Former jihadist now wages a campaign for peace

Dogged by suspicion and financial hardship, a former JI and NII member now supports deradicalisation efforts in Indonesia.

By Zahara Tiba for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

December 08, 2012
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The day Ahmad Sajuli left his family, house, and country to wage jihad in Afghanistan is the day he will probably regret all his life, not just because he has to deal with financial hardship, but also because he has to face the stigma of being labelled a terrorist.

  • Ahmad Sajuli, 48, is an Indonesian jihadist who fought in Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s, but feels that militant and terrorist groups have distorted the meaning of jihad.  He is chairman of the Ex-Afghan Combatant Communication Forum, a newly formed group supporting deradicalisation efforts in Indonesia. [Zahara Tiba/Khabar]

    Ahmad Sajuli, 48, is an Indonesian jihadist who fought in Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s, but feels that militant and terrorist groups have distorted the meaning of jihad. He is chairman of the Ex-Afghan Combatant Communication Forum, a newly formed group supporting deradicalisation efforts in Indonesia. [Zahara Tiba/Khabar]

Joining a youth organisation in a mosque in Jakarta's Tanjung Priok back in 1984, Ahmad was introduced to the Indonesian Islamic State (NII), an organisation aimed at turning the country into an Islamic state under sharia law. He was then 20 years old and married.

A year after the recruitment, NII offered him a chance to go to Afghanistan, where a war had broken out between the Afghan Mujahideens and the former Soviet Union.

"I was a naïve and uncritical young man with limited knowledge. It was easy for them to indoctrinate me," the 48-year-old Ahmad told Khabar Southeast Asia. "I agreed to join the jihad because as a Muslim it is suggested to help other Muslims with their problems. It shows the brotherhood of Islam."

Leaving his family and country was a hard decision. He had to lie to his family, telling them that he went to Afghanistan for work.

As soon as he arrived there, Ahmad faced things he had never experienced before.

"I was sent into a military academy in a border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan for some time. There I was trained as a soldier and learned how to use guns, before joining the real war," Ahmad recalled.

"I called it the real meaning of jihad. We had a specific war zone, real enemies, and rules. I still remember how we had to walk for 10km to the war zone. It was prohibited for us to destroy anything we passed by, to steal, and of course to kill children and women, even animals," he added.

Today, Ahmad feels, the concept of jihad has been distorted by extremist groups who choose civilians as their targets. Even women and children are frequent victims of their acts.

"The definition of jihad here in Indonesia is going off track," he told Khabar. "They are probably taking, without examining it critically, Osama bin Laden's fatwa [purportedly] authorizing Muslims to kill Americans and their allies everywhere in the world."

"Indonesia is not a war zone. It is a peaceful country. Jihad is needed when the country is under attack from outsiders," Ahmad said.

The tough road home

Ahmad stayed in Afghanistan for three years, then moved to Malaysia where he stayed for 17 years and opened a fabric store. But he was deported in 2006, after the second Bali bombing, because he had joined Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the group responsible for the attacks. Although he says he was not personally involved, the Malaysian government confiscated all his money.

Today he lives in Depok, West Java, and sells kebabs and cookies to support his family. But he lives with the knowledge that many people suspect him of being a terrorist.

Ahmad said he and about 300 of his fellow ex-combatants are under a constant cloud of suspicion, and unfairly linked to almost every attack in the country. So he and his friends established the Ex-Afghanistan Combatants Communication Forum (Forum Komunikasi Eks-Afghanistan), which registered as an official public organisation in October.

The forum aims to help fight radicalisation and terrorism through public discussions and other efforts, and has been working with the National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) to support its deradicalisation efforts, he said.

The BNPT has also been supporting the forum, psychologist Sarlito Wirawan Sarwono, an advisor to the agency, told Khabar.

"Part of our strategy for fighting radicalism and terrorism is inviting them to participate in our projects, giving them life skills, training, and giving them legal assistance to establish the forum as an official organisation for its members," he said.

Terrorism analyst Al Chaidar, a lecturer at Malikus Saleh University of Aceh, said Ahmad's group could be a very effective voice for deradicalisation, and hoped the government would seriously support it.

