Don't Write Us Down as Terrorists (by Linda Christanty)

Posted in Journalism by Linda Christanty on 05/14/2011

TENGKU Mustafa was in his 20s. He was small. Thin. Dark-skinned. His face was hairless. A black praying cap perched on his head. He was sporting a plastic jacket. He didn’t say much that morning. He fell asleep a few times. When he woke up, he stared right ahead. Tensed. He was sitting next to me, on the back seat.

Mustafa was educated in Darul Istiqomah, Bireuen. Everyone called him "ustadz" now, and he gave sermons in various places.

He knew the way to Darul Mujahiddin. He knew the leader of the dayah (Islamic boarding school in Aceh) and he referred to him with respect.

Teuku Zulfahmi, or known as Fahmi, was sitting on the front seat. Next to him was Tu Nazir, behind the wheel.

A moment later, Mustafa called someone on his cell phone. After that, he turned to me and said, “You have to wear a hijab, and you can’t wear pants. You have to wear a skirt or sarong,” he said, conveying to me what the man on the other end had said.

I was wearing a cotton shirt and pants, with a shawl around my neck.

"What if I wear this shawl?" I asked.

“You can’t. You have to wear a hijab,” Mustafa said, almost sounding like he was giving an order.

“So I can’t go into the dayah?” I asked.

Tu Nazir said, “If you want to wear the shawl, you can. If you don’t want to, it’s okay. Whichever makes you comfortable. We can go in. Anyone can visit the dayah. They can’t possibly reject guests.”

“Nothing is impossible in this world. The only impossible things are making Mom and Dad, or making the Koran,” he continued, still driving.

Fahmi laughed, “Nothing is impossible as long as Tu is around.”

Mustafa fell silent, unable to argue. He looked really tired and sleepy. He, together with Tu Nazir and a few santris (student of Islamic boarding school) from one dayah in Darussalam, Banda Aceh, had been staying up all night, chanting prayers to lift up treasures from the ground. They had also asked help from the jinn, with an offering of Turkish opium made from the milk of the gaharu wood. However, they had not seen anything of the expected antiques in the ground. What they got was pieces of porcelain, a little gold, and some coins with  the picture of an old, hunched man. What they got the most was… shellfish.

No sound from Mustafa, he fell asleep again.

Tu Nazir was average built, moderately dark skinned. He got lines on his forehead, one that was blackened by countless times of praying. There were black circles around his eyes, indicating lack of sleep. His mustache was thick, but he didn’t grow any beard.

That morning, he was wearing a reddish brown batik shirt. Tu was how people called him respectfully. His real name was Naziruddin. He was 52 years old, with four wives, and four children. When I asked him why he married four times, Tu answered, “They were the ones chasing me. They even proposed. That’s their own fault then, right? No crocodile would reject preys.”

“People also called my ancestor Tu. It went on for generations, we were all called Tu. My ancestor was law-literate. That’s what my grandmother told me,” he said.

Tu’s life is one of colors and adventures. During Indonesia’s conflict with the The Free Aceh Movement (GAM/Gerakan Aceh Merdeka), he turned off the electricity for the whole town.

“The state’s electricity company (PLN) has theie own formula in counting the bills. They thought I didn’t pay the bills, so they cut out the electricity in my house. If my house is dark, then I will make the whole area dark. It turned out, the whole town became dark,” Tu laughed.

As a consequence, 36 central trafos were burned down.

“I used TNT,” he said, referring to the explosive.

“It made the news in the Serambi. The military said that GAM did it,” Tu said.

Serambi Indonesia, or Serambi for short, is the biggest daily newspaper in Aceh.

The fact was, Tu did it for personal reasons. In addition to turning the whole town dark, Tu once set the regent’s office on fire. It was also the office of the police and the army. The Special Forces (Kopassus/Komando Pasukan Khusus), again, put the blame on GAM. When the situation got more crucial, Tu decided to go to Jakarta. 

After escaping, Tu led an uncertain life. In the midst of this hardship, Tu met a man named Habib Sultan, a store-owner in Bekasi. Habib Sultan is a member for Jamaah Tabliq. Tu asked him for a job. Not long after, Tu followed the group to Thailand and India for 40 days.

