Paper Edition | Page: 7
Media reports have used religion as the scapegoat for the recent attack on the Shia community in Sampang, Madura. They have even depicted religious faith as the causal factor of the act of violence, giving the public an impression that the incident was a result of a conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.
An article by Tobias Basuki also highlights a shared responsibility of all parties in the country behind the Sampang tragedy (The Jakarta Post, Aug. 29). He specifically relates the attack to the unclear relationship between religion and the state.
The only question is: “Is religion really behind the Sampang tragedy?” If not, why is it easily politically commodified?
From the perspective of sociology of conflict, there are differences between the “trigger factor” and the “causal factor”.
The so-called trigger factor is a factor that serves to be the “initial cause” of an angry mob, which in most cases leads to riots.
It is found on the surface of what is initially understood by the masses. The causal factor is a factor that is “hidden” and is generally associated with the issues of social relations, social distance and social structure of a society.
A tragedy such as the one in Sampang, as several media outlets have reported, arose from a very personal matter in one leading, religious family.
Rooted in issues of love, the matter leaves two brothers (Rois and Tajul) in an unresolved state of tension.
More precisely, the case was fueled by jealousy set in romance. The deep disappointment has ignited the emotions of either party to bring the case within the realm of religion.
The incident began when Rois found out his santriwati (female student), named Halima, would marry one of Tajul’s neighbors. Tajul, who is the older brother of Rois, assisted his neighbor to woo Halima. Unexpectedly, Rois already had an intention to marry Halima. This caused conflict between the two brothers.
The feeling of disappointment mixed with resentment then fueled Rois’ anger at Tajul. Rois allegedly subsequently constructed a particular agenda for attacking Tajul. Various ways to discredit Tajul began.
Rois’ increasingly unbridled revenge did not stop at his decision to renounce Shia teachings (Jawa Pos, Aug. 30).
Not surprisingly, therefore, Constitutional Court chief Mahfud MD, a leading figure with a Madura background, said that the so-called Sampang tragedy was triggered by issues of romance, rather than differences in religious faith between Sunnis and Shiites (detik.com, Aug. 28).
If that was the case, why did Rois and his followers attack Tajul’s people on behalf of religious tenets? They did this by accusing Tajul and his followers of holding and practicing so-called heretical teachings.
This case is possible because the majority of people in Sampang follow Sunnism. Based on this fact, Rois would find it easy to provoke people in the name of religion.
The differences in religious tenets between Shiism and Sunnism, which have lasted since the early periods of Islam, and have become an increasingly sensitive issue in Islamic theology in recent periods, were then manipulated for personal interests.
Above all, Tajul and his followers were accused of committing blasphemy against Islam. This accusation is so effective and empassioned that people can easily be mobilized to attack minorities, including Tajul’s group.
This is effective because heresy is one of very sensitive issues for Muslims. All Muslims tend to claim that they are a part of genuine Muslims. For this reason, they keep maintaining that what they believe and practice is in accordance to Islamic teachings.
The Sampang case makes it clear that religion is not only a symbolic but also a real commodity, both in the business world through commodification, and in the sociopolitical world through politicization.
This is not to deny that religion, as represented by its teachings and values, lends itself to become a commodity for the purposes of business-based production and consumption.
However, religion can be used or misused for social mobilization for any possible purpose, leading individuals to come to power in a wide range of senses, from personal pride, to political access, to social authority.
In short, the tragedy in Sampang is, frankly, not about religious conflict. Nor is it even specifically about the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.
Rather, it is about a personal case of resentment. It is as simple as that.
Religion has been brought into the case due to its effectiveness as a medium and instrument to socially mobilize people for a certain purpose.
The writer, chairman of East Java’s LP Ma’arif Nahdlatul Ulama, is a lecturer at the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) Sunan Ampel in Surabaya