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

Sampang revisited – where’s compassion?

Nearly seven  months ago, I went to Sampang, a small town in Madura Island off the northeastern tip of Java. Around 200 Shiites were taking refuge in a indoor tennis court. Their houses razed to the ground by an angry Sunni mob. I went there and talked to the people: the stories can be read here, here and here.

I’ve worked on different stories since and however disheartening what happened in Sampang, it slowly slipped my mind. Until a few days ago, I thought of them, and wondered about how they were doing. When I was there, the Sampang regent was adamant that he would not let them return to their houses, even though they were forcibly displaced by religious vigilantes. Has he changed his mind?

Apparently not. Andy Irfan, from East Java Commision of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said they were still in the same tennis indoor court.

Worse still as their fate is in limbo, the court ruled the only person the police arrested over the attack as not guilty. No one from the thousand of people who burned down people’s houses is held accountable.

Madura is famous for the many Islamic boarding schools in the island. They call it the land of ulemas. But, why is there no compassion and justice in that island?

*Human Rights Watch released last month a report on religious intolerance and violence. See HRW’s report here and the government’s response here.

Sampang villagers caught up in faith feud

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On the morning of Sunday, Aug. 26, a crowd descended on Shia minority villages in Sampang, Madura in East Java. Two died in the attacks and dozens of homes were razed. Until today dozens of families remain in a make-shift shelter, while authorities have offered to “relocate” them elsewhere. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini reports from Sidoarjo, Pamekasan and Sampang, where the Shiites were also attacked last December. The local ulema have demanded a ban on the teaching of Shia.

Rumsiah stood in a tobacco field next to her burning house. She held her 3-year-old daughter tight to her chest. In front of her, the orange flames crackled as they burned the woven bamboo walls and the fire quickly ate them up. But for Rumsiah, the voices from the mushola (small mosque) speakers drowned other sounds.

“Muslimin and Muslimat, come out all of you!”

“Don’t be afraid!”

“Be unified!”

“Let’s face them together!”

“We will burn them and turn them into satay!”

Rumsiah, 30, ran to the tobacco field with her children and husband as a mob of over a thousand people came to Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages in Sampang.

On Aug. 26, the day of the Lebaran Ketupat, the local Madurese custom marking the end of Ramadhan, families of the Shiite Muslims in both villages were preparing to send their children back to the Shiite Islamic boarding school (YAPI) in Bangil, East Java.

But local Sunni leaders in Blu’uran stopped the rented minibus and denied them entry to the rocky roads of the village, Ummu Kulsum, wife of imprisoned Shiite leader Tajul Muluk said.

Tension between Sunnis and Shiites has been high since the ulema in Sampang declared the Shiites, led by Tajul in Sampang, a deviant Islamic sect.

Last December, a mob burnt down three houses, including Tajul’s. Not long after, Tajul was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

“Come if you dare!” shrieked an incensed Shiite at his neighbors who had advanced toward their house. As the mob approached, Molotov cocktails were thrown exploded. “They [the Shiites] were prepared to fight,” Noer Tjahja, the Sampang regent said.

Blu’uran and Karang Gayam now have patches of charred ruins where houses used to stand. Chickens peck aimlessly around what was once a rice mill, and rifle-slinging Brimob officers stand guard. Too little, too late.

The mob razed 37 houses of Shia followers. Mohammad Khosim, or Hamama, 50, died in a carok (duel); hacked to death by Husein, 48, from the Sunni crowd, who later died himself in hospital from machete wounds. Hamama’s brother, Thohir, 46, a Shiite, is still in a critical condition.

Some eight people were injured, including the Omben precinct police chief.

***

A woman in an ochre prayer dress sits alone on the carpet of the Sampang indoor tennis court. She faces Mecca.

Behind her, children chase a ball or dance to the blaring songs played by volunteers from Tagana (the Social Affairs Ministry’s Disaster Response Team). The tennis court has become a makeshift refugee camp.

On her right a large banner separates two sides of the court. Over the separator are rolled mattresses, pillows and the personal belongings of refugees.

The 37 burnt houses belong to 64 families according to Kontras (the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence); around 270 people are staying at the camp.

There is not much to do here. The children play with the volunteers, but the adults just sit around and wait. They would return home, if it were safe.

But Noer says they can only return with the approval of the community there, when they “repent”. Tajul Muluk’s wife, Ummu Kulsum and his brother Iklil have become leaders of the refugees.

Kulsum carries a calm maternal air with her, silently enraged by what she calls Sampang regency’s  “incompetence”.

“If the regency could handle these differences properly, it would not be like this. They protect the guilty instead of the innocent. My husband is innocent and he is in prison,” she says flatly.

