Ahmadi Teens Find a School, And Security
Arif Aji Muhammad Zaenal is only 14 years old but is already too aware of the discrimination and danger of being a member of Ahmadiyah in Indonesia.
He used to live in Cikeusik, Banten, with his family, but left just days after a lynch mob killed three members of the minority Islamic sect.
Now he has found an unexpected new home, in a small Betawi village tucked away in the shadows of one of the largest residential complexes in the border area between Tangerang and Jakarta, which has become a safe haven for the children of the Ahmadiyah.
The children come from all around the country, wherever there are Ahmadiyah communities living in poverty and fear of persecution.
In their new home, they are provided a safe shelter and attend a school in the village.
Most of the 80 Ahmadiyah children here are in their teens. They come from cities like Surabaya in East Java, Pekanbaru in Riau, Padang in West Sumatra and Manado in North Sulawesi.
They live in homes provided to them by an Ahmadi identified only as Karta, a local resident. Karta is also the founder of the school they attend.
Arif arrived in Tangerang with his parents and three siblings just days after the Feb. 6 killings in Cikeusik. The three Ahmadis were brutally murdered as they tried to defend a home belonging to a senior Ahmadiyah figure against a mob of more than 1,500 people.
“Me and my family moved to Tangerang on February 10. A month after that, I moved here to the village,” Arif told the Jakarta Globe over the weekend.
He said that he suffered discrimination by his teachers and the village head in Cikeusik even before the killings.
“One day, our Islamic religious teacher told our class about the Ahmadiyah, and how they deviated from Islam. I just remained quiet,” Arif said.
The teenager added that the boys in Cikeusik treated him differently because they knew he was an Ahmadi.
“But my friends at school were not like that,” he said. “We got along even though they knew I was an Ahmadi. I miss them sometimes.”
Ahmad Abu Nayan, 14, who moved from Riau to attend high school in the village, said he was fulfilling his parents’ wishes.
“I moved because my parents told me to. They think the high school education here is better than in Riau,” he said.
Ahmad plans to finish high school before going back to Riau.
“I want to go to a university in RiauI want to be a businessman,” he said.
Arif and Ahmad live with 28 other boys. The Indonesian Ahmadiyah Community has asked the Globe not to reveal the exact location of the village, fearing possible persecution.
At the school owned by Karta — who is known to be an Ahmadi by people in the village — anti-Ahmadiyah sentiment has begun to creep into the classroom.
Jafar, an Ahmadi who teaches geography at the school, said there had been graffiti denouncing the sect.
“We have found writings etched onto students’ chairs and desks, and sometimes scribbled on the bulletin board, rejecting the Ahmadiyah,” he said.
Even though everyone knows the school is owned by an Ahmadi, he added, only about 10 percent of the students come from Ahmadiyah families.
“People who live here long enough know who we are, and we’ve been living side by side for a long time. However, we still need to be careful,” Jafar said.
Since the violence in Cikeusik, he added, there have been a lot of religious gatherings in nearby villages led by hard-line leaders.
“Habib Rizieq [head of the Islamic Defenders Front] once visited, and he called the villagers to arm themselves [to fight the Ahmadiyah]. But only his followers answered his call,” Jafar said.
“They also tried to intimidate us by coming here in groups and they gathered in front of our mosque one day. So we blocked our road the next day so they could not enter the village.”
Jafar, however, is confident his Betawi neighbors won’t be provoked. “We’ve known each other for so long, lived next to each other. It’s the outsiders we are more worried about,” he said.
Solihin, 49, from a neighboring village, said he had known Jafar and the others for a long time.
“Our roots are here and the differences don’t matter because I believe in Islam as a blessing for all creations,” said Solihin, whose education and roots are entrenched in Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, after Nahdlatul Ulama.