The members of Jamaah Tabliq travelled from town to town, for country to country, to spread their teachings, with limited resource. Jamaah Tabliq’s headquarter is in Pakistan. Upon joining the Jamaah Tabliq, Tu got in contact with radical Islamic groups. Later, he was given a special task by the military, which he refused to elaborate.

“I was given an address of someone named Amrozi. Actually it was the wrong person. But nevermind. So from there, I knew Imam Samudra. Those people had a lot of money. I met them in Nagoya, a discotheque in Batam,” he said, behind the wheel.

He forgot, though, which year it was when he met them.

The name Imam Samudra got widely known, when he was accused of bombing a church in Batam in 2000.

Former GAM general, Fauzi Hasbi, who went on to become a spy for the Indonesian military, was also deemed involved in the Christmas bombings that year, and early 2001.

“Dateline”, a program in Australian TV network SBS, on October 12, 2005, aired a documentary film Inside Indonesia’s War and Terror, which exposed the Indonesian military’s involvement in the series of the aforementioned bombings. In the film, Lamkaruna Putra, Fauzi’s son, showed official documents of Fauzi’s assignment from the Indonesian military. The documents were dated 1990 and 1995.

Fauzi is the son of a Darul Islam (DI) leader in Aceh, Abu Hasbi Geudong, known as the second in command after Daud Beureuh in the DI Aceh movement. Hasbi Geudong would then depart to Malaysia in 1985, at the same time as the arrival of two DI Central Java’s figures, Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir in Malaysia. In 2002, Fauzi served as a special agent for the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency. He mysteriously died in Ambon on February 22, 2003.

Umar Abduh, who had been involved in the hijacking of a Garuda flight heading to Bangkok, and was detained for 10 years during the New Order, stated that Fauzi was present in a Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) important meeting in Kuala Lumpur in January 2001, which was preparing for some violent acts. Among those present were Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, Abu Rela from Mindanao, Abdul Fatah from Pattani, and a number of people from Sulawesi and West Java. Hambali was leading the meeting. However, according to Lamkaruna, everyone there was not aware that Fauzi was an intelligence spy. A month before the documentary was aired on SBS, Lamkaruna died in a plane accident.

Tu knew Fauzi personally, and had some different information on where Fauzi died. “He died in Poso,” he said.

Imam Samudra was again on the spotlight after the Bali bombing. On October 12, 2002, two bombs blew to two tourist spots in Kuta apart. Around 300 people were killed. Imam Samudra and Amrozi were accused to be involved. Both of them were executed by a shooting squad on November 9, 2008. They both were reported as members of Jamaah Islamiyah or JI, an organization classified by the United Nation as a Southeast Asian terrorist network.

“What do you do now for a living?” I asked Tu.

“I do everything. I even dig up gutters for money,” he said.

Tu was the nephew of Humam Hamid and Farhan Hamid. His mother was Hamid’s sister. Humam was a politician of the Party of United Development (PPP/Partai Persatuan Pembangunan), and was running for governor in Aceh in 2006, but he was defeated by Irwandi Yusuf, a former GAM. Meanwhile, Farhan is the vice chairman of the People’s Representative Council of Indonesia. Tu’s father is a respected cleric, Tengku Muhammad Amin Arbi, or Abun Tanjungan Samalanga. Therefore, Tu had easy access to the people of the dayah, and they respected him.

“Tu’s father was Abati’s teacher, and Abati was Tengku Muslim At-Tahiry’s teacher,” Fahmi told me. Tengku Muslim was the leader of Darul Mujahiddin, the dayah we were visiting.

This was the second time that Fahmi was accompanying me. Two years ago, he accompanied me to search and interview the old guerillas who declared the Free Aceh with Hasan Tiro, from Pidie to West Aceh. Today he seemed to be dressed for winter, not someone in a tropical country: a navy blue coat from synthetic lamb skin, with syntethic wool as the collar. Because the car was air conditioned, Fahmi’s coat served its function. Fahmi hated air conditioning, while I could have passed out without it. Fahmi was not feeling well. He said he had a headache and nausea.


THE CAR turned at Jalan Line Pipa, at the Blang Weu Panjoe village. On both of our sides were forests, but not the dense ones like on the road to Pidie or Geumpang, West Aceh. The car drove on until I saw the dayah’s sign on the right side of the road: Zawiyah Darul Mujahiddin. In front of the dayah compound, there was a stall selling snacks and beverages. A woman in hijab was sitting at the stall.