Most of the faces in the mob were strangers to Kulsum, but she could name her neighbors as leaders of the mob. Yet police have arrested only Tajul’s brother and arch-enemy Roisul Hukamah as the sole suspect. Kulsum said she did not see Rois, as he is popularly known, at the scene. But it was Rois, an official said, who summoned the people using text messages and phone calls.

 

Selected differences of Sunni and Shia

While both the Sunnis and the Shiites share most fundamental Islamic beliefs and theological laws, the distinctions between the two major denominations stem from historical political differences gradually transformed into a number of spiritual
dissimilarities.

• Successor
The Sunnis believed that the new leader of the Muslim nation after the death of the Prophet Muhammad was Muhammad’s close aide, Abu Bakr, who was appointed by the Prophet to become the first Caliph of the Islamic nation.

Meanwhile, the Shiites believe that the leadership remained within Muhammad’s family tree, which means that the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib, should be the leader instead.

• Religious leadership
While the Sunnis accepted that the first four Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Uthman ibn Affan, Umar ibn Al Khattab and Ali, were the rightful followers of Muhammad, they are not considered infallible.

Shiites, meanwhile, believe that imams were the descendants of the Prophet. Shiites often worship the imams as saints and perform pilgrimages to their tombs and temples to seek blessings.

• Religious practices
Shiites allegedly resented some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, such as Abu Bakr and Umar, who narrated the Prophet’s life and spiritual practices, and thus did not base religious practices on the testimony of those individuals.

• Marriage
The Shiites supposedly allow the nikah mut‘ah, or fixed-term temporary marriage, which is not tolerable within the Sunni community believing it as planned and agreed fornication.

• Rituals
When leveling their heads to the ground during prayers, Shiites place their forehead onto a piece of naturally occurring material, often a clay tablet said to be from Karbala, Iraq, the place where the son of Ali, Hussein ibn Ali (d. 680) was martyred, instead of directly onto a prayer rug.

In addition, some Shiites perform their prayers back to back, sometimes worshipping two times consecutively and thus praying five times a day but with a very small break in between the prayers.

From various sources (asa)

 

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

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

Sampang regent ‘sides’ with the ulema

Sampang Regent Noer Tjahja is upset. A protracted disagreement over faith has turned deadly in his little town of less than 1 million people in Madura.

And worst yet, according to him, since the news of the attack against followers of the imprisoned Shia cleric Tajul Muluk surfaced, no one had got it right.

Some 300 meters across the road from where hundreds of Shiites take shelter at an indoor tennis stadium, Noer was sitting on the side of an outdoor tennis court.

Taking a break from his Saturday morning tennis, he met with The Jakarta Post. His brows furrowed, his deep big voice echoed across the court while he lambasted the media, the Jakarta political elites and human rights organizations for their comments.

Two people died in the Aug. 26 attack against Shiites in Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages by a Sunni mob of over 1,000 people. The mob razed 37 houses in Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages, displacing around 270 Shiites.

Since the attack, many had put in their two cents. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono blamed lack of police intelligence, poor early detection, and a solidarity alliance in Sampang accused Madura clerics and the regent of being behind the anti-Shia movement in Sampang.

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi and Constitutional Court judge Mafud MD have said that the government would protect the rights of the Shia minority, promising to rebuild the houses of victims and guarantee their safety.

But Noer, elected in 2007, said any information about the conflict and its solution in Sampang from anyone other than him was wrong. He said he would like to meet the President to give his opinions on the conflict.

“I’ll tell him the true chronology, ‘If [Yudhoyono] receives information other than from me. It’s wrong. It’s wrong even if it’s from your aides. Don’t listen to it’,” he said.

“In all actuality we don’t have a Shia problem. The problem is about a family feud and a defiant sect — blasphemy…” Noer added.

The regent was referring to a feud between Tajul and his brother Roisul Hukamah, a convert to Sunni from Shia whose report on Tajul over blasphemy had brought the latter to court.

The court sentenced Tajul to two years in prison. Rois, as he is popularly known, is currently the sole suspect in the Sunday attacks.

“This is like a minority group is forcing their will on the majority. You shouldn’t turn it the other way around. Those in Jakarta are twisted. I have 900,000 residents. Of course I will prefer the dominant position,” he said.

Last Thursday, Iklil, Tajul’s brother, who has been staying with the rest of the refugees at the tennis stadium, walked across the street to the regent’s office. He has been wearing the same outfit for days, a white T-shirt and blue jeans. His house was among those burned by the mob.

That day, legislators from the House of Representatives visited Sampang from Jakarta to learn about the conflict. The members of Commission III had lunch with the regent and his staff at his office. Sampang ulema from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and The Sampang chapter of the Indonesian Muslim Council (MUI) were also present.

Iklil said that he was asked to come there.

“I walked to the pendopo [the regent’s office] but they were already finished. So, I walked back here,” he said.

Noer visited the refugee camp once, a day after the attack. But, until Saturday, he has been tight lipped on Sampang’s administration’s plan for the victims.

