In the land of ulema, the price of breaking with the past

The attacks and killings in Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages did not only send tremors through Sampang, but have shaken Jakarta’s elites. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held an impromptu meeting with aides and sent his top officials to Sampang. Jakarta blames poor intelligence for not detecting the seeds of conflict sooner.

In his office in Sampang, Rudy Setiadhi, the official in charge of local political security, showed rows of photographs, including those of meetings with the ulema in Madura, officials in Sampang and the cleric Tajul Muluk.

Rudy said Jakarta was mistaken. “I’ve been involved in mediation here since 2006,” he said. “This is proof that the Sampang government has tried its best to resolve the conflict.”

Rudy said that Tajul had offended the Madura ulema by bringing Shia teachings to Sampang. “Tajul is quite an arrogant person. He thinks that kampong clerics are nothing compared to him.”

Around March this year, Tajul’s brother and arch-enemy Roisul Hukamah, a convert to the Sunni denomination, distributed a recording of Tajul speaking to a follower on the phone to clerics in Madura.

In the transcript, shown to The Jakarta Post, Tajul blasts the Sampang regent for sucking up to the ulema for political gain.

He also said that in Sampang, uneducated clerics could become head of Islamic organizations. “Isn’t that showing disrespect to the ulema here?” Rudy asked.

Culture is important in Madura.There is a hierarchy of respect on the island. Both Rudy and Sampang regent Noer Tjahja say they adhere to this cultural convention: Buppa’ Babbu’ Guru Rato.

Buppa Babbu refers to parents, Guru to clerics and Rato to the government. Hence, the words of clerics hold higher value than those of the government.

A local cleric from Pamekasan says the informal education system of Islamic boarding schools is entrenched in Madura culture. Parents who can’t afford to send their children to public schools send them to Islamic boarding schools instead.

Alumni of Islamic boarding schools can be ulema in their villages, so each village has at least one ulema. Alumni continue their relationship with their teachers, their gurus, and make yearly visits to present donations to their them.

In 2004, Ali Kharrar, a revered local cleric, requested the help of the government to deal with the spread of Shia teachings by Tajul. The Sampang government, Rudy said, were more than happy to facilitate.

Tajul and Iklik meanwhile decried Kharrar’s sermonized warning about Shia as the beginning of their persecution.

Ulema rejection of Tajul was not merely a question of faith. Rudy said that Tajul disrupted the social order in Sampang with his ways.

Indeed, Tajul refused to accept envelopes filled with money from villagers. This was a break from the local customs, where people would give money to ulema for their preaching. A big name cleric can get a fee of Rp 2.5 million (US$262), while less prominent ulema can expect Rp 50,000 (US$5.24) to
Rp 100,000. Ulema also receive money from attendance at functions when villagers shake hands with them.

Tajul also said he stopped individual celebrations of the Prophet’s birth (Maulid), only holding a celebration at his home. In Madura, each house has a small prayer house, families hold feasts and invite a cleric to come and give a sermon.

“I changed the practice because I saw people there are under the poverty line … I gave them a solution so the cost of Maulid celebrations would not go through the roof.” Yet, this particular change reduces the popularity and, crucially, the income of local ulema.

***

A young cleric, Ahmad Muzakir quickly kisses the hand of Kyai Kharrar in front of his Islamic boarding house Daarut Tauhid in Proppo, Pamekasan, a neighboring town to Sampang. Wearing a white turban, Kharrar nods his head.

Kharrar wears his beard in a neat trim. A busy cleric, he excused himself to meet his wife in the female boarding house of his school. “Please excuse me, I will sin if I do not visit my wife. I have been out all day,” he said.

Kharrar had been out giving two sermons during the day and immediately led a sermon for his male students.

Kharrar is the brother-in-law of Tajul and Rois’ grandfather, Ahmad. Ahmad’s son, Makmun became a Shiite after reading books and bulletins about Shia after the Iranian revolution.

Ahmad cursed his son for converting to Shia to the day Makmun died, Kharrar said. Makmun, who was quite respected locally, did not teach Shia to other villagers. However, he sent his two teenage sons Tajul and Rois to YAPI.

“Kak [elder brother] Ahmad was against that and took them out from YAPI and sent the two to my boarding school,” Kharrar said.

“He [Tajul] bickered every day with the other santri because his thinking was already different”, Kharrar said. Tajul and Rois stayed at Daarut Tauhid for a mere three months and returned to YAPI.

Rudy said that in 1993, Tajul left for Saudi Arabia as a migrant worker. Kharrar however said that Tajul went to Iran and lied about Saudi Arabia. According to Kharrar, after his return to Sampang, Tajul started to teach Shiite beliefs to people in the village.

In 2005, Kharrar set up a meeting to convert Tajul back into Sunni teachings. He invited Sampang officials, police and clerics from the Sampang chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and ulema from five cities in Madura.

“I told him, ‘Child, I am here not to debate but to ask you to return to the road our ancestors took.’”

Kharrar’s proselytizing toward Tajul and his warnings toward other ulema about Shia continued.

In 2006, Tajul finally relented and signed a statement saying that he was returning to Sunni teachings.

“But he is always wishy-washy. In a meeting with us, he would comply, but once he is back, he would return to his ways,” Kharrar said.

In 2006, hundreds of people intimidated Tajul and his followers into returning to Sunni teachings.

Till 2009, Rois was with Tajul as a Shiite, until Rois’ desire for a young woman, called Halimah, was disrupted by Tajul.

Halimah, 19 has a long oval face and big eyes. Her house was one of those burnt on the Aug. 26 attack. At the refugee camp, she said that Rois confessed his love to her when she was 15. “But I did not want to
marry him.”

According to Tajul, Kulsum and Rudy, Rois has a womanizing streak. Marrying women just to divorce them in a couple of months.

One day, a close follower of Tajul, Dul Azid, came to Tajul to intercede for him and ask Halimah’s parents for her hand in marriage.

Tajul then proposed to Halimah for Dul Azid and the parents accepted. Rois became enraged, Halimah said. He summoned her parents and Dul Azid’s parents to meet him. Tajul told them not to come lest Rois would judge them and hit them.

Rois was furious with Tajul. “If that is the case, it is as if you have taken my wife. From now on, I will use my bajing power against you,” Tajul recounted what Rois said. Bajing power in Madurese means every dirty way there is, Tajul said. When Rois defected to the other side, pressure against Tajul increased and in 2011, the Sampang government asked him to relocate to Malang for a year until the situation cooled off.

Tajul accepted Rp 50 million from the government for relocation costs. But he continued to visit Sampang, Rudy said. And it infuriated the people there.

Despite mediation through the National Commission of Human Rights in October 2011, a month later, a Sunni mob attacked Tajul’s family, burning down three houses.

Rois then reported Tajul to the police for blasphemy. The Sampang chapters of the largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, and Sampang’s chapter of MUI also released edicts that Tajul’s teachings were deviant. In July, Tajul was sentenced to two years in prison.

From prison, Tajul has said that he would like to return to Sampang after his release.

But Sampang regent Noer Tjahja, who will be running for reelection next year, ruled this out. “I am on the side of the ulema, that is clear. They are the ones who own Sampang. I don’t mind violating human rights, as long as I save the majority of my people”.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Tue, September 04 2012

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