Bogor. Ahmad Zainuddin, 75, had returned home to Cisalada village in Bogor after a trip into Jakarta to pick up his monthly pension stipend, just hours before his home was looted and ransacked by unknown attackers on Friday.
“All I could do was watch from a safe distance when they knocked down my front door using a bamboo chair that was sitting on my porch,” Ahmad told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday in the village.
Like Zainuddin, all 600 residents of the village are members of the Ahmadiyah, a sect deemed deviant by hard-line and mainstream Islamic groups.
Followers of Ahmadiyah, a sect founded in India in 1889, profess that the group’s founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the last prophet, a belief that runs counter to mainstream Islamic beliefs that reserve that claim for the Prophet Muhammad.
The nation’s highest authority on Islamic affairs, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), issued a fatwa in 2005 against the Ahmadiyah, calling its teachings blasphemous. And the government issued a joint ministerial decree in 2008 banning its members from practicing their faith in public or spreading its beliefs.
That condemnation came to a fiery head on Friday evening when a mob of some 200 outsiders arrived at the remote village and attacked the At-Taufiq mosque, smashing its windows with rocks and setting the building alight with Molotov cocktails.
“They came with their motorbikes, honking their horns and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [‘God is great’],” Syaidatur Rohmi, 55, told the Globe. “Most of them were teenagers. There were hundreds of them. I just hid behind the sofa and could only stare in tears as they burned the mosque.”
But the destruction did not stop there. “After the first group of attackers left, a second group arrived 30 minutes later,” Syaidatur said. “This time they were targeting homes. My children and I fled for our lives along with other villagers, hiding in the graveyards.”
She said her back door was knocked open, and her sofas and coffee table were carried outside and burned.
But Syaidatur was among the more fortunate. Fellow villager Bashir Newai’s home was completely burned to the ground. “They broke into my house and took everything. Jewelry, figurines and cash — all were stolen. They torched everything else,” he told the Globe.
In total, 17 homes were ransacked and looted. Two of them, like Bashir’s, were burned beyond repair. The attackers also destroyed a kindergarten and an Islamic elementary school, as well as a car and seven motorcycles. No residents, however, were injured in the assault.
“I don’t see how we could use the mosque again,” said 57-year-old Cisalada resident Muhmiddin as he gazed at the soot-blackened walls and ceiling of the house of worship.
“The wooden beams look like they will fall apart soon,” he said. A few minutes later, one beam did just that, taking with it a portion of the ceiling. Struggling to contain his emotions, Muhmiddin managed to keep his composure as he gave a tour of the ruins. He burst into tears however, when he came across a burned section of the Koran in a field next to the mosque.
“Whoever did this are heartless monsters,” he said.
No one had claimed responsibility for the violence over the weekend. West Java Police Chief Insp. Gen. Sutarman said he had heard two versions of the attack’s chronology — the first being that the assault was sparked by resentment of mainstream Muslim groups toward the sect, and the second being that it was triggered after an Ahmadiyah member was stabbed by someone from another village.
Sutarman declined to elaborate where the latter rumor originated from, or the identity of the person allegedly stabbed.
“We are trying to establish what had really happened. Our team is now gathering the evidence from the scene,” he said. Around 500 heavily armed police officers, many from the elite Mobile Brigade (Brimob) were deployed to safeguard the village. Some 50 troops from the local military command were also stationed around the village.
“Our target right now is to ensure the safety of the villagers and to maintain security,” Sutarman said. On Saturday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono instructed police to punish those responsible for the attack.
“President SBY has urged people not to get easily provoked by issues from unclear sources. Do not listen to rumors,” said Julian Aldrin Pasha, the head of state’s spokesman. The attack occurred on the same day that Yudhoyono had urged Indonesians not to use mosques to preach hate and violence, and instead use them as places where brotherhood and close ties between all peoples would be encouraged.
Brother Against Brother
The Ahmadiyah in Cisalada date back to 1933. Back then, the members of the sect lived in harmony with other Muslim groups. It wasn’t until the end of President Suharto’s regime in the late 1990s that the first stirrings of resentment arose. In 2001, after former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid — considered a champion of pluralism — stepped down, the calls for the sect’s disbandment intensified.
There are currently around 600,000 Ahmadiyah members throughout the country. Since 2001, many of them have faced near-constant harassment and discrimination.
Similar burnings and attacks on Ahmadiyah mosques and homes have occurred in West Java, Central Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara, where in 2006, homes belonging to members of the group were burned, leaving hundreds homeless.
More recently, mainstream Muslims, attempting to seal off an Ahmadiyah mosque, clashed with sect members in Kuningan, West Java, in July.
Harassment against Ahmadiyah members in Cisalada was first recorded in 2007, when hundreds of people protested the renovation of the mosque there. Some even went as far as to vandalize the steel rods and concrete used for the foundation of the new structure.
“Rejection against the Ahmadis in Cisalada seem to come from outside of Ciampea [in Bogor]. They are not from around here,” A. Hidayatullah, a congregation leader in the village, said on Saturday.
“Friday’s incident is by far the worse that has happened to us. Our children can’t go to school, we can’t pray at our mosque and some people are now homeless.”
With his home ransacked and his money stolen, Zainuddin said that he was not quite sure what he would do.
“This will be my lunch and dinner, unless the neighbors are kind enough to spare me their food,” he said, pointing to a bunch of unripe bananas from his garden.
“I guess I’ll have to make good of the Rp 200,000 [$22] I still have in my pocket until the end of the month. All my money was stolen and I guess I have a lot of cleaning to do since I live by myself and my house was looted.”
The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, which promotes religious freedom, released a statement on Saturday demanding the government put a stop to its repeated calls to ban the sect. “Statements from the Religion Minister [Suryadharma Ali] are provocative and have only justified countless intimidations toward Ahmadiyah.”
The show of support arrived too late to stop the destruction of the mosque, but the Ahmadiyah have not lost faith. Hidayatullah said the congregation used the burned-out building for services on Sunday night.
“We won’t let this attack deter us from practicing our beliefs.”
Additional reporting by Camelia Pasandaran