Mar 12, 2019

Indonesia sees rise in number of self-proclaimed prophets promising to save the nation

ABC News

March 13, 2018

By Erwin Renaldi


It is a time of purported visions and miracles for tens of thousands of Indonesians, as the world's most populous Muslim nation experiences a rise in the number of self-proclaimed prophets thanks to social media.

Key points:

·        Many self-proclaimed prophets claim they have received revelations directly from God and angels

·        The rise of social media has increased the prominence of new religious groups

·        Many are being persecuted under laws against blasphemy pushed by conservative forces

But the emergence of new religious movements claiming divine connections, which often draw on elements of Islam and Christianity, has been highly controversial in the increasingly conservative Muslim nation.

Several new religious leaders and their followers have already been prosecuted and imprisoned under the country's strict blasphemy laws.

Al Makin, an Indonesian expert in new religious movements at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta, said the movements had gained traction mainly due to increased exposure on social media and people seeking answers during periods of economic and political uncertainty.

"Their existence often stems from uncertainties surrounding an unstable political climate," he said, referring to the widespread social instability after the fall of former president Suharto and the 1998 Asian financial crisis, which caused job losses and increased poverty.

He said the emergence of a "prophet" often came from attempts to seek answers to social insecurities through new beliefs that retained familiar elements of existing structures, such as Christianity and Islam.

Professor Makin estimated about 600 Indonesians had claimed to be the recipients of "divine revelations" since the the colonial period ended after World War II.

But despite Indonesia's traditional religious and cultural diversity, the emergence of conservative Islamist politics in recent decades had seen many new "prophets" face increasing persecution.

'Give us permission for our UFO to land'

The belief structures of each group varies wildly: one believes the angel Gabriel will return to Earth in a UFO, while others claim to be replacements for the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

One of the most high-profile cases of the phenomenon dates back about 20 years.

Lia Aminuddin — also known as Lia Eden — a former Jakarta-based florist, has over the last 20 years claimed to have been appointed by the angel Gabriel as the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, ostensibly to save people from the day of reckoning.

The now-70-year-old established the cult Eden Kingdom, encouraging members to wear white to maintain their purity.

She once wrote to Indonesian President Joko Widodo asking for permission for a UFO to land to collect her followers.

"We hope that President Jokowi will approve and give us permission for our UFO to land," she said.


Under Indonesian legislation, blasphemy, or any public expression of hostility, hatred or contempt against the five recognised religions of the state — Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism — is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years.

In 2006, Aminuddin was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in jail following her calls to abolish official religions in Indonesia. Three years later in 2009, she received another two-and-half-year sentence for a similar offence.

Professor Makin said given Indonesia was historically built on a diverse set of beliefs that spanned the archipelago nation, criminalising anyone on the basis of their religious beliefs was wrong.

"This phenomenon of fake prophets should have been seen as a test as to the extent of Indonesia's respect and tolerance towards other religions and beliefs," he told the ABC.

"Unfortunately, we are not that tolerant — many of them were dragged to court, jailed, and even accused of insanity."


Notable examples of the laws being used and causing uproar include the cases of a Buddhist woman in North Sumatra who complained that a mosque was too loud, and the imprisonment of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over comments he made about the Koran.

New 'prophets' now gaining thousands of followers

More recently, Sensen Komara from West Java claimed to be a messenger from God after receiving messages in his dreams, and he has since attracted about 4,000 followers.

As a part of his teachings, he changed the Islamic pledge to replace the prophet Mohammed's name with his own.

Komara was charged with blasphemy last year after his teachings were condemned as "astray" by the Indonesian Ulema Council [MUI], the peak Muslim body in Indonesia, but judges later ruled him unfit to stand trial due to mental illness and ordered he be sent to a psychiatric hospital for rehabilitation.

But due to a lack of funding, he has now been released to continue his teachings.

Ahmad Musadeq is a self-proclaimed messiah and the founder of Gerakan Fajar Nusantara (Gafatar), considered to be an Islamic sect with more than 55,000 followers, making him one of the most popular prophets in Indonesia.

The group has been banned, with members often victims of "worsening intolerance, discrimination and violence against religious minorities in Indonesia", according to Human Rights Watch, and thousands forced to flee after angry mobs burnt their homes in Kalimantan province in 2016.

In 2017, Musadeq was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of blasphemy for "mixing religions", according to a district court.


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