Ahmadiyya Refugees in Lombok are Still Waiting for Safe Homes
IT was not yet 6am. Senah could be seen sitting inside the house, the front door slightly ajar. She was close to the television screen in a cramped room that also became her bedroom with her husband, Syahidin, at night. “Waalaikumsalam (peace be unto you),” said the 48-year-old woman, welcoming Tempo on Saturday, November 26.
Her eldest son, Muhammad Khataman Nabiyin, came carrying a towel. “I will take a bath,” said the seventh grader at State Junior High School 16 in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, in a hurry. He headed for the row of public baths used by residents of the Transito Dormitory.
Senah went to the kitchen area, which is separated by a blue curtain, to fry up some banana fritters and make two cups of coffee. We joined Syahidin on a bench on the porch. “Sorry, the place is a mess,” said the 53-year-old man about his residence.
The family of Syahidin and 34 other families that belong to the Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia (JAI—Indonesia Ahmadiyya Congregation) have for more than 16 years had to live at the Transito Dormitory in Jalan Transito in Majeluk, City of Mataram. They moved there after angry mobs repeatedly accused the Ahmadiyya of being a deviant sect. Their homes around Lombok Island were vandalized.
Ahmadiyya women join a Friday prayer in a public hall-turned mosque at the Transito Dormitory in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, November 25, 2022. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari
The Transito Dormitory used to be temporary accommodations for prospective transmigrant families during Suharto’s New Order period. It is an open space that was subdivided into dozens of rooms by using plywood paneling. Each family has a room. Syahidin is fortunate to have the room that used to be an office with more space.
“I have experienced about eight attacks and have moved many times,” said Syahidin, who is a coordinator for displaced families at the Transito Dormitory, while sipping his coffee. Syahidin is from Sambik Elen, North Lombok Regency—which used to be a part of West Lombok Regency—in West Nusa Tenggara. In 1997, he decided to join Ahmadiyya, and his family followed suit. Later, there were about 10 Ahmadi (Ahmadiyya follower) families in Sambik Elen.
Villagers who objected to their beliefs began to disturb them. Frequently, he and other Ahmadi families were insulted, reviled and occasionally assaulted. It climaxed in 2001 when a large group of people attacked their homes. “Kill the disbelievers,” Syahidin recalled the words he kept hearing during the attack. “We are Muslim. The difference is that we believe that Imam Mahdi (a leader guided by God) has come,” he said.
One Ahmadi died in that attack.
Syahidin and his neighbors sought refuge with Ahmadi families in the City of Mataram. His family stayed at the home of a member of JAI in Monjok. “We had been taken to East Lombok, but there were fears of further incidents, and were taken to Mataram,” he said. After a few months there, Syahidin and 10 other families moved to Sumbawa.
However, Sumbawa was no safer for them. When a major assault against Ahmadiyya followers took place in Pancor, East Lombok, in 2002, Syahidin’s family and other Ahmadis had to deal with the fallout. “Ahmadiyya newcomers such as myself were chased out,” he said. He and his family fled to Central Lombok. “There happened to be a vacant house and I was told to stay there.”
But they were persecuted there as well. Syahidin’s family returned to Monjok and began making installment payments on a house in a housing complex in the Ketapang hamlet, Gegerung village, Lingsar, West Lombok. “Initially, I didn’t want to buy it. I didn’t have anything left,” said Syahidin. But he got help. Some other Ahmadis have also purchased houses or plots of land in Ketapang, while some live in the homes of others there.
In 2006, they were attacked again. “I was doing tadarus (reading Qur’an) when suddenly people threw rocks at us,” Syahidin recalled. Several homes were damaged. After some time, there was a second attack. Syahidin and about 25 other families evacuated to the Transito Dormitory.
Despite living with such concern, they are safe from mob violence at the Transito. In 2010, about 13 families returned to Ketapang. “We want to live normal lives so badly that we tried to go back on our own,” said Syahidin. However, the persecution continued. They returned to Transito and decided to stay there until the government says that they can live in their own homes.
AT nearly 8am, Mahrufudin, a neighbor who lives on the other side of Syahidin’s wall, left carrying a sack. “He is going scavenging,” said Syahidin. Back home, Mahrufudin was a farmer who worked his own land. Now, like other residents at Transito, he does whatever he can to make ends meet. His wife is a vendor in the market.
They do receive government assistance, but it is not enough. Munikah, another resident of the Transito Dormitory, who says that she has been the victim of persecution five times, opens a snack stall. Her husband works as a barber.
Most of the residents of Transito are vendors at the market or drive motorcycle taxis. Syahidin sometimes drives a motorcycle taxi, when he is not working a rented rice field in Ketapang, about 100 meters from his destroyed home that is now covered in weeds.