"The forum has a big influence on radical groups. I can say it is an effective way to fight radicalism and terrorism," he said.

A voice for peace

Ahmad is also looking for more support for the forum, since the government's budget is very small. In 2013, he is planning to open deradicalisation programmes to the public and radical groups, including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Forum Betawi Rempug (FBR) – both known for their violent actions over the past few years.

"We hope both private and state companies can help us succeed with these programmes," Ahmad said.

Ahmad was amazed by how many people attended an August 14th anti-terrorism discussion sponsored by the forum together with the Police Science Research Centre of the University of Indonesia. The event took place in Jakarta's Manggarai subdistrict.

"They were all enthusiastic to learn more about it. One of the participants was a housewife, saying that she would never know about it had she not attended the discussion. She said she is now more aware of radicalisation that might threaten her family at any time," Ahmad said.

Reader Comments
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    • abdullah
      June 22, 2014 @ 07:06:07PM
    • Thinking is good but as we contemplate the treacherous road of life we must take care not to become trapped. Life is a choice and hopefully you won't make a mistake in your choice.
    • abdul kadir
      April 30, 2014 @ 11:04:07AM
    • Restructuring thought is one of the positive things that can be done by those who have deviated in their thoughts.
    • A.Widodo
      February 26, 2013 @ 01:02:35AM
    • As an Indonesian who desires a safe, prosperous and tolerant country, my thumbs up to Mr. Ahmad Sajuli who recognizes that jihad is not just arm up for war, but also for the unity of the country without discrimination of its people. Keep on eliminating the anarchists and those who undermine the authority of Indonesia as a nation.
    • nuryatna
      February 22, 2013 @ 08:02:22PM
    • I do agree
    • temi
      February 19, 2013 @ 07:02:25PM
    • very good...
    • aad
      February 19, 2013 @ 07:02:17AM
    • good.... good....
    • berly
      February 16, 2013 @ 08:02:25AM
    • What are you doing?
    • nadra
      February 16, 2013 @ 02:02:02AM
    • It's the best.
    • alifia
      February 15, 2013 @ 11:02:56PM
    • good
    • Andi
      February 15, 2013 @ 12:02:56AM
    • Good.....
    • FARID
      February 13, 2013 @ 02:02:18AM
    • Jihad the right way as taught by the prophet of Allah. Isn't the prophet both Uswatun Khasanah (role model) and Rohmatan Lil'Alamin (gift to the world)?
    • ayu
      February 11, 2013 @ 09:02:55PM
    • Onwards, no retreat.
    • rahma
      February 8, 2013 @ 02:02:56AM
    • Oh my, just have patience.
    • bintang
      February 7, 2013 @ 05:02:10AM
    • It should be like other newspapers.
    • harry
      February 5, 2013 @ 06:02:46PM
    • Assalamualaikum, an expensive process in life. Keep fighting for glory and guide yourself with balanced precepts.
    • fawwas
      February 5, 2013 @ 06:02:31PM
    • You have trillions in money but you're already bent. I hope you go to hell.
    • udin
      February 4, 2013 @ 08:02:48PM
    • stay strong in patience. May Allah SWT alw3ays be with you Mr.Ahmad.
    • nail
      February 4, 2013 @ 06:02:18PM
    • jihad ... go head !!!
    • arif kurniawan.
      February 3, 2013 @ 11:02:10PM
    • We must live according to our own religious beliefs.
    • Jonathan Fikri
      January 31, 2013 @ 02:01:12AM
    • Strong faith and devotion towards Allah SWT.
    • Kelly
      January 30, 2013 @ 11:01:40AM
    • good
    • ranielt
      January 30, 2013 @ 02:01:18AM
    • Ahmad Sajuli is an amazing person who transformed himself for Peace! His experience will have meaninful impact in touching the lives of many who were deceived on the real spirit of Jihad and purpose of Islam. Everyone has the freedom to choose his/her religion, believing that that there exists a Supreme being.
