Sampang Shia Refugee Pledges Allegiance to Sunni, But They’re Still in Exile
HATIMAH approached us as we talked on a bench on the terrace of the unit of belonging to the couple Rizkiatul Fitriyah—or Fitri—and Iklil al-Milal, on the ground floor of Puspo Agro Apartment in Jemundo, Sidoarjo, East Java. Her left hand was badly damaged, losing almost all the fingers. “Because it got into the coconut machine,” Fitri translated Hatimah’s explanation in Madurese, late last November.
Hatimah was not the only one. Her husband also suffered the same accident. His hand was damaged after it got caught in the coconut machine. “That’s all they can do to earn an income,” said Fitri.
Farming, which was their livelihood when they lived in the village, cannot be done in Jemundo. The government assistance of Rp709,000 per person does not cover their needs, including for their children.
Hatimah, Fitri and almost 80 other families have lived in the Puspo Agro Apartment for almost 10 years. In August 2012, they were driven out of their land and homes in Sampang, Madura, East Java, because of their belief.
Hatimah, who has been driven out from her residence in Sampang, East Java, poses in front of her settlement block with her hand having been injured in a work accident at a copra factory, November 22, 2022. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari
Each family occupies one unit of the five-story apartment, which is dull and has peeling paint on the outside. “When we get together, we sleep like canned fish,” said Fitri. The 35-year-old woman has seven children, although some of them are children of Iklil from his deceased first wife. “Actually, we really want to go back to Sampang,” she said. “The land there has become like a forest.”
Fitri still remembers the bloody incident that occurred on August 26, 2012 in her village in the Nangkernang hamlet, Karanggayam village, Omben, Sampang. At that time, a week after the end of fasting month celebration Idul Fitri, she, who was heavily pregnant, and several other people were taking the children of Karanggayam village in Omben and Bluuran village in Karangpenang back to their boarding school. On the way, a mob attacked her house and several other Shia families. Umi Kulsum, the wife of Fitri’s brother-in-law, who was at home, was helter-skelter.
Umi Kulsum’s husband, Tajul Muluk or Ali Murtadha, was a Shia figure who runs the Misbahul Huda Islamic Boarding School (Pesantren) in Nangkernang. “The boarding school was burned down, as well as the livestock,” said Umi. “There were children in an empty building, fortunately it was not burned down.” About 48 houses were damaged in the incident and one person was killed.
According to Fitri, tensions had occurred several times before. Previously, on December 29, 2011, the homes of brothers Iklil, Tajul Muluk and their younger brother, as well as a pesantren, were attacked by a mob. Iklil and Tajul, who are leaders of the Shia community there, were threatened with death. At that time they took refuge in the Sampang Sports Building for about three weeks before returning home.
But after the August 2012 attack, they did not return. Hundreds of Shia Muslims were first evacuated to the Omben village office, then to the Sampang Stadium. “We were there for about 10 months,” said Fitri. “When we were taken to Jemundo, we were promised that we would only stay there for three days to a week. It turned out to be almost 10 years.”
Rizkiatul Fitriyah (left) and Umi Kulsum, refugees from Sampang, at Puspo Agro Apartment in Jemundo, Sidoarjo, East Java, November 22, 2022. They were among dozens of families who were forced to flee their homes in the wake of an attack by a mob who rejected Shias in their area on August 26, 2012. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari
At the time of the incident, Tajul Muluk was serving a sentence in a blasphemy case reported by his younger brother, Roisul Hukama, who had embraced Sunni. Previously, in January 2012, Sampang’s Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa (edict) that Shia teachings were heretical. Tajul was sentenced to two years in prison, but became four years in the appeal verdict.
“In my opinion, there is a political element,” said Umi Kulsum of the 2012 incident.
Initially, about 48 Shia families, from Karanggayam and Bluuran villages were accommodated in Puspo Agro Apartment. Later, it continued to grow to about 80 families because there were children who started their own families in the shelters. But there are also those who leave the flat, either because of work or occupying their own houses or rented houses.
Life in Jemundo has been challenging. “Economy, children’s education…,” said Umi Kulsum, briefly silent. “At that time I couldn’t imagine what the children would be like.”
The refugees do all kinds of work. Many shell coconuts at the Kupang Market.
For some time, the children were scattered. “Some of our (Shia) friends took them in, put them in their family cards,” said Fitri. “So they could go to school.” Some families accommodated two or more children at once. That went on for about three to four years, and then they returned to their families. They got educational assistance from other Shia organizations or adherents.
