On September 3, 2021, several dozen members of a group calling itself the “Muslim Community Alliance” (Aliansi Umat Islam) burned down the Ahmadiyah Community Mosque in Balai Harapan village, Sintang, West Kalimantan.
Before the attack, the Muslim Community Alliance had referred to a notorious religious opinion from 2005or fatwa, issued by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) which described the minority Islamic sect Ahmadiyah as a deviant sect “outside Islam” and called on the government to ban it.
In mid-August, the Muslim Community Alliance issued an ultimatum to the district government, calling on it to act against the Ahmadiyah community within three days. Responding to this pressure, on August 14, the district government forcibly closed the Ahmadiyah Mosque. But the Muslim Community Alliance was still not satisfied and destroyed the mosque and a building belonging to Ahmadiyah next to it.
Following the attack, the Sintang district government continued to bow to pressure from the Muslim Community Alliance and called on the Ahmadiyah community to demolish the remains of the mosque. In January, the district government removed all Ahmadiyah signage, knocked down the spire of the mosque and converted it into a living house.
As in many other cases involving religious minorities, the the attackers escaped with light sentences. On January 6, 2022, the Pontianak District Court sentenced 21 attackers to just four months and 15 days in jail. The time already served in custody means that the attackers have only been detained for approximately two additional weeks after sentencing.
West Kalimantan is an ethnically and religiously diverse society with large populations of indigenous Dayak, ethnic Malay, ethnic Chinese, and Madurese migrants. According to a government measure, the province previously ranked among the most “tolerant” provinces in Indonesia. Despite this ranking, in the aftermath of the attack, few civil society organizations (CSOs) in the province appeared willing to publicly defend the rights of the Ahmadiyah community.
A week after the attack on the mosque, I went to Sintang with colleagues from Setara Institute and Yayasan Satu Keadilan to investigate the case. It quickly became apparent to us that many people in West Kalimantan were reluctant to show solidarity with the Ahmadiyah community, fearing it would lead to religious or ethnic conflict.
These fears are understandable, given the long history of ethnic violence in West Kalimantan. Although definitions of conflict vary, one researcher has noted that there were 16 major ethnic conflicts between 1950 and 1999: a Dayak-ethnic Chinese conflict in 1967 and 15 between Dayaks and Madurese. These conflicts have often been triggered by trivial matters, but have repeatedly escalated, with devastating consequences.
The most striking example is the conflict of Sambas in 1999. While the conflict would have started with a small dispute between Malays and Madureses, the The Dayaks soon joined on the side of the Malays. This conflict led to more than 1,000 people killed and nearly 4,000 homes destroyed. Over 50,000 ethnic Madurese have been displaced.
A complicating factor in West Kalimantan is that ethnicity is closely tied to religion. In West Kalimantan, the Malays are predominantly Muslim, the Dayak are predominantly Christian, while the ethnic Chinese are generally Christian, Buddhist or Confucian. In fact, religion is such a dominant identifier in the region that a Dayak or ethnic Chinese who converts to Islam is often seen as “to become Malay”.
These factors help explain why West Kalimantan CSOs seemed reluctant to respond to the Sintang incident. Some people privately expressed sympathy for Ahmadiyah supporters, but there was no strong interfaith movement and very little coordinated civil society effort to promote post-conflict social cohesion. This contrasts with the situation in Java, where attacks on religious minorities have often incited interfaith groups and pro-tolerance CSOs (such as Setara Institute, Wahid Institute, Elsam, Gusdurian, Indonesian Aid Foundation legal and many others) to speak out on behalf of minorities.
Indeed, residents of West Kalimantan told me that some residents had been criticized for condemning the attack on the Ahmadiyah Mosque. For example, one informant told me that his Muslim friend had been silenced by his friends after advocating for the rights of Ahmadiyah supporters, fearing it would stir up ethnic tensions with other Muslims of ethnic different. She even asked me to hide the ethnicity of Muslims, indicating how sensitive these issues are in West Kalimantan.
Other non-Muslims saw the attack as an internal problem among Muslims. They were reluctant to speak out over fears that they might be seen as interfering in the affairs of local Muslims.
Months after the incident, some religious leaders and people concerned about intolerance engaged in informal interfaith dialogue, discussing the issue broadly in terms of peacebuilding, rather than focusing solely on the rights of the Ahmadiyah community. . But these dialogue efforts have been met with intimidation from the Muslim Community Alliance. Muslims involved in the dialogue have been accused of siding with Ahmadiyah supporters. One of them even received death threats. Weak coordination and the reluctance of one organization or individual to take on a leadership role has also hampered peacebuilding efforts.
The Ahmadiyah community is trying to ignore the incident. They greet their neighbors and make efforts to interact with them, but the scars of conflict remain. Journalist Dian Lestari reported that six months after the incident, many Ahmadiyah supporters are still deeply traumatized by the conflict. Some Ahmadiyah children have been bullied by their peers, while others Companies owned by Ahmadiyah faced local boycotts.
The attack on the Ahmadiyah Mosque in Sintang and its aftermath have clearly shown that much more needs to be done to support peacebuilding and prevent future tensions and conflicts. Lasting peace is only possible when it is locally built and owned. Local civil society and inter-religious movements have a central role to play in consolidating peace and promoting social cohesion.
However, as the Social Conflict Management Law No. 7 of 2012 makes clear, the government also has a responsibility to support the psychological and economic recovery of Ahmadiyah followers (Article 38(1)(2)) . While some officials have made public efforts to address stigma, the government must also ensure there is a safe space for civil society to build public awareness and promote dialogue. In particular, it must ensure that action is taken against those who threaten peacebuilding activists or disrupt efforts to promote dialogue.
Dialogue – inter-ethnic, inter-faith and intra-faith (for example, between Ahmadiyah and traditional Muslims) – is important. This can reduce stigma and help various groups better understand each other and recognize that many groups in West Kalimantan have suffered from past conflicts. In other regions, including West Java and Lombokthe dialogue was effective in helping those who persecuted or were indifferent to minority rights to sympathize with them, and sometimes even to take action to protect their rights.
Dialogue can take informal forms, such as group sports activities or collaboration with other local social causes. But whatever its form, it must be continuous, even at times when society seems “harmonious”. The effects of dialogue will take time to be felt, but it is essential for lasting peace.
Influential figures from local governments, religions and civil society also have an important role to play in supporting these efforts. For example, Balai Harapan village chiefs previously warned residents not to be swayed by identity politics and encouraged them to allow the Ahmadiyah Mosque to be built in their village in March 2021. Prominent local government figures , religions and civil society can play an important leadership role and strengthen coordination among interfaith groups.
Finally, external actors can also support local peacebuilding efforts. National CSOs can conduct political advocacy on peacebuilding at the national level. They can also work with local CSOs to continue to build grassroots awareness of peace and minority rights.
Above all, they must affirm that violence must be the concern of all Indonesians, regardless of their religion or ethnic origin. When people express support for the rights of followers of Ahmadiyah or other minorities facing violence, this should not be seen as taking a stand in a conflict or interfering in the internal affairs of another religion. , but simply as the defense of the equal rights that they all share as Indonesian citizens.