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Fatwa on vocal Indonesian moderate

From Atika Shubert, CNN Correspondent

Religious debate is exposing a widening gulf between moderates and a radical fringe
Religious debate is exposing a widening gulf between moderates and a radical fringe

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CNN's Atika Shubert reports on Indonesian clerics issuing a fatwa against a Muslim moderate for his writings on Islam.
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start quoteIt makes my blood boil, such a shameful statement against something exalted and noble.end quote
-- Ali Athian, muslim cleric

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, is locked in an ideological battle between the moderate majority and an increasingly vocal radical fringe.

Indonesia's role in the war on terror is creating an intense debate, one that has led to calls to execute one of the most outspoken moderates.

Ulil Abdalla Abshalla has stirred controversy, declaring that, among other ideas, there is no such thing as Islamic law and that the Prophet Muhammed was merely a historical figure, open to criticism.

Ulil wanted debate. Instead he received a fatwa, a religious ruling that in this case charged him with blasphemy -- punishable by death.

"This is a threat to the whole Islamic intellectual debate in Indonesia," said Ulil.

"If you are not a good Muslim, covering your head or dressing in an Islamic manner, you are not eligible to talk or speak about Islam whatsoever," said Ulil of the Islam Liberal Network.

A fatwa first

The fatwa represents the first time Indonesian clerics have issued such a threat against another Muslim leader.

The government refuses to recognize the fatwa and thus has no legal standing. But that may not stop zealous followers from justifying and carrying out the threat.

Muslim cleric Athian Ali helped to draft the fatwa.

"Honestly, as a Muslim it makes my blood boil, such a shameful statement against something exalted and noble. That's why we put out this reminder that, according to Islamic law, anyone who slanders Islam can be punished with death," Athian.


Moderate leaders have condemned the death threat, but have also criticized Ulil's combative style.

"He is very brave to make such writings. And the way he expresses his ideas is something like vulgar or blunt. It makes things worse. Ulil thinks that the material will convince them. But, no, it's counter-productive," said Solauhuddin Wahid of Nahdlatul Ulama, a muslim scholars' organization founded in 1926.

Ulil continues to defend his controversial views, though he is now flanked by bodyguards.

Islamic intellectual debate is thriving in Indonesia, due in no small part to the global war on terror. But Ulil's supporters warn that death threats are stifling that debate and endangering Indonesia's freedom of religion.

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