As many as 50 people representing the Sampang Sunni community on Monday signed a peace agreement with their Shia neighbors, who are currently sheltering in low-cost apartments in Sidoarjo, East Java, after being relocated from the regency following prolonged conflict between the two sects. They met with around 40 representatives from the Shia group who had been forced by the East Java government to live there.
â€œWe want to forgive each other. We are tired of being in conflict. We cannot stand to see our brothers living in the evacuation camp. Inshaallah [God willing], all residents are ready to welcome them back,â€ Saningwar, a resident of Bluuran village in Sampang, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
He said the peace agreement was purely an initiative from Sampang residents without any coercion. He added that almost all residents had wanted to witness the signing of the agreement but they were unable to do so due to transportation difficulties.The conflict between the two groups reached its peak on Aug.27, 2012, after dozens of houses belonging to Shia followers were burned by angry mobs.
Among the Sunni followers was Zainul, a farmer who joined the attack on Shiites in Sampang in August last year. Two people died in the assault, including Zainulâ€™s adoptive father, a Shiite named Hamama.
When the peace declaration was about to begin, Zainul approached the Shia representative.
â€œI want to meet my adoptive mom,â€ he whispered.
His adoptive mother, only known as Ibu Hamama (Mrs. Hamama), showed up.
â€œIn front of everybody there, Zainul embraced his mother. They cried together,â€ Hertasning Ichlas, a lawyer for Shia refugees told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday. â€œThose who witnessed it were moved and cried as well.â€
Mrs. Hamama decided to forgive Zainul for joining the attack that killed her husband.
Hamzah, a religious figure in Madura, who initiated the peace declaration, led the event.
â€œWeâ€™re all Muslims, we should love each other,â€ Hamzah said, as quoted by Aan Anshori, the coordinator of the Anti-Discrimination Islamic Network (JIAD) who witnessed the event.
Aan said Saningwar, a Sunni follower who joined the attack, gave a speech representing other Sunni followers. He said that he was provoked to attack the Shiites, and he wanted to start anew. After saying that he felt sorry for what they had done, Saningwar could not hold his tears and he was unable to continue his speech.
On Tuesday Saningwar told the Jakarta Globe that he cried because he felt sorry for causing trouble for the Shiites, of whom many are relatives.
â€œI feel so sorry to see the children, my brothers to live in that condition,â€ Saningwar said. â€œIâ€™m feeling so remorseful.â€
Mohjahro, the coordinator of the Sunni group who visited the relocated Shia followers in Sidoarjo, said he hoped the initiative would garner full support from the Sampang administration, residents and clerics.
Saningwar said Sunni residents had always wanted to initiate a peace agreement with their Shia neighbors. However, he said, they feared that their advances would be rejected.
A coordinator of the Shia group, Iklil Al Milal, said the Shia followers welcomed the peace agreement. â€œWeâ€™ve already agreed to end the conflict. There will be no revenge for what we have suffered. Brotherhood is everything to us,â€ said Iklil.
A long way to peace
The conflict, which started as sibling rivalry between Shia leader Tajul Muluk and Roisul Hukama, a Sunni, broke out in August 2012. Many Shiites lost their homes that were set on fire by the attackers. They were forced to live as refugees in the Sampang sport center. But this year, under pressure by some intolerant groups, they were forced to move outside Sampang district and live in the Puspo Argo apartments, far away from their hometown.
During the process, both camps tried to reconcile, especially after many Sunni followers visited their Shia relatives in the sport center and in the apartment.
After being criticized for the governmentâ€™s inability to solve this case, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Aug. 1 led a meeting involving authorities and representatives from both sides. In the meeting, Yudhoyono told related authorities to mediate the conflict and return the displaced Shiites to their hometown by Idul Fitri or at the latest by December this year.
While there had not been any progress on the plan for the Shiites to return to their homes, two Shiites â€” Nurkholis and Islami â€” were forced to leave their hometown two weeks after the presidentâ€™s meeting because they refused to sign a document stating that they agreed to convert to Sunni Islam upon their own conscience as requested by local leaders.
â€œThey wanted us to sign a letter stating that we want to return to the â€˜rightâ€™ Islamic teaching on our own will, or [accept that] people would burn my house and kill me,â€ Nurkholis told the Jakarta Globe.
But it did not stop the grassroots effort to continue finding a solution. The effort has intensified in the past two months.
â€œThey admitted that they had been tired of being provoked every week,â€ Hertasning said. â€œThey finally came to realize that this is only a political game, not a religious issue. They realize that reconciliation is the right Islamic way to solve it.â€
A road heading home
Saningwar expected that after the declaration, the government would help the displaced Shiites to return to their hometown.
â€œThe reconciliation process has long been started,â€ Saningwar said. â€œWe indeed needed time to set our heart to receive them back. Weâ€™re sorry for what we did. If they want to return, thereâ€™s no term or condition for them, let alone forcing them to convert to Sunni.â€
The declaration read by Sunni followers stated that â€œwe have been tired with the animosity and weâ€™re ready to live side by side, respect and love each other as taught by our esteemed Prophet Muhammad.â€
Sunni followers also pledged that should future problems arise between Sunni and Shia, it would be solved in a peaceful manner, not by violence. The declaration was signed by 73 Sunni followers.
The Shiites also read a declaration stating that they were ready to live side by side as family and neighbors harmoniously. Iklil, a religious figure, said before the declaration â€œto let bygones be bygonesâ€ and to start a new life.
â€œHereby, we declare to wipe off revenge and bury the hatred that might ever exist to anyone in our hometown in Omben and Karang Penang subdistricts,â€ Iklil said, with his voice trembling and his hands shaking. â€œWe will not sue anyone related to the past violence and will prioritize a peaceful solution.â€
Herstaning said the displaced Shiites had longed to return to their hometown and willingly agreed not to retaliate despite their homes having been destroyed by fire and their livelihoods lost.
â€œPeople from the [Sunni] village will together find a way to return the refugees,â€ Hertasning said. â€œThey are optimistic that it wonâ€™t be long because they will ask the Shiites to go home themselves, be it with the governmentâ€™s help or not.â€
The Shiites and Sunnis followers went home after they embraced each other.
Key points from the peace treaty
â€¢ Residents from Karanggayam and Bluuran villages (Sunni community) say they will eradicate the enmity of the past, given the bond of brotherhood among Muslims.
â€¢ The Sunni community is ready to make peace and live side-by-side with the Shiites in mutual respect.
â€¢ If in the future an issue arises, the Sunni community is ready to resolve it amicably through consultation.
â€¢ The Shiites are ready to return to their villages.
â€¢ The Shiites intend to put behind them the differences and misunderstandings of the past.
â€¢ The Shiites eagerly wish to maintain religious tolerance by respecting one anotherâ€™s faiths and they will abandon any attempt to spread their faith to those who already have a faith.
â€¢ The Shia community will not file a lawsuit concerning the past violence, aiming instead to focu