Behind ‘enlightenment’: Arrogant bigotry

The good news came a few months ago when villagers in Sampang, Madura, who were caught in a deadly faith feud last year reconciled with their Shiite neighbors and invited them to return to their village.

On Sept. 12, dozens of villagers from Blu’uran and Karang Gayam, Sampang, signed a peace pact stating they were “ready to live side by side, respect and love each other as taught by our esteemed Prophet Muhammad”.

The peace pact flies against the claims of political elites who refuse to let the Shiites return to their land under the pretext that the local community will not accept them and that their return would create new violent conflicts. They were driven from their homes in Sampang after a Sunni mob attacked them and burned down their houses in August 2012. From the local regent to the religious affairs minister, all claim that unless the Shiites share the same beliefs as the rest of the community, deadly violence will occur.

Despite the peace pact, many remain wary. That the people of the villages are fed up with the animosity, want to end the conflict and want to live in peace is heartwarming, but is it enough to solve displacement and discrimination against the Shia community?

The answer is no. Even when people of Blu’uran and Karang Gayam, including those who participated in the attack, extended an unconditional invitation to the Shiites to return to their homes, the Religious Affairs Ministry continued to place prerequisites on the Shiites to be able to return home.

Recently, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali, who views the solution as conversion — though
his choice of wording is “enlightenment” — reportedly requested the Shiites to agree to stay in the haj dormitory for “reeducation” (pembinaan) before returning to their homes. Why the Shiites, who are only practicing their right to their beliefs, should be reeducated instead of those who set houses on fire, explains the nature of those flames.

There is something more to this Shia persecution than a group of villagers being intolerant toward their neighbors with different beliefs. The dubious reasoning of political elites to sacrifice victims of violence to prevent violence tells of something menacing within the system.

The portrayal of local animosity toward Shiites is merely an excuse for an abuse of power by certain political elites who are part of mainstream Sunni Islam to impose their beliefs.

Consider the events leading up to the attack on Aug. 26. Starting from 2004, religious cleric Ali Kharar started to give sermons with warnings against the “defiant” Shia teachings being spread by Tajul Muluk. Following Ali’s request, Sampang administrative leaders along with local clerics pressured Tajul to “repent” and embrace Sunni teachings.

In 2006, hundreds of people intimidated Tajul and his followers into returning to Sunni teachings. In 2011, the leaders ordered Tajul to move from Sampang to Malang.

After his house was attacked in 2011 by a mob, he was taken to court for blasphemy and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Even before the Aug. 26 attack against the Shiites, the local religious and political establishments in Sampang were systematically pressuring the Shiites to renounce their faith for Sunni teachings.

After the attack, which is plausibly the result of the demagoguery of hard-line clerics, the state ignored the Shiites’ wish to return home and instead has taken their land in exchange for allegiance to Sunni teachings. The only members of the Shiite community that have returned to their villages are those who have signed a pledge in front of the local authorities to condemn Tajul’s teachings and to return to “the true teaching of Islam”.

The peace pact between the Sunni representatives and Shiites should signal that the people can and are willing to live among neighbors with different beliefs. But in a regime that promotes bigotry, this gesture toward tolerance and peace could almost mean nothing.

A peace pact signed by the very people the political elites say are hostile toward the Shiites would not suffice to end the persecution, precisely because the state, with its deep entanglement with the Sunni religious establishment, is the intolerance force. And this condition extends to not only the persecution of Shiites, but also the Ahmadis, the Christians and non-believers.

There is a paradox of arrogance and insecurity in religious intolerance. Those who practice intolerance claim to hold the monopoly on truth and believe they have the authority to pass judgments on who are “defiant” or “misguided”. On the other hand, they feel threatened by these “lesser” beliefs so much so that they feel the need to silence, contain and even eliminate them.

The minister’s “enlightenment” project is an insult to the Shiites. It is disrespectful and is a violation of their freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedoms clearly guaranteed by our Constitution. The idea that the Shiites (or followers of Tajul Muluk, the misguided, the deviants) need to be “reeducated” is uncomfortably and dangerously similar to justifications of many history’s violent conquests to “civilize” the savages.

The damage done by intolerant religious elements hijacking the state apparatus is clearly felt by those being persecuted. But it does not stop there. In every persecution of religious minorities in this
country, those actively impinging other’s rights to religious freedom are creating an arrogant and insecure image of Sunni Islam. Bullying people into submitting to “the true teaching of Islam” is not in line with the image of a peaceful and loving religion they champion.

Hopefully, the next time they open the Koran they will come across the verse that came when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers were the ones being persecuted in Mecca: For you is your faith, and for me, my faith.

Prodita Sabarini, Cambridge | Opinion | Tue, November 19 2013

Published in The Jakarta Post

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/11/19/behind-enlightenment-arrogant-bigotry.html

Religious minorities unite for freedom

Iron: Pondok Gede sub-precinct head Comr. Dedy Tabrani speaks to an Ahmadi behind the locked gate of the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi on April 5. (Antara/Widodo S. Jusuf)
Iron: Pondok Gede sub-precinct head Comr. Dedy Tabrani speaks to an Ahmadi behind the locked gate of the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi on April 5. (Antara/Widodo S. Jusuf)

Next to a sealed Ahmadi mosque in Bekasi is a plot of land with leafy trees and damp earth. To get in one has to squeeze through a gap between a tall iron gate and the wall of a residence on the other side.

