Jakarta Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, center, with his defense team at his blasphemy trial on Tuesday (21/03). (Antara Photo/Muhammad Adimaja)

Expert Witness Deplores Indonesian Ulema Council Edict Against Ahok

BY :BAYU MARHAENJATI

MARCH 22, 2017

Jakarta. Ahmad Ishomuddin, a renowned cleric from Nadhlatul Ulama — Indonesia's largest Islamic organization — has criticized in court an edict issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council in October last year that accused Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama of insulting the Koran and ulemas during a speech on Pramuka Island in the capital's Thousand Islands district.

Speaking as an expert witness at Ahok's blasphemy trial on Tuesday (21/03), Ahmad criticized MUI’s stance on the blasphemy allegations against the Jakarta governor.

"I agree with the need to maintain [religious] harmony. However, I disagree with [MUI's] decision [to issue an edict]," Ahmad said during the trial at a makeshift courtroom in the Ministry of Agriculture headquarters in Ragunan, South Jakarta.

"I was informed that MUI did no investigation [before issuing the edict]. MUI did not interview residents on Pramuka Island and never asked for any statement from Ahok," he said.

"Awliya": leader or loyal friend?

Ahmad also offered his interpretation of the word "awliya" in verse 51 of the Koran's Al Maida chapter, which Ahok referred to in his Pramuka Island speech.

Ahok had criticized his political opponents who he said had been quoting the Koranic verse to persuade people not to vote for him. The verse is often interpreted as saying that Muslims should not choose a Jew or a Christian as their leader ("awliya").

But, according to Ahmad, "'Awliya' actually means a loyal friend. Some may [interpret it to mean 'leader'], but according to my study of over 30 commentaries on the Koran, no one had ever interpreted the word to mean 'leader.'"

People should also consider the extra-textual context of Al Maida 51, according to Ahmad, who said the verse spoke about treason during time of war. But during the Jakarta election, it has often been referred to out of that context.

Ahmad added that before accusing Ahok of blasphemy, his accusers should have clarified his intention in referring to the Koranic verse.

"Islam does not allow us to judge before making clarification. This also applies to non-Muslims," he said.

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