Ulma Haryanto, Ezra Sihite & Dessy Sagita
A Shiite-run Islamic boarding school in East Java was set on fire on Thursday by a group claiming to be Sunnis, but rights activists said the conflict was partly due to a drawn-out family dispute.
The Tajul Muluk Islamic boarding school, or pesantren , in Nangkernang village in the Sampang district of Madura Island was destroyed, but there were no reports of injuries.
The pesantren housed about 100 male and female students.
“We suspect the incident was carried out by a group of Wahhabis who are also suspected of burning the house of one of the school’s teachers two weeks ago,” said Ahmad Hidayat, secretary general of Shia Islamic organization Ahlulbait Indonesia (ABI), referring to members of an ultra-conservative Sunni branch.
In the previous incident, he said, the attackers locked the teacher’s door shut before setting the house on fire but the occupants managed to escape.
There had been rumors of an impending attack, ABI member Moh. Hadun Hadear told BeritaSatu Media Holdings, with which the Jakarta Globe is affiliated. Despite appeals to the police, though, nothing was done.
National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution denied allegations that police let the attacks occur, saying officers tried to go to the location but “were intercepted by a mob.”
Sampang Police chief of operations Comr. Danuri insisted that the building torched on Thursday was not a pesantren . “It was not a pesantren but a house used for Koranic recitals,” Danuri said, adding that three other homes belonging to Shiites were also torched beside it.
He said the homes were in a forest, making fire fighting difficult, and that the police had not identified any suspects.
Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch told BeritaSatu that a family feud had exacerbated the conflict in Sampang.
He said the dispute centered on a local Shiite religious leader who prohibited his younger brother from marrying a young student at the religious school.
“[The younger brother] then became a Sunni and has since only aggravated the problems there,” he said.
Andreas also said he was disappointed with the local government’s failure to respond quickly to the case.
“The residents there often receive death threats,” he said. “The leader of the boarding school had been asked by the local government to evacuate for a year.”
Andreas, who in September was detained by the police for three days while researching the Shia community in Nangkernang, said the police “know who the perpetrators are but have never arrested them.”
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy Peace, said the conflict was more of a power struggle between religious leaders than a conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.
“Conflicts like this are usually caused by competition over who has more influence, and they’re sometimes also sparked by land disputes,” Bonar said.
There are up to three million minority Shiites in Indonesia, he said, many more than the minority Ahmadiyah Islamic sect that has been a target of violence in recent years.
Lawmaker Abdul Hakim condemned the pesantren attack and said differences of opinion “should be settled through deliberation” in a country of law.
Hakim, who represents the Islam-oriented Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), described the attack as a deplorable act and criticized the police for failing to anticipate the violence.
“In cases like this one, police officers should be quick in responding to complaints from the public,” he said.