From this bit of land, Ahmadiyah members send food over the gate to the 19 Ahmadis staying inside the mosque, which was sealed in early April by Bekasi public order officers.

When the officers put up the corrugated iron fence to seal the Al Misbah Mosque, about 40 people were inside, including women and children. The women and children have since been taken out.

The remaining 19 stayed behind, giving away their freedom for an indefinite time as a symbol, an
act of protest, toward the Bekasi municipality and the central government for meddling with their freedom to worship.

The lot became a gathering place on Saturday night for Sobat KBB, a solidarity group of victims of religious intolerance and violence, a collective of minority groups — Christians, Shia Muslims, Ahmadis and those of other beliefs — that have experienced discrimination and persecution. Sobat translates as friend in English.

The national coordinator of Sobat KBB is Palti Panjaitan, the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church pastor whose church in Bekasi was also sealed by the Bekasi city administration.

Palti said about 10 people came to the gathering. Liberal Islam activist Mohammad Guntur Romli, who in a pluralism rally that turned violent in 2008 had his nose and cheekbone fractured by blows from members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), and Nong Darol Mahmada were among the attendees.

Over grilled fish, the group shared their thoughts about the state of religious minorities in Indonesia.

Rahmat Rahmadijaya, an Ahmadiyah cleric who remains inside the shuttered mosque, joined the discussion through a small opening in the mosque’s black iron door.

Ahmadiyah spokesperson Firdaus Mubarik said they wanted to bring Palti into their campaign because they saw the creative ways the Filadelfia church had promoted their cause, such as holding mass in front of the presidential palace.

Firdaus said the Ahmadis collaborated with Filadelfia for the Saturday night gathering — aimed at becoming a regular meeting — to continue to voice their cause.

“We don’t want the people remaining in the mosque to be forgotten,” he said.

Palti, meanwhile, said they might make the gathering more regular, not only in the lot next to Al Misbah but in other places where religious minorities are persecuted.

The group was established in February after a workshop by the Setara Institute, a human rights organization that monitors religious freedom across the country, and is also open to agnostics and atheists, the priest said.

“Sobat KBB is open to any victims [of persecution] including atheists. We fight for all victims who have been victimized or discriminated against in the name of religion, either those who adhere to religion or those who do not. We will fight hand in hand, to support each other,” Palti said.

Local and international organizations have criticized Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration for the increasing religious intolerance and violence in the country, even as he recently received the World Statesman Award from the US-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation. The award has been deemed a publicity stunt by rights groups who say the president does not deserve the award because of his track record in dealing with religious minorities.

Setara has documented 264 cases of violent attacks against religious minorities, up from 244 cases in 211 and 216 cases in 2010. Meanwhile, non-believers are criminalized, as in the case of atheist Alexander Aa, who broadcast his thoughts about the non-existence of God and was put behind bars in 2012.

“We want to enlighten people that religion should not be used to judge other religions or beliefs,” Palti said of Sobat KBB.
Struggling: Nineteen Ahmadis are staying inside the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi, which was sealed by Bekasi public order officers in April. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)Struggling: Nineteen Ahmadis are staying inside the Al Misbah Mosque in Bekasi, which was sealed by Bekasi public order officers in April. (JP/Prodita Sabarini)
In the case of Ahmadiyah, a 2008 joint ministerial decree banned the sect from proselytizing and the decree became the base for the regional government to ban Ahmadiyah outright. The West Java administration banned Ahmadiyah activities in 2011, the same year the Bekasi mayoralty announced its ban.

From across the corrugated iron fence, Rahmat, 33, who has been living on the grounds of the mosque for a decade, said Islamic hardliners from the FPI started to intimidate and harass Ahmadis at Friday prayers after Bekasi mayor Rahmat Effendi announced the ban.

“They threatened us, roaring their motorcycle engines, disturbing our prayers,” he said.

Except for Rahmat and a resident living next to the mosque, the neighbors of the mosque are not Ahmadis.

Ahmadis from other parts of Bekasi come and pray there on Fridays. But a resident living nearby said people were nonplussed with them. “For us here, to each their own”.

Rahmat said the Bekasi administration’s sealing of the mosque was the latter’s idea to protect the Ahmadis from religious hardliners. “But they did it without consulting us first, there was no dialogue,” he said.

The mosque is now guarded by three police officers, who take shelter from boredom in the house in front of the mosque where they can watch television when nothing is happening. The police presence ensures no-one enters the mosque, either Ahmadis or hardliners. A number of times after the mosque was sealed hardliners have arrived, but were cordoned off by the police.

“We feel shackled, it’s tough being here,” Rahmat said. The young cleric is living separately from his wife and two children. The youngest was born in February.

His days are used to pray, he said. They also entertain themselves with badminton and ping pong.