The security booth lied not far from the stall. The red cloth with Arabic letters and an image of a rencong (Aceh’s traditional machete) underneath decorated the booth. A thin cow is tied up in front of the booth. Behind the quiet-looking cow stood a new, unfinished building, supported with bamboo posts on all sides. Two workers were walking about on the building.

The buildings within the Darul Mujahiddin compound were so modestly constructed, with zinc or leafs as the roofs. The walls were wooden planks or semi-wooden planks.

I walked on to one of the buildings, then took a picture of the announcement board on the wall: the dayah’s regulations. Suddenly a man came up to me and asked what I was there for. He gave me an order, “Pull down your headscarf a little lower, one can still see your hair.” He looked tensed.

Fahmi meddled and said that we wanted to see the dayah leader.

The cleric man answered, “Tengku Muslim is not in today. He is in Langsa to give a sermon.”

This dayah made big news once. First, because the clerics did clothing inspection, something that unsettled the people. Second, the dayah secretary, Tengku Mukhtar Ibrahim, was accused by the police to be involved in terrorist training in the Jalin mountains, Jantho, Great Aceh. But before he got arrested, he turned himseld in to the police. He also relinquished an M 16 gun, three Colt pistols, and hundreds of bullets. Tengku Muslim was the one who suggested Mukhtar to do it, because he heard Mukhtar was being a target. But Muslim ended up being interrogated by the police. Mukhtar was arrested, but he was released. Later, he was put into Jantho prison.

Almost a year ago, in February 2010, the police was going after 120 people involved in the military training in Jantho. They were trained to attack several hotels and embassies. They also allegedly prepared the assassination attempt at President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the Independence Day memorial in August that year.

Before the series of such terrorizing acts continued, the police traced down the training activities. The police went after the culprits and carried out an operation to bust the group in Medan and Jakarta. Dulmatin, one of their leaders, was killed in a raid in Pamulang, Tangerang. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir was facing a death sentence. He was accused of planning and funding the military training in Aceh. Ba’asyir was caught in the law of terrorism.

Ba’asyir paid a number of visits to Aceh. In 2006, he was staying in the tsunami victims camp in Jantho, Aceh Besar, for a week. His nephew, Abdul Rozak Ba’asyir, stayed in Jantho refugee camp as a volunteer for Buddha Tzu Chi, the Taipei-based aid institution from Taiwan. Buddah Tzu Chi built houses for the tsunami victims in Aceh.

When Buddha Tzu Chi’s housing was built in Neuheun, Krueng Raya, Ba’asyir came back and stayed for three days at Rozak’s place.

In the video on Aceh reconstruction made by Buddha Tzu Chi seen on YouTube, Master Cheng Yen – the founder of Buddha Tzu Chi – referred to Rozak as “the man of inspiration and spirit” for the tsunami refugees. In the video, Master Cheng Yen also said Rozak was the nephew of “a radical Islamic activist”. Rozak was about 50 years old, dark skinned, with greyish beard. On his left cheek was a long scar.

Fahmi met Rozak directly, when he was still working as a motor-taxi driver and was taking a foreign journalist to see Rozak in August 2006. At the time, he didn’t have the chance to speak to Rozak. Then, they met again accidentally when Fahmi was standing in line to receive a house from Buddha Tzu Chi.

“Rozak said that he hated Aceh people who became beggars because of the tsunami. But we didn’t beg. It’s the aid organizations that came to Aceh. Rozak said that was why all the walls in the houses that Buddha Tzu Chi made were not permanent. In five years, the walls will collapse, he said, so that people would learn to rebuild them themselves, so that people would not live from begging,” Fahmi said, then laughed. He did not get any housing help, because he was not considered a victim.

“Once there was a woman. She came to see me. She didn’t look too pleased. She said that her husband was a high-ranking official in the Special Forces in Jakarta. She spoke good Indonesian,” Fahmi recalled.

Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, Rozak’s uncle, was known as the founder of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) with Abdullah Sungkar. Both of them founded JI after Negara Islam Indonesia (Indonesian Islamic State, or NII) broke into several factions. JI was later accused as being behind the series of bombings in Indonesia, including church bombings in several cities, tourist spots in Bali, embassies and hotels in Jakarta.

