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Islam and Sectarianism ( 31 Aug 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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What Hope Is Left For Sampang Shiites?

By Khairil Azhar

31 August, 2012

While other Muslims performed takbiran, or recitation of Islamic laudations, to gratefully welcome Idul Fitri, Sampang Shiites were callously warned not to do the same.

Before the heartless attacks took place, several non-Shiite Muslims went to the Shiites’ houses and asked, “Are you still Shiites, or have you already repented and forsworn? If you remain Shiites, we will burn your houses and if you oppose us, you will be killed.”

A report submitted by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) following the violence certainly contradicts the “bureaucratic” statements made by the state’s officials, statements like: “The unrest was caused by criminal actions and [or] family disputes. Therefore, it should be solved through criminal and legal procedures.”

And, as usual, the President’s rhetorical statement included “I call on” instead of “I order” in his response to the attack. In fact, he should have qualities like audacity, found in a real general, to cope with any problems. The ministers, the police, or the Army will follow his orders if he shows some strength and decisiveness.

If his weakness originates from his fears for his social or political future, or for potential repercussions for the political parties supporting him, it is unfounded. The simple political statistics available have already illustrated that the majority Muslims, for example, as the largest political constituents, have repeatedly paid little heed to Islamic parties. The reason for this might be simple: Securing basic daily needs is much more important than seriously talking about politics.

In normal circumstances, if people can feel the president’s empathy and his sincerity in times of crises, he will no doubt enjoy support from both the “haves” and the “have-nots”, from both the majorities and the minorities.

Throughout history, the Indonesian people have been accustomed to living according to simplicity: “Raja adil raja disembah, raja lalim raja disanggah”, which translates to: The just king will be respected, the despotic one will be rebutted.

Back to our Shiite fellows — they are not without hope. Former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid once said, “In fact, Nahdlatul Ulama [NU] people live culturally [and intellectually] like Shiites”. And NU, the biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia, is not alone.

Regardless of their disagreements, the Tarbiyah Islamiyah Association (Perti), Nahdhatul Wathan (NW), and other minority organizations are actually living according to very similar cultures and traditions. Even Muhammadiyah, despite being perceived as puritans, cannot get rid of the cultural providence.

More than just soothing away any tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, the late Gus Dur actually told the facts as they were. The present cultural traditions in NU’s leadership and rituals at least have similarities. What makes them different is the labeling or symbolicism, which is important to rigid people.

Second, Shia Islam is generally different from the Sunni only in the matter of imamate and religious (and political) leadership. The Shiites believe that imamate is the right of the descendants of Ali ibn Abi Thalib (d. 661), the cousin of Prophet Muhammad, and is infallible. The Sunnis, in contrast, accept the leadership of anybody capable and oppose the idea of infallibility.

As we find among Sunnis, there are also radical denominations of Shia who develop additional doctrines which, to mainstream Shiites themselves, are also unacceptable, such as short-term marriage (mut’a) and excessive alms-giving for imams. If we someday find sites on the internet, stating the mistakes of Shiites in the eyes of Sunnis and promoting hatred against them, the materials would mosst possibly be taken from the teachings of the radical denominations, if not flavored with exaggerations.

In the realms of theology and jurisprudence, there are relatively no large differences between Sunni and Shia. Al-Shawkani (1760–1832), a jurist from Yemen, for example, was born as a Shiite of the Zaydi denomination. Yet, his books, such as Nayl al-Awtar (on Prophet’s tradition) and Irshad al-Fuhul (on Islamic legal philosophy) are still widely used in Indonesian traditional Islamic schools and Islamic higher education.

Even a renowned Minangkabau Sunni ulema, Abdul Hamid Hakim, adapted and abridged the later book into three levels of textbooks — called Mabadi’ al-Awwaliya, Al-Sulam and Al-Bayaan — which are mandatorily used in traditional schools. And after more than a century of use, there have been no complaints from the Sunnis regarding the contents of these books.

Yet, these cultural and intellectual blends, along with the other blends found in majority–minority relationships, will turn to ashes if at least one of two conditions is not fulfilled.

First, the state must stop playing games with the violence. More precisely, politicians and officials must cease orchestrating or taking advantage of any conflicts. They must come to a conclusion that empathy and action with regards to the minorities will provide them with an abundance of advantage, one that will last long-term.

Second, Indonesian civil society, with full support from “independent mass media”, must continue educating the people about quality democracy, and challenging the state to perform its duties. Some non-government organisations and some more “conscious” national leaders have consistently sided with the victims, while the mass medai has kept the information flowing regarding the persecution being experienced, specifically in Sampang. This has been very meaningful to the plight of the minorities.

And while waiting for the 2014 general election, this peaceful movement may form part of an evolution, and provide an increase in hope, however small the change might be.

Khairil Azhar is a researcher at the Paramadina Foundation and the Ciputat School for Democratic Islam.