Like the story of Rodipa. After the incident, she was sent to a boarding school in Central Java. From there, she was sent again to Bandung, West Java, to study at the junior and senior high schools. “It was Ustad (preacher) Tajul and Nyai (Umi Kulsum) who took care of that,” said the 20-year-old woman.
The children also experienced trauma. “My children were reluctant to meet families from Sampang,” said Umi. Rodipa still remembers the details of the 2012 incident. “I saw with my own eyes, my brother was hit by a stone that broke his tooth.”
Currently, the relationship among Tajul Muluk’s extended family has improved. They have visited each other.
However, the uncertainty of their fate still haunts them. There have been rumors that the apartment would be sold. “My mind is restless,” said Umi Kulsum. Once they were given train tickets and there was a bus that would take them to the station. They were told they would be sent to several locations in Jakarta and West Java. “But because it was not clear what to do there, we refused,” said Fitri.
They also have made various efforts to return to Sampang. “Including through the KSP (Presidential Staff Office),” said Fitri. “We once rode bicycles to meet the president during SBY’s (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) time. We rode our bikes for two months.” But there was still no way back home.
But recently there is hope. “The Sampang Regent has helped a lot,” said Umi Kulsum.
Met at his official residence in Sampang, last November, Regent Slamet Junaidi said, once inaugurated in 2019, he was determined to solve the displaced Shias problem. “Our principle is to humanize them. Whatever their form, whatever their ideology, whatever their beliefs, because they are part of Sampang residents,” he said.
So far, all of their civil affairs have been taken care of, such as identity cards, marriage certificates and land certificates. “They are afraid of their land being taken over by people,” he said.
At the same time, Tajul Muluk-Umi, Iklil-Fitri and almost all refugees in Jemundo decided to give up Shia and follow Ahlussunnah Wal Jamaah or Sunni, which majority of Indonesian Muslims follow. Taking a bus provided by the Sampang government, they pledged allegiance in Sampang in November 2020. “After I read a lot about Shia, indeed it is far different from Sunni. We have to retreat,” said Tajul Muluk. “So it’s not because I want to go home or want to be accepted by the residents (of Sampang). It is merely my responsibility to be trusted by the community.”
Children who studied in Shia schools or got assistance from the Shia community were withdrawn. They were sent to Lirboyo in Kediri and Tebu Ireng in Jombang Islamic boarding schools in East Java. Regent Slamet Junaidi provided money to pay for their education. “There are 60 of them. With those who study in higher education outside the boarding schools, there are about 100 of them,” said Slamet.
The government also communicated with the community and clerics about the return of refugees to Sampang. “Thank God, they are accepted,” he said. In April 2022, 14 displaced families returned to Sampang, leaving about 66 families in Puspo Agro. “But we still have debts, (to help them with) houses,” said Slamet.
Indeed, not all Jemundo refugees were able to rebuild their houses. Slamet Junaidi promised to help with housing matters. Currently, according to him, the National Alms Agency (Baznas) has stated assistance of Rp20 million per family. Slamet plans to allocate Regional Budget funds amounting to Rp30 million per family.
He is also in communication with the Presidential Staff Office and the ministry of public Works and people’s housing (PUPR).
Rumadi Ahmad, the senior expert of Deputy V of the KSP on political, legal and security affairs and human rights, said the PUPR ministry is processing Slamet’s request. However, according to Rumadi, they will try to have more refugees return home in the next two months.
A kid playing at Puspo Agro Apartment, which serves as a shelter for displaced Sampang residents. They were evicted from their homes because of their adherence to Shia, which is considered a heretical sect of Islam, November 22, 2022. TEMPO/Purwani Diyah Prabandari
“I want them to go home before Idul Fitri (in April),” said Slamet Junaidi. Except for four families. “The agreement with the community is like that,” he said. The four families are the Iklil-Fitri, Tajul-Umi and two families who remain to follow Shia.
Slamet said that the government has disseminated to the community about differences, to maintain community harmony. “The proof is that there are still Shias and there is no problem,” he said. “If there is no trigger, it (persecution) will not happen.”
According to Tajul, in addition to the regency administration, they really need the support of the central government, so that people in Sampang will again accept them. “We are now Sunnis.”
This story was produced with support from the Round Earth Media Program of the International Women’s Media Foundation.