Dayah Mujahiddin was mentioned as one of the military training ground for people that called themselves “mujahiddin”, besides Jantho.

The santri before me started to look restless, and said that he did not have the authority to talk about the dayah.

“It’s better that Tengku Muslim explains,” he said.

We gave him our names.

“Hairul Riza,” he answered. He had studied in Darul Mujahidin for three years.

He finished high school in Paya Bakong, North Aceh. During the conflict period, the village was a red zone. Weapon confrontation between the Indonesian military and GAM happened quite often in Paya Bakong, the gas exploration area for Exxon Mobil, which was also known as PT Arun. The American-based company was supporting and providing facilities for the Indonesian military to conduct crimes against humanity in the area, including killing, torturing, and raping. In March of 2006, after going through the evidence and reports from 11 villagers, the American head of district court, Louis Oberdorfer, allowed the inhabitants of Paya Baking to sue Exxon Mobil.

Hairul had short hair, and he was 20 years old. He was wearing a yellow Islamic shirt, and a shite and pink checkered sarong. His skin was quite dark. His eyes were sharp and inquisitive.

“Can you show us the training ground that the newspapers wrote about?” I said.

Fahmi then spoke in Acehnese to Hairul.

“But it has become a forest, now,” Hairul told us. “It’s no longer there.”

“It’s all right. I just want to see it,” I said.

He then took us to climb the cliff. Mustafa came along, while Tu chose to wait at the stall.

The moderately vast lawn spread before me. Bushes were all around. Trees and forests were seen from afar. But there was no dense forest nearby. The sky was greyish white.

From this cliff, I could see a wooden hut down below. Its posts were no longer erect. Half of its walls were made of bamboo weavings, and the rest were open. The floors were made of bamboo and wooden planks, with cracks on them.

“That’s where the female clerics gather and pray,” said Hairul.

“Well it looked like it is leaning in prayer, itself,” Mustafa said to me softly.

Tengku Muslim’s house was not far from the hut. The walls were white. An old black sedane was parked on the front yard.

After taking pictures, the three of us headed back to the stall, and sat there. I started my interview with Hairul. 

“Why were you interested to join a dayah?” I asked.

Hairul was the eldest child in the family. He had six younger brothers and sisters.

“Because I realized my obligation to Allah,” he said.

Of course, it was an official answer. Tengku Muslim later told me that Hairul’s parents could not stand to deal with Hairul’s bad behaviour, and sent Hairul to the dayah to be educated.

There were about 100 male and female students in thie dayah.

“What do you know about the training?”

“There is no terrorist training here, like what the newspapers wrote. We do have a training for mujahiddin warriors. To defend Palestine. The trainers are from FPI (the Islam Defenders Front). They already asked permission from the leaders. Their activities are not covert and are published by the media,” Hairul said.

Fahmi supported Hairul’s explanation.

“Way before this training, the head od FPI opened up a registration booth. The head’s name is Yusuf Al Qardhawi,” he said.

“They train self defense, like karate. In addition, they also learn the Koran, mental tests to stand in fron of the crowd and give sermon. The training participants were about 100 people. From all over Aceh. East Aceh, West Aceh, the whole Aceh. I also joined,” he continued.

But Hairul did not go to Palestine. The reason? “I’m preparing to study the Koran and scriptures.”

Hairul was also a member of FPI.

“Sometimes I participate in seminars. The recent one was entitled ‘Jihad Yes, Terrorist No’ in Banda Aceh. I was also one of the committee,” he said proudly.

“Why did you join FPI?” I asked.

“Because this organization is ahlul sunnah wal jamaah. It’s a Muslim’s obligation to do amar makruh nahi mungkar. Besides, I was not familiar with other organizations.”

“But FPI often does violent acts and threats people of other faiths. Is it one of FPI’s programs?” I asked.

“If the Christians disturb Islam, we have to seek revenge. It’s an insult to our religion,” he answered. 

“What are the insults?”

“Now there is the human rights law. If raise your kids with violence, it is said to violate human rights. In Islam, it is allowed. If this were an Islamic country, then the Christians step in and do not show respect, Islam tells us to fight them.”