    • Aris jatmiko
      January 28, 2013 @ 08:01:44PM
    • That's right Mr. Ahmad. Jihad is the struggle for the glory of man.
    • m shabil lee
      January 28, 2013 @ 07:01:38PM
    • Be patience and persever will be eventually be rewarded by Allah
    • Mr ahmad jaenudin
      January 27, 2013 @ 07:01:11AM
    • Well, thank goodness he repents. This is how hunting criminals should be done, having a friend reach out. But he should be wary not to fall victim to his friend.
    • Hidayat Jonas Manggis.Ssos MAp
      January 26, 2013 @ 05:01:55PM
    • It would be better if we do not bring religion into our actions because all the strength and knowledge we have are nothing compared to those of the prophet Muhammad S.A.W. Our prophet set many good examples for all his followers. Shouldn't we all return the favor and teach those who are weaker than ourselves? Including those who are financially weak? Wassalam HJM.
    • jagolila
      January 26, 2013 @ 01:01:20AM
    • soldaritas for Muslim brothers and sisters, why not.?
    • ida
      January 22, 2013 @ 03:01:43AM
    • Stay strong.
    • fikihpasawali
      January 21, 2013 @ 08:01:43PM
    • You don't know what you're talking about.
    • Swarna Dwipayana
      January 20, 2013 @ 11:01:47PM
    • Do jihad on the path of Allah SWT. Behaving in a praiseworthy manner is true jihad.
    • nurrohmah
      January 20, 2013 @ 01:01:03AM
    • For my friends who are affected by the flood and other disasters please be courageous. I am praying for you.
    • moch ali
      January 18, 2013 @ 01:01:08AM
    • As Indonesians, jihad should be applied through a sovereign nation and guided by the 4 pillars of nationalism.
    • indonesia
      January 16, 2013 @ 12:01:56PM
    • Well.
    • mozihano
      January 10, 2013 @ 08:01:09PM
    • Your jihadist spirit has faded.
    • risma mawar dayanti
      January 10, 2013 @ 12:01:17AM
    • Where is the map of Indonesia?
    • eddy samsidi
      January 9, 2013 @ 07:01:35AM
    • We need to make more deradicalization forums.
    • ricky gusti randa
      January 3, 2013 @ 05:01:56AM
    • wow amazing
    • fiqri better
      January 2, 2013 @ 09:01:25AM
    • Please activate.
    • Sukijan
      January 1, 2013 @ 08:01:14AM
    • Solidarity and unity of Muslims are very much needed when explaining the true meaning of jihad.
    • aiko
      December 31, 2012 @ 08:12:24AM
    • Please do not use the word 'jihadist' to describe bad people. Jihad means struggling with all of one's might towards a good purpose, similar to the Japanese word 'ganbaru'. Jihad is not war. In my opinion, everyone needs to practice jihad. Students practice jihad through their studies, workers practice jihad for their families, a mother practices jihad when she gives birth to her children. Even protecting oneself, one's family, and possessions are all considered jihad.
    • moch ali
      December 28, 2012 @ 01:12:36AM
    • If the mission is indeed for jihad, it should not be done through brutality or anarchistic demonstrations. Rather, we should convey our ideas through diplomacy and seminars.
    • imamgozllag
      December 27, 2012 @ 09:12:57AM
    • yes
    • Husni Tamrin
      December 27, 2012 @ 01:12:07AM
    • Peaceful greetings. I agree that the forum led by Mr. Ahmad can effectively influence and clarify the meaning of Jihad for Muslims and can hopefully make the people who have been indoctrinated with radical Islamic principles realize what happened.
    • Indri Lestari
      December 25, 2012 @ 09:12:02PM
    • Wow, this is a very cool article.
    • Hermansyah
      December 25, 2012 @ 11:12:48AM
    • Quite good, I'm interested.
    • nordin omor
      December 24, 2012 @ 07:12:00PM
    • As a Muslim,genuine,sincerity,honesty are important.He exchanges indeed great experiences and doing nice good effort for mankinds.Should every one gives him support to bring up the correct perceptions and clear views about what he had gone through.
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