08/24/2012, 00.00
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Five people die in intra-Islamic fighting in West Java

by Mathias Hariyadi
The province leads Indonesia in sectarian violence. The murder of the leader of an extremist movement provokes his followers who carry out a revenge attack against the members of a sect deemed heretical. However, the latter was in no way connected with murder. The incident highlights the fact that violence remains a problem within Islam.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Tensions are still running high in West Java where violent clashes pitted different Muslim groups against one another, leaving five people dead. Hundreds of police agents and members of the security forces are now patrolling the streets and squares to prevent further action by infiltrators and agents provocateurs who might want to stir up further sectarian animosity. Targeted by pro-human rights activists and organisations, the province continues to live up to its reputation of confessional "intolerance," not only between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority, with places of worship and churches forced to shut down, but also among Muslim sects.

The latest episode occurred during celebrations for the Idul Fitr on Monday in the village of Cisalopa, Jampang Subdistrict, Sukabumi District, West Java Province. Edin, a local religious leader who headed a radical Muslim group called Garis (Islamic Forum for Reform), was one of the dead. The four other people killed belonged to Tarekat At Tijaniyah, a Muslim group accused of heresy. Mutual suspicions and accusations led to fighting, sign of deep divisions among Muslims.

On hearing of Edin's death, an enraged crowd attacked the neighbourhood where most Tarekat At Tijaniyah members live. The body of the Garis leader was in fact found in the garden owned by Sumarna, who was thought to be the head of the allegedly heretical Muslim sect.

Witnesses said that Edin met Sumarna last week in order to end the heresy and have the group dissolved. When he disappeared, rumours spread that he had "died in action". Enraged, his followers by the thousands descended upon the enemy area, leaving four people dead. Only the intervention of police re-established some semblance of calm.

In reality, the escalation appears to be rooted in a misunderstanding. Sumarna in fact is probably not the head of Tarekat At Tijaniyah, but of a smaller group of followers that deviates from mainstream Islam. Among its "heretical" practices, we find a ban on Friday prayers and the first call to pray at dawn.

By contrast, Tarekat At Tijaniyah has been approved by Indonesia's main Muslim organisations. The largest, Nahdlatul Ulama (Nu), has recognised its legitimacy. The same goes for the powerful Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which considers the group as fully compatible with orthodox Islam.

It is therefore clear that Garis extremists attacked the wrong target. Yet, the real problem is not which group is heretical but rather the radical visions of a religion that does not accept differences or, as is the case for the Ahmadis, does not tolerate deviations from the official doctrine.

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