“But Indonesia is not an Islamic country,” I said.

He fell silent.

“Why is FPI not helping the Aceh people who were victims during the conflict era, and instead they went to defend Palestine, which is so far away?” I asked again.

“FPI is not dealing with Indonesia. They only help the Palestinians.”

I also asked why I had to cover my head. I asked this because earlier, he asked me to pull down my headscarf to cover my hair. He smiled, but did not answer right away.

“Why can’t women show their hair?” I insisted.

“Because it is an aurat. It could be accessories. And it could attract men.”

“What about this grey hair of mine? Is it attractive for men, too?” I asked, and laughed.

Hairul blushed, and said, “It’s men’s lust that makes it attractive. And maybe there will be some temptation from the devil.”

“Then why do you blame the women, if the source of the problem is the men?”

He laughed, and asnwered, “My knowledge is not exhaustive yet. It is not yet my capacity to answer that.”

Hairul’s cell phone rang, and he answered. It was Tengku Muslim. Then Hairul handed the cell phone to Tu Nazir. Tengku Muslim wanted to speak to Tu. I heard Tu speaking Acehnese. I only understood some sentences. Tu said that he came with Fahmi, Abi Lampisang’s secretary, the founder of the Gapthat Party.

When Tu returned the cell phone to Hairul, we continued talking. According to Hairul, the funding from the dayah came from the villagers. The students came to rice fields and markets to collect funding. They got no money from the government.

Suddenly Hairul’s cell phone rang again. When he finished talking, Hairul said that we were welcomed to come to Tengku Muslim’s house, because his wife already prepared some refreshment.

“Tengku said to come in,” Hairul said to the three men who were there with me. He did not say anything to me. 

When I climbed the way to the house, Fahmi, Tu and Mustafa were still at the stall.

From the Palestine post booth, someone shouted in Acehnese, “Hey, give her a sarong.” It was addressed to Hairul.

According to Hairul, the teachers council were sitting around at the booth. They were not too pleased seeing me stepping into the leader’s house wearing pants and no hijab.

“Let’s just go,” Fahmi said to me. “We could come back some other time. How dare they tell you to wear a sarong!” he said angrily.

I turned around, and walked down the steep path.

We rushed to the car. Hairul was taken aback.

Before getting into the car, I took a picture of the dayyah sign. Suddenly a man in white cape riding a motorcycle, with a similarly dressed man on the passenger seat, came up to where I was standing. The man on the passenger seat shouted in Acehnese, “Hey, what are you taking pictures for?” The motorcycle stopped and parked.

I ignored them, then walked to the car and opened the door. On the back seat was Tengku Mustafa.

One of the men on the motorcycle came up to our car, and asked sharply to Tu Nazir behind the wheel. His cheeks were round, with beard, his eyes were wide.

Tu answered calmly, “She’s a journalist that heard about your dayyah being accused of being a terrorist headquarter. She just wanted to know if it’s true or not.”

Meanwhile, Fahmi was still standing beside the front door, and was talking to someone in his cell phone. He did not pay any attention to the man rambling beside him.

The man in white answered Tu, “Journalist? Once, a BBC journalist came for an interview, and he had 50 sacks of cement. If you come here, you have to donate something.”

Hairul came up to the man in white talking to Tu. I don’t know what he said to him. When the two of them were engaged in a conversation, the car drove to the road.

A moment later, we heard shoutings from the men in white, “Don’t write us down as terrorists! Don’t write us down as terrorists!”

Later, Tu contacted Tengku Muslim and told him about what the men did at his dayyah. Tengku Muslim apologized and said that they were thugs, and some other were former convicts. He even picked some of them up from prison.

Mustafa looked shocked. He had not expected the dayyah people to behave like that.

Mustafa then said, “Aceh people did not use to wear capes like that. We just dressed normally, like I am now. With cap, sarong or pants.”

“This is not what a pesantren should be like. They were not ulemas, they were just studying to be, and yet they already acted like that,” Tu said.

“Long capes are nothing when there’s nothing inside here,” Mustafa added.

Fahmi then told me about Tengku Muslim’s political background. He used to join the Reform Star Party (PBR), Zainuddin MZ’s party. He also founded the Gapthat Party in Lhokseumawe. Fahmi was secretary general of the party.