When they first arrived at Transito, they often received unpleasant looks from locals. They live in cramped quarters, with each family residing in an about 3 X 3-meter room. “They feel constrained. There are no activities here, not like when farming,” said Saleh Ahmadi, an Ahmadiyya preacher for West Nusa Tenggara who helps the refugees at Transito.
Many cannot stand to live under such conditions and leave. Muhamad, about 80, once had a mental health problem as a result of repeated persecution. He left the Transito Dormitory and built a makeshift house out of aluminum sheeting at his field in Ketapang. A few steps away stands his son’s vacant brick house. When we greeted Muhamad as he was busy digging, he answered with a smile.
Behind that dilapidated shack, Sehabudin and his wife built a house out of aluminum sheeting and cloths from used banners. There was a small couch inside. Items were scattered about. “I have set up here,” said the man in his 70s. “Transito doesn’t suit me. I keep sweating there.”
From this emergency shelter, Sehabudin can see across the street to his old house among the destroyed homes, where more than 25 Ahmadiyya families used to live, including Syahidin and Muhamad.
DATA from the SETARA Institute, an institution that has monitored religious life in Indonesia since 2007, shows that Ahmadiyya followers—in particular for the JAI group, which has about 400,000 members—have experienced the most acts of intolerance and discrimination.
During 2007 to 2022, there were 591 cases of violations of freedom of religion and faith committed against the Ahmadiyya community. “Followed by Christians with 437 cases,” said Syera Anggreini Buntara, a researcher on religious freedom from the SETARA Institute. The violations range from violence and intimidation, worship bans, attacks on places of worship, discrimination in access to public services, intolerance, repression and complacency of the state, to unpleasant actions committed by local groups.
Sehabudin at the terrace of his house that also serves as the kitchen in Ketapang, Gegerung, West Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, November 26, 2022. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari
Over the past five years, the number of acts of intolerance experienced by the JAI community has drastically decreased, but the treatment they receive is worse compared to that experienced by Christians and other religious groups. “Homes were damaged in East Lombok in 2018 and a place of worship damaged in Sintang (West Kalimantan) in 2021,” said Syera.
SETARA also notes that the region most unfriendly towards the Ahmadiyya community is West Java, followed by West Nusa Tenggara, Banten and West Kalimantan. “In West Java there are 23 regulations that discriminate against the JAI,” said Syera.
Another minority Muslim community that often becomes target of acts of intolerance or discrimination is the Shias. “Mostly bans on observing Ashura,” said Syera. For Shia Muslims, Ashura is a solemn day of mourning the martyrdom of Hussein in 680 AD. In 2012, the Shia community in Sampang, Madura, East Java, was persecuted and until today most of them are still living in exile at the Puspa Agro Apartments in Sidoarjo, East Java. Even so, in 2020, nearly all of those internally displaced persons declared themselves to be followers of the Ahlussunnah Wal Jamaah or Sunni Islam that is followed by the majority of Muslims in Indonesia. (Read: Looking for A Way Back Home)
According to Syera, discrimination and intolerant actions against the JAI community tends to be structural. “There is a SKB (Joint Decree) of Three Ministers that became a number of increasingly restrictive regulations at the provincial and regency/city levels,” said Syera. In all, “there are 71 such regulations at the national and local levels.”
Most of such actions against the Ahmadis occurred from 2008 to 2011, after the Three Ministers SKB—the minister of religious affairs, the minister of home affairs and the attorney general—was issued regarding the JAI and Communities in 2008. This SKB ordered the JAI to stop disseminating its beliefs and activities that deviate from Islamic teachings, in particular the spreading their belief that there is a prophet who came after Prophet Muhammad.
Ahmadiyya was established in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), and came to Indonesia around 1924-1925. In 1953, the Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia (Qadian), which believes Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is Imam Mahdi (a messianic figure who is believed to appear at the end of times to rid the world of evil and injustice), was registered as a public social organization. The Ahmadiyya Indonesia Movement (Lahore), which believes that Ghulam is a reformer, was registered as a social organization in 1963 and announced in 1966.
“Basically things were peaceful in the past,” said Saleh Ahmadi. “The Ahmadis were even actively involved in the struggle for Indonesian independence.” Differences with other Muslim communities have not led to serious violence. In fact, according to Saleh, when he was still a boy in East Lombok, the Ahmadiyya community never had any problems with other residents.
Things began to change during the New Order era. In 1980, five years after its establishment, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa (edict) that stated that Ahmadiyya Qadian was outside of Islam. Then during the government of the Reformasi era, in 2005, the MUI issued another decree stating that Ahmadiyya—without mentioning either Qadian or Lahore—was a deviant sect. They also obligated the government to ban the spread of the Ahmadiyya faith, to freeze it, and to shut down all of its activity centers.
