By Yenny Herawati
November 28, 2012
Many say Indonesia is growing less tolerant of its minorities, but some places prove that wrong. In the village of Banjaran, in Jepara Regency, Central Java, Sunni and Shia Muslims are living in harmony.
Attacks in late August on a Shia community in Sampang, Madura – 400km east of here -- left two dead and about 200 homeless. But that conflict has not disturbed the social harmony in this region.
As elsewhere in Indonesia, Sunni Muslims are the majority in Jepara. Most of them are also members of the country's largest Muslim Organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). But Banjaran is also home to Pesantren Darut Taqrib, which embraces Shia Islam.
A Khabar investigation found that even though only 200 families in the town are Shia, they feel safe to practice their beliefs.
Friendship transcends religious differences
According to Miqdad Turkan, the leader of Pesantren Darut Taqrib, various factors permit Sunni and Shia to live in harmony here.
"We have a good friendship between Sunni and Shia followers. We respect each other regardless of our beliefs," he said. "We also frequently arrange social activities such as blood drives, helping disaster victims, etc."
Conversions from one branch of Islam to the other do not arouse the sectarian ire that has erupted in some parts of the country.
Abdul Ghadir Bafaqih, a Shia missionary, was once a well-known Sunni Muslim teacher. When he became a Shia Muslim, he did not encounter any objections from his former students or his family, he said.
"I have been here long enough to know everybody around the village, unless they moved for a job, marriage, or education, and never come back," he said.
A new Shia follower, Muhammad Ali, said that his decision to become a Shia Muslim has nothing to do with any undue influence. He was touched by Shia doctrine through books.
"I read many books of Islam since I was young. This is why I can differentiate between the various schools of thought on Islam," Ali told Khabar Southeast Asia. While his Sunni family members may not agree with his choice, he said, they respect it and do not feel betrayed by him.
A port city's long tradition of diversity
According to Miqdad, people in Jepara recognise diversity as a unique characteristic of their region, which is home to a historically important port and has been touched by various religious influences, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and of course, Islam.
"If we were not living in harmony, we would have been in conflict decades ago," he said.
Achmad Zaelani, a Sunni Muslim, agreed that Jepara's background as a port city has shaped its prevailing attitudes about religious difference. "We have a distinctive history of tolerance, which you may not find everywhere else. And we will continue this legacy," he said.
Such attitudes are beneficial to Islam as a whole, he added.
"Can you imagine if Shia and Sunni in other places lived in harmony like we do here? It would attract more followers. People would see that Islam is a religion of harmony," Achmad said.
As for the conflict in Sampang, Achmad expressed disappointment. "That was not a good example of Islam living in harmony. It was saddening," he told Khabar.