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Sectarian violence in Central Java remains

Publication Date : 06-06-2014


Religious intolerance is an ongoing problem in Central Java, as the province saw several cases of religious-based violence in the first six months of 2014, said the Social and Religious Studies Institute (Elsa) in its mid-year bulletin in Semarang.

Elsa research coordinator Tedi Kholiludin said the first case in 2014 involved the vandalism of a Hindu temple in Dukuh Gitiloka hamlet, Miri district, Sragen regency.

Though not reported until Jan. 19, it is believed that on Jan. 16 several statues in the temple were destroyed. Police and village officials have yet to identify the perpetrators.

“The second case was the clash between residents and members of the Islam Defenders Front [FPI] in Wonosobo,” said Tedi.

Tedi said that in the mid-January incident, Central Java FPI chapter head Shihabudin, who is also caretaker of the Al Hadits Islamic boarding school in Wonosobo, spoke at a religious event commemorating the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in Bowongso village, Kalikajar district.

In his sermon, Shihabudin incensed some residents when he mentioned that residents should fight immorality by forming an FPI branch in Wonosobo, the only region in Central Java without an FPI chapter. After a verbal altercation, Shihabudin tried to leave but was accosted.

“Those who did not accept Shihabudin’s sermon stopped his car [as he was leaving] and demanded he step out and apologise. However, he refused do so. A number of people broke the car windows and threatened to roll the car,” said Tedi.

The third case involved residents in Demak forcibly disbanding a routine Koran recital meeting by the Koran Interpretation Council (MTA). The MTA is deemed controversial by some Muslims who say it teaches principles that are not in line with Islam. The residents then vandalised the house where the activity was held, and several MTA members were injured in the incident.

“Another case was perpetrated by village officials in Grobogan, Central Java, who [wrongly] accused the Jantiko Mantab religious group of causing public unrest,” said Tedi.

The officials ended up apologising to the Jantiko Mantab members.

According to Tedi, these instances of religious intolerance had become typical.

“Actually, nothing is new in the cases. The FPI, for instance, causes trouble every year. While this year residents in Wonosobo were disturbed by FPI’s religious aggression, last year residents in Kendal were disturbed by it,” said Tedi.

On a bright note, Tedi did note that the start of 2014 saw some progress in resolving sectarian flareups, such as in Grobogan, when the local officials apologised to the adherents to avoid escalation.

In 2012 and 2013, there were six alleged violations of religious freedom and seven cases of religious intolerance committed in Central Java.

Separately, a professor of cultural anthropology at Semarang’s Diponegoro University, Mudjahirin Thohir, said religious followers who perpetrated violence in the name of religion misunderstood religion.

He cited two typical triggers of religious violence in Indonesia — either theology or external factors.

“They regard [these acts of intolerance] as jihad, but actually they are radical actions that could undermine the religion itself, because in essence, every faith in the world teaches love,” he said.

By external factors, Mudjahirin was referring to chaos in Indonesia’s legal, political, economic, social and cultural systems. He said these were always blamed for religious violence in the country.

“It’s time for religious leaders to persuade worshippers to become more mature in understanding religion in the context of a pluralistic Indonesia. Besides that, the Indonesian government, through law enforcement, must take firm action against those who resort to violence in the name of religion,” he said.


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