Clashes in Jember rattle community

Leaders of rival groups pledge to restore peace after riot leaves one dead in East Java town.

By Yenny Herawati for Khabar Southeast Asia in Jakarta

September 28, 2013
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Community leaders in Jember, East Java are working to restore communal harmony after violence between two rival Muslim groups.

  • Policemen stand guard outside Pesantren Darus Sholihin in Puger Kulon, Jember, East Java on September 11th after it was attacked by a rival Muslim group that damaged facilities inside. Several motorcycles were set on fire and a local man was killed in the violence. [AFP]

    Policemen stand guard outside Pesantren Darus Sholihin in Puger Kulon, Jember, East Java on September 11th after it was attacked by a rival Muslim group that damaged facilities inside. Several motorcycles were set on fire and a local man was killed in the violence. [AFP]

At a September 18th meeting Puger Kulon, the town where the riot broke out, leaders of the two groups committed themselves to seeking reconciliation.

Jember Regent M.Z.A. Djalal described the accord as a "preliminary peace" ahead of a permanent deal he would try to mediate in a month's time, according to Tempo.

During that time, the two sides agreed they would refrain from any activity involving large groups, or that could be construed as provocative, Djalal said. They also pledged not to involve any parties from outside of Puger in their dispute.

"Both sides agreed that the law enforcement procedures already under way should go forward," Djalal was quoted as saying.

Parade prompts attack on school

The dispute flared on September 11th when students of Pesantren Darus Sholihin and its director, Habib Ali Al-Habsy, held a parade to mark Indonesia's Independence Day, which is August 17th.

Some local residents had warned the school community not to march outside its campus. Aware of the controversy, police declined to issue a permit for the parade.

Angry that it went forward anyway, a group of people launched an attack on the school, using machetes, sickles, and knives. The school was damaged, and several motorcycles were burned. One local villager, Eko Mardi Santoso, died in the melee.

School community members say the attackers were followers of local religious leader Ustad Fauzi.

A cleric from Darus Sholihin, Aribi, said that he was surprised by the attack. "I was inside the mosque, and many of Fauzi's followers were suddenly attacking us," he told Khabar. "I was not sure how they got into the pesantren or why they were attacking us."

A rivalry among religious groups?

Some local people said the conflict was rooted in animosity between Sunni and Shia Muslims, while others claimed it was a matter of local figures competing for influence. The religious affiliation of the pesantren – identified in some reports as being affiliated with Shia Islam – remains unclear.

Abdullah Syamsul Arifin, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in Jember, said that prior to the incident, respect and tolerance prevailed among different religious communities in the region.

"It is very saddening that the clashes happened in our community. This incident should be a lesson learned," he told Khabar on September 13th. "Sunni and Shia followers everywhere must be reunited and renew their commitment to respect each other and accept their differences."

But the head of Ahlul Bait Indonesia, the country's main Shia organization, has denied that Darus Sholihin was a school for Shia Muslims. Although its director may have quoted Shia references, he said, it was not part of this branch of Islam. He said it was important to ensure that such misperceptions do not cause similar clashes elsewhere in Indonesia.

Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali told reporters that the dispute was simply the result of a local rivalry and was not rooted in differences of religious belief.

"This is not at all a Sunni-Shia problem, but [involves] competition between groups: the group led by Ustad Fauzi and the group led by Habib Ali Al-Habsy. It's not a religious issue," he said after meeting with East Java Police Chief Unggung Cahyono on September 14th.

Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto called on local leaders to exert a positive influence. "Law enforcement has a duty to maintain security, but the root of the problem usually comes from the community," The Jakarta Post quoted him as saying.

"Violence cannot be accepted, whatever the cause may be," the minister said.

"We want conflict to end"

Local leaders appear ready to help restore harmony in the area. Habib Isa Mahdi Al-Habsy, son of the pesantren's leader, welcomed the agreement.

"Alhamdulillah, this preliminary peace can become permanent," he said, according to Tempo.

Ustad Fauzi, meanwhile, said he would guarantee that his followers respect the deal. "We want conflict to end, and we are prepared to follow all the points of the agreement," he said.

"I hope this is the end of religious violence in our region. I hope the government will also pay attention to the issue to assure that this will not happen again," Badri Hasyim, a Jember resident, told Khabar.

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