Displaced Shia Muslims remain in limbo in Indonesia

SHAFAQNA - Hundreds of displaced Shia Muslims in Indonesia’s East Java province were told they cannot return to their Madura Island homes unless they abandon their faith.

The Shias fled their homes three years ago, after a Sunni Muslim mob of more than 500 people attacked them in Sampang, setting dozens of homes on fire. Two people died and 10 others were injured.

“There’s no progress yet. We came to East Java several times, but all efforts we took resulted in nothing,” Muhammad Machasin, director general of Islam Community Guidance at the Religious Affairs Ministry, told ucanews.com on Aug. 27.

“Those living in Sampang think that the displaced Shia Muslims should not return home, and those living in the shelter want to go back home with no condition. But those living in Sampang will allow the displaced Shia Muslims to go back home only if they leave their faith,” he said.

“We can’t resolve the issue in the near future and can’t say when it can be done,” he said.

Shias represent a small minority in Sunni-dominant Indonesia, with about 1 million adherents concentrated around Jakarta, and in communities found on Java, Madura and Sumatra.

Iklil Al Milal, a displaced Shia Muslim, said that he and 304 other displaced Shia Muslims will keep urging the government to send them home.

“We don’t feel at home here. We have our own villages. We always want to return home,” he said.

He said there was a growing anxiety among the displaced over the condition of their homes and property. “Before leaving our villages, there was a land-grabbing issue. Some of us don’t have the land certificates. We’re worried about that,” he said.

In an Aug. 26 statement, London-based Amnesty International urged the Indonesian government to take steps to ensure the safe return of the displaced Shia Muslims to their homes.

“Provide assistance and compensation to enable them to rebuild the homes that were damaged or destroyed,” the rights group said.

Religious freedom

Amnesty also called on the government “to ensure that all religious minorities are protected and allowed to practice their faith free from fear, intimidation and attack.”

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, secretary of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute’s national council, told ucanews.com that the government lacked the will to solve the problem.

“If the government wants to uphold the constitution, they must return the displaced Shia Muslims home,” he said.

A failure to address the issue will set a bad precedent, he said, adding, “we will face this issue over and over again.”

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, secretary of the bishops’ Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, called on the government to issue a speedy resolution to the crisis.

“Just because the issue isn’t a trending topic anymore, doesn’t mean the government can forget about it. Well, it’s not over yet,” he told ucanews.com

The case was clearly a violation of religious freedom, he said.

“Shia Muslims … must be seen as part of the society that has the same rights … All citizens’ faiths should be recognized, but Shia Muslims still find it difficult to practice their faith,” he told Shafaqna.

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