Sampang MUI and NU leaders, Bukhori Maksum and Syafi’uddin Wahid, who hold a lot of clout in Sampang politics, have stated that Shiites will not be accepted on their land.

As of writing, the refugees are still sleeping on mattresses inside the stadium.

“We want to return to our lands,” Iklil said. Rumors about relocation plans have been flying around. Iklil flatly refuses to be sent away. “It’s our homeland and we’re also worried that if we become banished people from our own land, how can we be sure that we would not face the same problem elsewhere?” he said.

From jail, Tajul echoes his brother’s statement. He also said he refuses “relocation” plans because it would give a bad image of Sampang people.

In a Sidoarjo jail, Tajul wears the orange T-shirt of prisoners. He has been transferred to Sidoarjo after the Aug. 26 attack in Sampang. Tajul and his lawyers deem that it would be safer for Tajul to not be in Sampang.

Tajul’s view is that the Sampang administration want to kick his followers out of Sampang, just like they did to him. In 2011, the Sampang administration made him move to Malang to appease the ulema in Sampang.

Ever since Tajul returned from the Middle East in 1999, and started to become a local cleric, teaching his Shia beliefs to the community in his village, local clerics have persistently pressurized Tajul to return to Sunni teachings and stop his clerical activities. The cleric who first attempted to make Tajul “repent” in 2005 was Ali Kharrar, Tajul’s
grandfather’s brother in-law.

Noer Tjahja refuses to call Tajul Muluk followers Shiites. Shia, a denomination in Islam, believes the leadership of Islam was to remain with the prophet Muhammad’s bloodline. Despite the differences with the mainstream Sunni teachings, the national MUI has never released an edict that Shia is deviant.

The Sampang court found Tajul guilty of blasphemy on the basis that he stated that the current holy Koran was not authentic. Noer believes that the refugees are adhering to a deviant teaching based on that court’s decision.

Noer also says that he follows the Sampang MUI and NU who have released edicts that Tajul’s teachings were deviant.

Noer says that unless Tajul followers “repent” and the community accept them back, rebuilding homes in the area is not an option. “If the houses were rebuilt, it’s like sending people to hot embers,” he said. Due to strong rejection of the Shia minority from the community, if the latter refused to leave, “lives are at stake here”, he said.

Tajul’s lawyer Abdullah Djoepriyono said that faith was a personal issue that the government could not force on anyone.

But, Noer said that he did not care if he violated human rights, as long as he saved the majority in Sampang.

To illustrate the community’s hostility toward the Shia group, Noer said that when the body of Muhammad Khosim or Hamama, 50, the Shiite who died of machete wounds, was taken back to his village, his neighbors refused to let him be buried in the public cemetary.

“The community rejects not only Tajul but the whole group,” he said.

The Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages where Tajul’s followers come from are small farming communities. In the dry season, such as now, the produce from the fields is tobacco leaves. These fields turn into rice fields during the rainy season.

After the attack, three companies of Brimob officers were deployed to the area. Next to tobacco fields and village houses, officers holding rifles stand guard.

At Blu’uran villagers are sitting inside a bamboo gazebo. A man and a woman stack tobacco leaves into a pile. Others watch television. Mela, 30, a young mother feeds her toddler instant noodles.

“Yes I know that there are Shia people there,” she says. “I don’t know them though,” she added. The burned house of the Shiite family was separated by one house from the gazebo. She said she did not know anything about the attack.

Young men in sarongs standing in front of village houses also say they did not hear anything on Sunday.

According to a Brimob officer from Surabaya, the people in Blu’uran were very private and kept their distance from outsiders. He said that he had asked for days about what happened there, but all he got was “I don’t know”.

A Madurese Brimob officer, Junaidi, told the Post that people in these villages lived together and knew each other. Both Shia and Sunni people worked together in the fields.

He said that people became suspicious of Tajul when they saw how from three to four people coming to Tajul’s small mosque on Friday prayers, his congregation grew until the mosque could not contain the followers. “They overflow outside the mosque,” he said.

But, not all people were disturbed by the increasing popularity of the Shia group. Muhyin, a 21-year-old Shiite, said that a Sunni family hid him when the burning was going on.

According to Tajul, politics is at play in the persecution of Shiites in Sampang. He said that the pressure and eventual attack against Shiite groups happened because Noer continued to follow the wishes of local ulema there.

Noer acknowledges that. Running for election in December to secure his current position, he said he will do whatever the ulema wants.

“The ulema owns Sampang, I am merely a worker for them,” he said, adding that he follows the local customary convention in Madura in which holds the ulema in higher respect than the government.

For Noer, whatever the ulema say in Madura, is his command.

Wahyoe Boediwhardana contributed to the reporting.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Sampang, East Java | National | Sun, September 09 2012