“I don’t understand why he joined FPI. When the Gapthat Party held up flags at the Great Mosque, Yusuf Al Qardhawi, the head of Aceh’s FPI, took the flags out and put them into sacks, and took it to the office. He said it was a mosque, no party flags were allowed,” he recollected.

“He (Yusuf Al Qardhawi) wanted to be popular, he wanted to oppose the government, but when Irwandi gave him a car, he accepted it. He sent a letter to the Gapthat’s office, telling us to come to Palestine. He sees us as an opportunity, because he thinks we are not accommodated to fight for Islam in Aceh, and since our cause is for Islam, we can turn to Palestine,” Fahmi continued.

The Gapthat Party did not pass the verification stage, so they did not qualify to run in the election three years ago.

However, Fahmi did not understand why the police associated Darul Mujahiddin and FPI with terrorism.

“The query to do jihad in Palestine was not covert. It was advertised in Serambi three days after SBY expressed his support for an independent Palestine. It means, FPI was responding to the Indonesian government through their action. But then, it was rumored that they were terrorists. This might have been counterintelligence. But we can also see through their not so well-planned scenario.”

Fahmi recalled Soeharto’s era.

“The Soeharto administration knew too well about ways like these. And Soeharto was close with US government. Soeharto approached the dayahs. In Aceh, there was a rumour that Usman Kuta Krueng was given a gas station by the government. That was a rumour. It was important to investigate whether it was true. Then General Try Sutrisno stayed for two months at his house when during the Military Operation Zone era. What does that mean? That the military was close with the dayahs.”

FPI was founded on August 17, 1998 in Jakarta. The objective of the organization was to reinforce the law of Islam. In 2002, FPI urged the government to add the line “and an obligation for Muslims to do the syariahs of Islam” to the first principle in Pancasila: “Belief in one and only God.” FPI’s structure at the time consists of four councils: central leading council, regional council, area council, and branch council. Habib Rizieq was one of the officials in the Central Leading Council, whereas Abu Bakar Ba’asyir was in the Regional Leading Council as Head of FPI Surabaya.

FPI mobilized the acts of raiding nightlife joints or what they deem as “degenerate places”. They would not hesitate to attack people of different faiths. They were known for their anti-foreign stance.

According to the news site Detikcom, in June of 1999, FPI designed a plan to solve the problems in Aceh, including applying the Islamic syariahs. A month later, the plan was discussed in the Indonesian Armed Forces headquarter in Cilangkap, and was approved by the military, then was given to the government to be applied. At the time, the president was BJ Habibie. Three months later, there was a change in the administration, and Abdurrahman Wahid or Gus Dur raised to power, replacing Habibie on October 20, 1999.

On our way back to Banda Aceh, we dropped by Darul Istiqomah, Bireuen. Mustafa wanted to show that the faces of Islam in Aceh were not limited to what we saw in Darul Mujahiddin. 

He said that Darul Istiqomah was a dayah salafiyah. “But when the pesantren people back then see us, they would think that we are too involved in worldly matters. But we don’t live in the afterlife. We are preparing for it.”

Salafi means “ancient” in Arabic. The Salafis are conducting Islamic teachings by looking to the life in the Muhammad era. The salafi clerics only acknowledge four schools of fiqih Sunni (Hanadi, Hambali, Safii and Maliki) and one school of Syuah (Assyariah or school of Imam 12 or school of Ja’fari). The Salafis also reject the existence of tasawuf. According to Ibnu Taimiyah, a figure whom the Salafis look up to, tasawuf is no more than opium. Salafi, for instance, is also against Wahhabi, which they think has misused Muhammad’s teachings. In Saudi Arabia, a Wahabbi nation, leaders are elected based on family line, not based on skills and people’s votes. This is very contradictory to the Islamic democracy that Muhammad has taught. 

The car drove into the dayah’s yard and I saw permanent buildings in the Darul Istiqomah compound. Physically, this dayah was in better condition than Darul Mujahiddin. All the students here were male. Mustafa gently asked me to cover my head with my shawl until none of my hair was visible. He was no different than Hairul in Dayah Mujahiddin, only more polite.

Mustafa introduced me to some of the people who ran the dayah. But I ended up talking with Tengku Jamaluddin. Tu and Fahmi look very close to the people in this dayah. Apparently, Tengku Jamaluddin was one of the people in the treasure excavation team, their allies.

