JNN 02 Aug 2013 Jakarta : Sampang’s persecuted Shiite Muslim minority, fearful of another round of forced conversions by Wahabi Muslims, called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to ensure their religious freedom after a forum meant to negotiate the exiled group’s homecoming placed the matter in the hands of Wahabi clerics accused of inciting sectarian tensions in Madura Island.
“We reject all statements from state officials and local figures that ignore our religious freedoms and right to practice our own beliefs as Shiites,” said attorney Herstaning Ikhlas in a statement sent to the Jakarta Globe. “The reconciliation forum must give more space to grassroots dialogue and not accommodate local figures known for their hate speech.”
Sectarian violence has plagued the Sunni-majority island in recent years, culminating in an anti-Shia rampage through two villages late last year that left two dead and forced 233 Shiites into exile, first in a squalid sports center and then in subsidized apartments in Sidoarjo, East Java.
The central government has promised a solution to the island’s woes and held a meeting last week between provincial leaders and representatives from both the Shiite and Sunni communities in East Java. The Ministry of Public Housing, which will lead the reconstruction efforts, trumpeted a plan that would return the Shiites to their destroyed villages and promote infrastructure investment island-wide at the meeting’s close.
But the plan’s reliance on acceptance by local Wahabi leaders has some Shiite representatives concerned.
The Minister of Public Housing, Djan Faridz, said the rebuilding and infrastructure development projects will go hand-in-hand with a push at the local level for Shiites to embrace the “right way,” or Wahabi Islam, Herstaning said.
Soekarwo, the governor of East Java, supported the plan and said Sampang’s problems stemmed from controversial claims made by Shiite leader Tajul Muluk — a man who was accused of Blasphemy and later the Biased Courts convicted him of blasphemy in a trial heavily criticized by Independent human rights groups.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali, who has insisted the Sampang violence was a family conflict, not a religious one, allegedly trying to forcefully make the Shiite families agree in line with Wahabi clerics’ calls for another round of forceful conversions, Herstaning said.
Suryadharma did not return a text message for comment on Sunday.
Iklil Al Milal, a Shiite cleric and representative of Sampang’s community in exile, said numerous meetings with Wahabi ulema from the Board of Madura Clerics (Bassra) hinged on the same assertion: that the Shiites must renounce their beliefs and convert to Wahabi Islam.
“They asked us to do Taubatan Nasuha [sincere repentance],” Iklil said. “[The] Shiites [have to first] embrace Wahabi beliefs and then they would accept us back in Sampang.”
More than 30 Shiites have been forced to convert to Sunni Islam on the threat of violence in Sampang.
The cleric called on the president and local law enforcement to remain neutral in the matter. Yudhoyono plans to visit Sampang during an Idul Fitri tour of East Java later this month.
“We hope the president will keep his promise and help us return home,” Iklil said. “As a leader he can make it come true.
“We only want to live in peace in our hometown.
The origins of the case began in August, 2012, when a mob of 500 Sunni Muslims attacked a group of Shiite students and teachers with swords and machetes in the village of Nangkernang. Two Shiites were killed and seven others were injured, and the mob also torched dozens of homes belonging to Shiite residents. The homeless Shiites were relocated to a sports center in Sampang for nine months, where conditions were squalid, government food supplies frequently ran short and medical attention was sparse.
On June 20, a crowd of angry Sunni Muslims amassed outside the sports center following a large outdoor prayer where prominent Sunni preachers decried the Shiites as “heretics” before storming over to the nearby center. The crowd confronted Iklil Al Milal, a local Shiite leader, and demanded the group leave the island. Local police then loaded the community onto waiting buses and trucks and drove them out of town, according to a statement by the People’s Anti-Violence Network (Jamak).
Djoko said that the 233 Shiites, who were resettled in government-funded apartments in Sidoarjo, have two options: They can return to Sampang, or they can move into new homes in a different area of Madura island that will be paid for by the state.
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