According to H. Kandali Achmad Lubis, JAI Secretary for External Affairs, and the Chair of Humanity First Indonesia, a JAI humanitarian organization, the open attacks against the Ahmadis began after the start of the Reformasi in 1998. Kandali and Saleh believe this was the result of the high number of political interests at play. “Incidents often occurred around the political events,” said Kandali.
Saleh personally experienced persecution in a number of places, including in East Lombok, Padang (West Sumatra), and Makassar (South Sulawesi). “We were really being put under pressure, treated unfairly, and were deprived of our constitutions rights,” he said.
DESPITE the slow progress, the government continues to work to overcome the Ahmadiyya community issues. Ahsanul Khalik, Head of the Social Affairs Office of West Nusa Tenggara, said that Ahmadiyya displaced people have received national identification cards as residents of the City of Mataram since 2010. “They can vote in the general elections and regional head elections,” he said. Before that, they could not access many of their rights as citizens, such as political rights and social assistance.
They also have secured access to various types of assistance, including social assistance, a program for poor families, and non-cash food assistance. “The latest one is the process for making land deeds,” said Ahsanul.
Ahmadiyya members have lunch at the Transito Dormitory, one of the shelters for the displaced residents in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, November 22, 2022. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari
The Presidential Staff Office (KSP) has facilitated Ahmadiyya refugees to obtain house construction assistance from the ministry of public works and people’s housing (PUPR). However, the results have not yet become extant. Rumadi Ahmad, a senior expert staff member at the KSP’s deputy V office for political, legal and security affairs and human rights, said that this assistance is still being processed. “The PUPR ministry has agreed to help, but the land to be used must be possessed and under the names of the residents,” he said on January 19.
Saleh Ahmadi considers the KSP and PUPR ministry program to be too complicated. “The pattern in East Lombok is simpler,” he said. He was referring to house construction assistance for Ahmadiyya refugees who were the victims of an attack in Greneng, East Lombok, in 2018. The regency and provincial governments there directly intervened, and in 2020, nine refugee families moved into new homes. “I issued an emergency decree, which enabled unforeseen expenditures to be made,” said Ahsanul, who at the time of the incident was the acting regent of East Lombok. The Ahmadiyya congregation also helped. “We worked together,” said Saleh.
However, today the regional government has said that it is unable to help. The Covid-19 pandemic has drained their budget. That is why the PUPR ministry has taken over the plan to build homes for the remaining displaced Ahmadis. There are 50 families on the waiting list at the social affairs office, including those of Syahidin, Sehabudin, Munikah and Muhamad, as well those who reside outside of Transito, such as the Ahmadis taking shelter at the former regional general hospital in Praya, Central Lombok.
Ahsanul said that construction of homes for those who already have land deeds is targeted for completion this year. Except for the housing complex in Ketapang, according to him, it is not yet safe for Ahmadiyya followers to live there. “We do not want to create a new problem,” he said. “This is for their own safety and maintaining calm social conditions.”
The problem is, many of the evacuees do not own land. “We are thinking about how to handle that,” said Ahsanul. The government and the JAI will work together on it.
The most difficult part of this effort, according to Ahsanul, is getting Ahmadiyya followers to be openly accepted by the public. The government has been conducting several programs. “We continue to run them,” he said. On top of that, according to Rumadi Ahmad, the government is reviewing a number of discriminative regulations, including the Three Ministers SKB. “There has been a discussion, but we have not yet made any sort of policy brief,” he said.
Good community relations has been the main concern for the Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia. That is why in 2016 the JAI decided to add rabtah (friendly get-togethers) to its program. “Making more friends, opening up, and socializing,” said Kandali Achmad Lubis.
Muhamad and Sehabudin’s houses by a rice field in Ketapang, West Nusa Tenggara, November 2022. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari
The number of meetings and instances of cooperation with the non-Ahmadiyya community and the government has been increased. One example of this is the National Jalsah Salanah (annual meeting) in Kemang, Bogor Regency, West Java, on January 6-8. Non-Ahmadiyya figures and government officials attended the event, including Rumadi Ahmad, House of Representatives (DPR) member Taufik Basarah, Loepianto representing the Interfaith Harmony Forum of the City of Depok, and National Commission on Violence Against Women Chairperson Andi Yetriyani.
Humanity First Indonesia has also been at work. In fact, they were chosen as the “Icon of Pancasila Achievement of 2001” by the Pancasila Ideology Education Agency (BPIP).
In distant Mataram, at the Transito Dormitory, Syahidin and other Ahmadiyya families living in exile have just one hope: to be able to return home as soon as possible, to live on their own land in their own houses. “A security guarantee is the most important thing for us,” said Syahidin.
This story was produced with support from the Round Earth Media Program of the International Women’s Media Foundation.