He just recovered from a digestion problem. He was still weak and pale. He was wearing a jacket, and a sarong. A white cap on his head.

On the living room wall was a board with the dayah structure, and the names of the people who ran the dayah. His name was on it.

Jamaluddin did not support violence to face all the challenges in the Islamic world today. He did not support the acts of physical fights against people of different faiths.

“In the Muhammad era, we did tell the people to choose: convert to Islam, or we’d fight them. But today, it’s a different system. We have a president, and a government that is different from the Prophet’s era. Unless if the Christians are breathing down our neck, that’s a different matter. But they are not. What we have is a debate, a war of ideology. We have to fight Christianization today by in-depth learnings of our ideology, not by fighting the Christians,” he said.

According to Jamaluddin, Islam had to develop without killing.

“Because that would lead to a new conflict. We have to protect Christians that enter Aceh. Islam means, safety and prosperity,” he said.

THE VOICE of the man on the phone reminded me of the famed dangdut singer Rhoma Irama. Tengku Muslim At Tahiry spoke Bahasa Indonesia with a touch of Arabic accent. But this changed to Bahasa Indonesia with an Acehnese accent, when he heard that I had visited his dayah with Tu and Fahmi.

“Oh yes, yes, with Tu Nazir, right?” he said, very friendly.

In 2004, he taught in one dayah in North Aceh. The dayah is called Madaiyatul Islam. However, the dayah was founded on someone else’s land. He didn’t feel comfortable, then decided to look for another location to found a new dayah, and he found one on Jalan Line Pipa.

Muslim often led the students and clerics to raid and closed down some nightlife spots. They ended up clashing with the police, and their acts were considered as a violation of law.

“So we gathered and founded an organization. It’s called the Anti-Degeneracy Society. But there were suggestions not to start another organization, and that it was better to join a national-scale organization,” he said.

In the process, he ran through FPI’s Basic Budget and Household Budget, which held the ideology of ahlul sunnah wal jamaah.

“Because Wahabbi is diifcult to be accepted in Aceh,” he said.

“What’s the difference between ahlul sunnah wal jamaah and Wahhabi?” I asked.

“Actually Wahabbi claimed to be ahlul sunnah wal jamaah, too. But in Aceh, it is difficult to become acceptable, because people here are fanatics. Every Maulid day, people held events to commemorate the birth of the Prophet. When someone dies, people held gatherings to pray for the departed. For Wahhabi, this kind of commemoration and gatherings is considered bid’ah, or doubling Allah. Our teachers in Aceh hold the school of Syafi’i, and it’s difficult for them to accept Wahabbi.”

After seeing a rapport between his vision and FPI, Muslim invited Yusuf Al Qardhawi, the head of FPI in Aceh, to explain everything about FPI. Muslim fell in love with the organization and decided to join FPU. He is now FPI Lhokseumawe’s secretary.

“But we never involve students in our organization. Because their parents want them to join the pesantren to learn, not to join an organization. If any of them is interested, they’re welcome to join FPI,” he said.

“Why do the clerics have to be the ones doing something about the nightlife spots? Isn’t that a task for the police or someone more authorized?” I asked.

“If the government is doing their job, why would clerics need to deal with this kind of stuff? Ulemas’ job is to give sermons. But the government is not doing anything,” Muslim answered.

“FPI’s acts are brutal,” I said.

He said, “Those are acts beyond the commando’s line. In Aceh, there are no violent acts like in Jakarta. But even the government does things outside the procedure, let alone organizations like FPI. Not all the people that join FPI understand religion. FPI is not supposed to destroy, it’s not supposed to keep weapons.”

“Some thinks that economy empowerment is a priority in post-conflict Aceh. Why isn’t FPI carrying out the program?”

“If the syariah is applied, then everything falls into place, and the economy will roll. Because Allah gives an unexpected blessing, with the piousness of the Aceh people. Rice fields and plantation will produce well. Therefore, the economy is not FPI’s priority.”

“Why does FPI also manage women’s clothing?”

“If the women are good, then society will be good. If a dirty-minded man does something, it’s because a woman is revealing her aurat.”

“Whare is you view on Christianization?”

