Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said the Religious Affairs Ministry and not his office is responsible for resolving religiously charged violence following an attack on a Shia community in Sampang, East Java.
“It is the role of the Religious [Affairs] Ministry to handle violence that is related to religion. The impetus should be more on religious leaders to create awareness that differences and disputes should be resolved peacefully,” he said on Friday.
Hundreds of Shiites in the village of Nangkernang in Madura Island fled their homes to safety after their boarding school, or pesantren, was attacked and destroyed by unidentified men on Thursday.
Shiites in the area have been facing intimidation and death threats from other Muslim communities in the area.
In April, a Shia cleric named Tajul Muluk was taken from his home by police officers, who claimed that it was for his own protection. But the Shia community believed that police were pressured by hard-line groups.
In September, a team of researchers from Human Rights Watch was also detained as they conducted a study on religious freedom there.
Police again argued that they were protecting the researchers from the wrath of the locals.
Hidayat Nurwahid, a senior Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) politician, said that the Nahdlatul Ulama, a Muslim organization with strong support in East Java, must mediate tensions between the groups.
“Many pesantrens in Sampang belong to NU and [people in Sampang] are mostly supporters of Gus Dur,” Hidayat said in reference to the late NU leader and former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who many see as a champion of religious freedom.
“This is homework for Said Aqil Siradj [the current NU leader] to remind people there about Gus Dur’s spirit.”
Siradj on Friday condemned the attack, saying that “violence is not acceptable to any religion.”
Sampang Police chief Adj Sr. Comr. Solehan said that police had deployed 800 officers to Nangkernang to prevent further violence.
“We will closely guard the victims, who in this case are Shiites and at the same time anticipate and monitor the movements of the Sunnis,” he said.
At least 225 Shiites were evacuated from the village.
Separately, Fuad Amin Imron, head of the neighboring Bangkalan district, which also has a significant Shia community, said he was holding talks with religious leaders to prevent similar violence from spreading to the district.