Ibrahim Soulisa (a pseudonym) is neither a famous Muslim leader, a televised Islamic preacher, nor a celebrated religious commentator. Soulisa is just a village chief in the lonely, predominantly Muslim-populated Leihitu Peninsula on Maluku’s island of Ambon. Unlike most village chiefs in Indonesia, a ruler in this area historically and traditionally is a political, cultural and religious leader.
These regional village chiefs are thus responsible for taking care of adat (customary law), ritual sermons, religious festivals and communal feasts, in addition to governmental and political affairs. It is hence the job of these local leaders to act as stewards over much of village life, including keeping the peace, fostering tolerance and maintaining traditions inherited by their ancestors.
Driven by this responsibility, Soulisa once mobilized villagers to stop intolerant dakwah (Islamic propagation) and religious indoctrination committed by a tiny militant group of non-Ambonese Wahhabis and Salafis. The chief cast the group out of the village, labeling them provocateurs of conflict, destroyers of traditional adat, disturbers of religious harmony and intruders of social order and stability.
Soulisa did so because Islamic characters the group tried to introduce contradicted local beliefs, traditions, cultures and common practices.
“They wanted to seize our mosques with foreign fanatical teachings,” the village head explained.
Indeed, unlike most villages in Ambon, where Christians and Muslims typically live in different areas or blocks, Soulisa’s village historically had intermixed the two religious groups before the Ambon mayhem erupted in 1999.
In the aftermath of the Ambon conflict, which took place from 1999-03, the Salafi and Wahhabi groups aggressively preached puritanical forms of Islam, religious intolerance and Islamic extremism in attempts to compel and influence Ambonese Moluccan Muslims to follow their ideas.
While most Ambonese Muslims respect adat customs such as tahlilan (recitation and praise for God and the Prophet Muhammad), ziarah kubur (pilgrimage to graves), ritual meals, and pela-gandong (inter-religious cooperation), this group deemed such practices as ungodly traditions or un-Islamic in nature. They espoused the adat traditions’ elimination in order to maintain the purity of Islamic teachings.
“The peace of Ambon and Maluku had been destroyed by foreign jihadists,” Soulisa said to me, “and now I don’t want them to deceive my people and ruin again my peaceful and beautiful soil of Maluku.”
The Salafis and Wahhabis first entered Ambon during the Christian-Muslim violence that broke out in this region and other parts of the Maluku islands in 1999. It lasted for a period of more than four years.
Months after signing a peace accord in February 2002, most members of the jihadist groups, notably Laskar Jihad (Warriors of Jihad), left Ambon city and returned to their Java homes. However some remained in the area, particularly in Batu Merah, Kebun Cengkeh, Kota Jawa, and Seram. They then married local women and built a mosque known as “Masjid Laskar,” Islamic schools, and pengajian (Koranic studies centers).
Since the end of the Ambon conflict, the group has transformed its objectives and orientations from politics to moral and dakwah movements that emphasize the sanctity of Islam. Regrettably, however, in doing so the group very often uses harsh, disrespectful and intolerant methods.
At a time when Muslim hard-liners and “Salafi-Wahhabi viruses” have crept across Indonesia, this archipelago needs more people like Soulisa who have the courage to counter “extremist blitzes” and the responsibility to safeguard their territory and people from such religious groups. More specifically, government officials across the country need to learn from this daring village chief.
It is worth noting that in post-Suharto Indonesia, as reported by the Wahid Institute and other nongovernmental organizations dedicated to local human rights, there were hundreds of inter- and intra-religious clashes, and numerous incidences of intolerance and intimidation. The cases have included attacks against some churches, Islam’s Ahmadiyah sect and minority Shiite Muslims.
The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace reported 371 incidents of religious violence in 2012, the highest level since 2007 and most of which remain unresolved. Unfortunately, the government, for the most part, rarely acts firmly against those that commit violence or human rights violations, nor do they adequately work to prevent discrimination or the fomentation of religious hatred.
Worse yet, this lack of government action and the absence of a security apparatus has bolstered sectarian religious groupings. This has also contributed to a growing use of the country’s blasphemy law to put on trial local sects, beliefs, or religious groups that they recklessly and erroneously label deviant.
It is the job of government and security forces to protect all citizens, regardless of their ethno-religious backgrounds, from feelings of insecurity and onslaughts from anyone or any group that tries to destabilize the nation, provoke interreligious discord, spread prejudice or stir up intergroup conflict. Like Soulisa, the government and all elements of society should leave no room for compromise with these violent religious groupings. This country does not belong to Muslims or Sunnis, and much less Salafis-Wahhabis who “coquettishly” claim to be the majority. This nation belongs to all citizens, regardless of their religious and ethnic affiliations.
Indonesia was born out of an enormous collaboration of diverse ethno-religious groups and pluralist-nationalistic leaders. Without them the dream of establishing an inclusive nation-state would have never been realized. Everyone has the right to live safely in this country and freely practice what they believe. After all, it is guaranteed by the national Pancasila ideology and the Constitution of 1945.
Source: Jakarta Globe