“That’s not a new issue. Because missions to spread religiouns have existed for a long time. We have a lot more things to do here in Aceh, instead of dealing with Christianization. If the people are prosperous, they will not be deceived. If the people are poor, they will follow whoever that gives them food. The economy empowerment for the weak is necessary,” he said. His last statement negated his previous statement about the economy empowerment not being the priority.

“Is FPI affiliated with Islamic parties?” I asked.

“In the center, FPI is affiliated with the Party of United Development (PPP). FPI is not a political organization. FPI is not closing itself to democracy. Terrorists are anti-Indonesia. FPI is not anti-Indonesia, but it has to be Indonesia that is Islam-ridden,” Muslim answered.

“Why is FPI not dealing with the victims of conflict in Aceh, but prefers to deal with issues in Palestine, for example?”

“Here’s the thing. FPI is anti-disintegration. One of the efforts to disintegrate us is the things done by those foreigners, who try to separate Aceh from Indonesia. FPI loves unity and anti-separation. Thus, in every meeting, we always say that the grudges from the past need to be buried or thrown away. We are urging for the people’s economy empowerment. Because if we are well-fed, we won’t want any more conflict.” His last statement on the importance of economy empowerment, again, negated his own statement of the economy not being a priority.

“What do you think of forcing people to conduct religious practices in Aceh through the institutionalization of Islamic syariah?”

“In the Prophet’s time, there was no syariah police, and no urging to do religious practices, and no institutionalization of the Islamic syariah. Because at the time, everybody was obedient.”

To my knowledge, the Prophet was dealing with many people opposing him when he was spreading his teachings.

“The meaning of jihad?”

“Jihad is self-focused. To fight bodily urges, that’s the biggest jihad. Why is human doing corruption? That’s a worldly urge. In addition, there’s also jihad against ignorance. This means that the Western people can be great because they have knowledge. Thus, I never agree to violent jihad, unless they are forcing power over Islam’s territory. Like in Palestine,” he said.

“But what happens in Palestine is not a religious war. It’s political,” I said.

“It has something to do with religion, too. Because in Islam, we are obliged to guard the mosques. Guarding the Aqsa mosque from the Israeli, or else it will be replaced with Jewish habitats. That’s what they said. I myself have not been there, so I don’t know. Heheheh.”

“In the time of Abdul Muthalib, the Prophet’s grandfather, there was a story of King Abrahah’s attack to Mecca with his elephant troupes. Abdul Muthalib told the town’s inhabitants, that Allah will personally guard the Ka’bah. Why do people have to guard the mosques, isn’t Allah capable of guarding them?”

He answered, “Because in the time of Abu Muthalib, there were so little number of Muslims. If we’re cornered, it’s better to escape. Now we are the majority, why should we be afraid?”

To my knowledge, Islam wasn’t even born yet in the time of Abdul Muthalib.

“Where did you get funding for your dayah?”

“Donation drom the students’ parents and the villagers. When I give sermons, they recorded it into VCDs, and the students sell the VCDs to the villagers.”

“When I came to your dayah, and you were not there, there were two students yelling at me. Why did they do that?”

“In this dayah, we accept many kids who cannot continue school. Some are former convicts. It is more difficult to take care of one human being, compared to a thousand bulls. What we have here are kids who are no longer used. This pesantren is like a trash bin. To educate them is not an easy matter. What’s important is they would grow to be respected people.”


Translated by Rizal Iwan


Linda Christanty is an author and journalist. Her writing has been recognized by various awards including the national literary award in Indonesia (Khatulistiwa Literary Award 2004 and 2010), award from the Language Center of the Ministry of National Education (2010 and 2013), and The Best Short Stories version by Kompas daily (1989). Her essay "Militarism and Violence in East Timor" won a Human Rights Award for Best Essay in 1998. She has also written script for plays on conflict, disaster and peace transformation in Aceh. It was performed in the World P.E.N Forum (P.E.N Japan and P.E.N International Forum) in Tokyo, Japan (2008). She received the Southeast Asian writers award, S.E.A Write Award, in 2013.

My New Book

Schreib Ja Nicht, Dass Wir Terroristen Sind!

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Penerbit : Horlemann Verlag (2015)

My New Book

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Penerbit : Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia (2015)

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