher, where did he get that belief, I want to know (M28).
Beliefs and practices that are considered to be “so” different rather than similar, like
Ahmadiyya’s beliefs compared to other mainstream Muslim groups, can be understood as a
2
This accusation has been clarified by an Ahmadiyya representative concerning their interpretation about the
prophet. For Ahmadiyyah, Muhammad is considered to be the last or the end prophet for making any new religions.
They believe that there will still be a messiah who can save the world and end the wars.
Victim blaming within religious groups 19
disruption. Such a large divergence can undermine group values. For this reason, violence
targeting Ahmadiyya members is understood as not solely the perpetrator’s mistake, because it is
believed to be triggered by Ahmadiyya itself. Interviewees explained:
[Indonesia]
Ya mungkin salah dulunya, mungkin itu kesalahan ahmadiyah awalnya.Ko mereka
melenceng dari ajaran agama islam. Biarpun mereka islam, tapi bedalah dengan islam
yang sekarang. Mungkin mereka marah lah, islam yang sesungguhnya marah. Kenapa
mereka melenceng lah dari ajaran islamnya sendiri gitu.Ya pantas aja ada konflik-
konflik kaya gitu. (M28).
Interviewer : Yop, menurut anda apakah benar ya letak permasalahannya itu ada di
Ahmadiyah?
Interviewee : ya,,benar, karena mereka yang bikin umat islam pada umumnya panas
dan emosi, yaitu dengan mengaku islam tapi ajarannya sudah salah
secara total, apalai mengaku ada nabi lagi setelah nabi Muhammad
(M23).
[English]
Well maybe it was Ahmadiyya’s fault at the beginning. Why do they deviate from Islamic
teachings? Even though they are Islam, it is different from Islam now. Maybe they are
angry, the real Islam is angry. Why do they deviate from the real Islam itself? No
wonder there are conflicts like that. (Bidin, M28).
Interviewer : Yop, in your opinion, is it true that the problem lies in Ahmadiyya?
Interviewee : Yes, true, because they’re the one who made Muslims in general
bothered and angry, by claiming to be Islam. But the teachings are totally
Victim blaming within religious groups 20
wrong, especially acknowledging another prophet after Muhammad
[M23]
In addition, some interviewees also perceived that such violence toward Ahamdiyya is wrong,
but sometimes it is needed to change erroneous ideas.
[Indonesia]
Sebenarnya sih kerusahan kalo ada kekerasan sangat disayangkan. Tetapi itu ibaratnya
kita hanya meluruskan sesuai apa yang telah diaqidahkan (M48).
[English]
Actually riots and violence are unfortunate. But it was like we only right what was
wrong, according to the creed (M48).
Discussion
Our study found that representations of Ahmadiyya among majority Sunni Muslims in
Indonesia are linked to the interpretation of acts of mistreatment against Ahmadiyya members.
We found that Sunni Muslims who see Ahmadiyya as deviating from Islamic values view
Ahmadiyya more negatively than non-Muslim groups (i.e. Christians). Consequently,
Ahmadiyya is regarded by them as a disruptive or troubling group, because they have tainted
essential elements of Islamic values. Hence, violence targeting Ahmadiyya is deemed acceptable,
because Ahmadis are also perceived as “a stone-headed” group which does not want to change
their values to be in line with mainstream Islamic values.
It is almost trivial that different groups will differ to a certain degree. However, a given
subgroup will continue to be considered part of a common group whenever similarity is found to
be more salient than dissimilarity. If dissimilarity is more salient, the sub-group will not be
considered to be part of a common group. Under certain conditions, such a group can be
Victim blaming within religious groups 21
regarded as ‘deviant’ or as ‘heretic’ in the case of a religious group. Ahmadiyya, for some
reason, is categorized as strongly divergent from Sunni Islam (Putra et al., 2015; Burhani, 2014).
In our study, the case of Ahmadiyya in Indonesia indicates that the deviant sub-group is
considered more dangerous than rival outgroups such as Christianity (Putra & Wagner,
forthcoming).
Previous studies have shown that ingroup members with incompatible values can
potentially be perceived as undermining the ontological meaning of a group’s identity (Wagner,
Holtz, & Kashima, 2009; Sindic & Reicher, 2009; Holtz & Wagner, 2009). Incompatible values
can be regarded as a trigger for dominant majority group members to think that the mere
existence of such a deviant group may damage the group identity, thus making them
inconvenient and threatening. For this reason, it can be understood why the enemy from within is
considered more dangerous than a hostile outgroup; the ingroup is undermined by the invisible
enemies masquerading as part of the group.
We argue that perceiving Ahmadiyya as ‘dangerous’, that is, as an enemy from within, is
an antecedent for Muslims to step up in blaming Ahmadiyya for acts of violence against
themselves. Moreover, our study shows that the reasons for blaming Ahmadiyya can be
explained with three models of reasoning. First, when Sunni Muslims think that Ahmadiyya’s
values are heretical and troubling, violence towards them is understood as something they
deserve (Hafer, 2000). In other words, “Ahmadiyya got what they deserved”. Second, some
Sunni Muslim respondents might think that violence perpetrated by fellow Muslims seems
wrong, but sometimes such violence is needed to teach a lesson and provide a deterrent effect
(Castano and Giner-Sorolla, 2006). In other words, “violence is considered wrong but it is not
that bad”, thus the Muslim perpetrators do not need to be sanctioned. Third, such violence is
Victim blaming within religious groups 22
understood to have happened because of Ahmadiyya’s very existence (i.e., values). Because of
their troubling values, violence appears as the consequence. Here, violence is used as a tool to
ban Ahamdiyya. In this reasoning, “it is because of Ahmadiyya’s existence, therefore violence
occurs.”
The study presented here focused on understanding victim blaming with regard to the
Ahmadiyya group. It is clear that the reasons we found for the victim blaming of the Ahmadiyya
might apply to other cases of victimized groups as well. Therefore, further research is needed to
explore the victim blaming phenomenon with regard to other groups.
In conclusion, the present study has revealed several potential reasons why a group is
blamed. In the context of intra-religious groups, a sub-group might first be labeled as heretical,
that is, incompatible with common religious values, or so different that the group could taint or
undermine religious values of the ‘mainstream’ group. Second, their existence is then regarded
as a threat and as a disruption for members of the mainstream group. In the end, when violence is
perpetrated by a dominant majority group, the blame will be borne by the victims because of
their negative characteristics.
Victim blaming within religious groups 23
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