Rahmat said they have sent letters of protest to the president and the mayor. The Ahmadis are also taking their case against the Bekasi administration to the administrative court.

Even though the government is not keeping the Ahmadis inside the mosque, Rahmat said he would stay locked inside until the government reopened it.

“Forever, we will stay here forever,” he said.

But, he doesn’t wish for that. Rahmat is instead hoping for divine intervention to help the embattled Ahmadis win their case.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Bekasi | Feature | Fri, May 24 2013, 2:48 PM

Mariyani: Religious differences not a problem for ‘waria’

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Amid the recent news of religious fundamentalism spurring violence against minority groups like Ahmadis and Christians, one Muslim transgendered woman is demonstrating the openness of Indonesian society by offering up her Islamic school to fellow transgendered Christians for masses and prayers.

Mariyani, 51, is built like a large matriarch. The transgendered woman has received local and international media attention since 2008 when she transformed her home in a small alley in Notoyudan hamlet, Yogyakarta, into a place for transgendered women to study Islam.

She began Pesantren Waria with Koran readings and prayers every Monday in order to provide a space for transgendered women who were also Muslims to feel comfortable in practicing their faith.

The term waria comes from wanita (woman) and pria (man), and is used to describe people who are born with male reproductive organs but with a female gender identity, i.e. transgendered. Waria decide on their own whether to wear sarong during Islamic prayers — as men do — or to cover their bodies with the mukena — as women do.

Mariyani’s home-turned-school has become a place for waria to seek spirituality and refuge. Recently, a 19-year-old transgendered woman who learned about the school from newspaper articles and the Internet left her hometown in Lombok, where her family was having problems accepting her gender identity, to stay at Mariyani’s place before finding a job at a department store.

Wearing a black hijab, Mariyani said she aspired to provide Christian (Catholic and Protestant) waria a place to congregate.

“Here, the waria who are Christians — they don’t have a place to gather to hold mass. I would like to provide a place here, as long as it does not coincide with the pesantren’s activities,” she said.

She plans to invite her Christian friends from Yogyakarta, Malang, Surakarta, Banyuwangi and Surabaya to come on March 15.

“I invite waria from any religion to worship here. If they don’t have a place, my place is open to them,” she said.

“We want to embrace every religion together in peace. Every religion is good. There are no religions that are bad. Humans are the ones who are bad.”

Mariyani, popularly called Bu Mar or Mbak Mar by friends and neighbors, recently registered the school through a notary – a move to give her school legal power if members of the public ever protest.

She plans to request permits from the local administration and the police in order to open up her home to Christian waria for worship.

“We don’t want what happened in Bekasi or Temanggung to happen here,” she said, referring to conflicts between radical Islamic groups protesting the presence of a Christian congregation in Bekasi and the recent attacks on churches in Temanggung. “If I don’t get the permits, I won’t be able to do this.

“My intentions are good. If people want to raid me, go ahead. But, thank God, in the three years the school has been open there have been no objections whatsoever,” she said, adding that the Yogyakarta Ulema Council even invites her to their events.  Mariyani said people in Yogyakarta were tolerant for accepting her school. Raised Catholic by adopted parents, she converted to Islam as an adult, and said that religion could be helpful in leading a person to a better life.

“It can help waria think in the long-term and help them make better decisions.”

She explained that being in touch with their spirituality helped transgendered women to make good life decisions. A lot of transgendered women live from one day to the next as sex workers, she explained.

Mariyani also once lived that lifestyle, working as a prostitute in Jakarta before returning to Yogyakarta and starting work at a beauty salon.

Mariyani said her Islamic school didn’t attempt to turn transgendered women into men.
“My intention is to worship God. I don’t care what people say.”

To people who say that being a transgendered woman is wrong, she says: “That’s a human trying to act like God. Whether God accepts acts of worship, that’s His concern. One’s sex does not determine whether one goes to heaven or not. Their faith in God does,” she said.

But, Mariyani does not just want to give Christian waria a place to worship.

Speaking in Yogyakarta’s alun-alun, she candidly said she also wanted to give transgendered women a chance to have a dignified burial when they pass away.

“I want to invite Christians to be able to practice their faith. When they pass away someday, the Catholic or Protestant churches can provide a coffin and burial.”

But, she wants to be able to provide more than just the simplest of burials for waria.

She is planning to speak to the Yogyakarta Interfaith Forum about her plan.

Many transgendered women, because of difficulties with their families, leave their homes when they are young and live on their own with fellow waria. Some end up living penniless on the streets, Mariyani said.

Transgendered individuals and transvestites are also among the high-risk groups for HIV and AIDS, together with injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

The idea to provide Christian transgendered women a place to congregate arose after she attended the funeral of a transgendered woman given by the city’s Social Affairs Agency.

“It was like burying a cat. The burial space was so narrow. They put the body in and covered the ground,” she said. “It was already very gracious of the Social Affairs Agency to provide the burial for a waria.”

However, Mariyani hopes transgendered women will be able to receive better burials.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta | People | Wed, February 16 2011