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Indonesia: Communal tensions in Papua

International Crisis Group Asia Report - June 16, 2008


Indonesian Papua has seen periodic clashes between pro-independence supporters and government forces, but conflict between Muslim and Christian communities could also erupt unless rising tensions are effectively managed. Violence was narrowly averted in Mano¬kwari and Kaimana in West Papua province in 2007, but bitterness remains on both sides. The key fac¬tors are continuing Muslim migration from elsewhere in Indonesia; the emergence of new, exclusivist groups in both religious communities that have hardened the perception of the other as enemy; the lasting impact of the Maluku conflict; and the impact of developments outside Papua. National and local officials need to ensure that no discriminatory local regulations are enacted, and no activities by exclusivist religious organisations are supported by government funds.

The Manokwari drama, played out over more than two years, illustrates some of the changes. It started in 2005, when Christians mobilised to prevent an Islamic centre and mosque from being built on the place where German missionaries brought Christianity to Papua in the mid-nineteenth century. Muslim anger went beyond Papua; many Indonesian Muslims, newly conscious of the history of Muslim traders in the area, saw Islam as Papua's original religion and found the rejection of the mosque intolerable. Local church leaders, seeing the reaction, believed they needed to strengthen Manokwari's Christian identity and in 2007 drafted a regulation for the local parliament that would have infused the local goverment with Christian values and symbols and discriminated against Muslims in the process. It was never enacted but generated a furore in Muslim communities across Indonesia and increased the sense of siege on both sides. It remains to be seen how a new draft that began to be circulated in late May 2008 will be greeted.

It is not just in Manokwari, however, that the communities feel themselves under threat. Many indigenous Christians feel they are being slowly but surely swamped by Muslim migrants at a time when the central government seems to be supportive of more conservative Islamic orthodoxy, while some migrants believe they face discrimination if not expulsion in a democratic system where Christians can exercise "tyranny of the majority". The communal divide is overlain by a political one: many Christian Papuans believe autonomy has not gone nearly far enough, while many Muslim migrants see it as a disaster and are fervent supporters of centralised rule from Jakarta.

In some areas latent tensions have been kept under control by pairing a Papuan Christian district head with a non-Papuan Muslim deputy, with political and economic spoils divided accordingly. That may work in areas like Merauke, where the migrant population has already exceeded 50 per cent, but is not a solution where the majority feels itself under threat.

Where the risk of conflict is high, indigenous Papuan Muslims, largely concentrated in the Bird's Head region of north western Papua, can play a bridging role, particularly through a new organisation, Majelis Muslim Papua. This organisation is both firmly committed to universal Islamic values and deeply rooted in Papuan culture and traditions. They have a demonstrated capacity to cool communal tensions, working with their Christian counterparts. But the indigenous Muslim community is being divided, too, as more and more have opportunties to study Islam outside Papua and come home with ideas that are at odds with traditional practices. It would be in the interests of all concerned to support a network of state Islamic institutes in Papua that could produce a corps of indigenous religious scholars and reinforce the moderation long characteristic of Papuan Muslims.

Several mechanisms are available for dialogue among religious leaders in Papua, including the working group on religion of the Papuan People's Council (Maje¬lis Rakyat Papua, MRP), a body set up to preserve Papuan rights and traditions, but they do not necessarily have any impact at the grassroots. More effective might be programs designed to identify com¬munal hotspots and work out non-religious programs that could benefit both communities.


To the Central Government:

1. Avoid supporting faith-based activities with an overtly political agenda, so as not to exacerbate existing problems, and instruct the armed forces and police to ensure that Papua-based personnel are not seen as taking communal sides.

2. Identify new approches to addressing communal tensions at the grassroots level, going beyond the often ineffectual promotion of interfaith dialogue among elites.

3. Work with the provincial governments to support the State Islamic Institute (STAIN) in Jayapura and facilitate close links with the State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta to ensure that Papua develops its own indigenous scholars and teachers able to interpret universal Islamic values in ways that are in harmony rather than conflict with customary traditions.

To Local Governments:

4. Ensure that government funding of or contributions to religious activities are transparent and independently audited, with amounts and recipients easily available on websites or in public documents.

5. Avoid funding any groups that preach exclusivity or enmity toward other faiths.

6. Ensure public debate on the percentage of jobs for Papuans and the impact on further in-migration of non-Papuans before agreeing to any further administrative division.

7. Reject discriminatory local regulations.

8. Work with donors to identify areas of high tension where conflict might be defused by non-religious projects involving cooperation for mutual benefit across communities.

To Donors:

9. Support conflict-resolution training for Papua-based organisations, including the Majelis Muslim Papua and the religious working group of the Papua People's Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP).

Jakarta/Brussels, 16 June 2008


Relations between Muslims and Christians are strained in Papua and likely to worsen because of demographics, aggressive proselytising by hardline elements on both sides, political use of religious history and outside developments that harden perceptions of the other as enemy. Twice in 2007, communal tensions almost led to violence in the Bird's Head region in the north west of the island of New Guinea, once in Manokwari, once in Kaimana. While physical fighting was narrowly averted, other such clashes are likely, especially where communal tensions become caught up in local political struggles. A potential mediator exists, the Papuan Muslim Council (Majelis Muslim Papua, MMP), a body of indigenous Muslims that has good relations with non-Papuan Muslims and indigenous Christians. Strengthening it may help prevent open conflict, but addressing underlying sources of friction may be harder.

The biggest issue is demographics: the proportion of Muslims is rising, and most are migrants from elsewhere in Indonesia. Official statistics show the trend, but few trust the numbers. Church leaders believe that Muslims are deliberately under-counted, so as not to cause alarm; some Muslims accuse the government of lumping animists together with Protestants to deny Islam its true position as the dominant faith. Both believe, for different reasons, that Muslims may in fact have overtaken Protestants, whom statistics show constitute between 50 and 60 per cent of the population. To many Christians, this is evidence of a deliberate government policy of "Islamisation" and "de-Papuanisation" to make them a minority in their own land; to some Muslims, it suggests a need to focus on securing influence commensurate with their numbers.

The tensions are exacerbated by the tendency of Muslim migrants to identify overwhelmingly with the central government and see Christians as separatists, while many indigenous Christians and church leaders tend to identify with Papuan nationalism - as do many of their indigenous Muslim neighbours. The intertwining of race and ethnicity with religion in Papua makes conflict management all the more difficult.

Added to this is the arrival in Papua over the last ten years of new militant strands of both religions, which are creating intra- as well as intercommunal strains. On the Muslim side, Hizb ut-Tahrir and salafi Muslims are giving a harder edge to an Islam that until recently was more influenced by Indonesia's two largest mass-based Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, both reasonably moderate. On the Christian side, neo-pentecostals and charismatics are promoting their own brand of exclusivist truth and see the expansion of Muslim daawa (religious outreach, dakwah in Indonesian spelling) as their greatest challenge.

Across Indonesia, moreover, Muslim groups are enthusiastically delving into the history of Islam in Papua, calling it Nu Waar, a name given by Arab traders. While Christians have long accepted that Christianity came to Papua in 1855, when two German Protestants arrived in Manokwari, Muslims outside Papua have only become aware relatively recently that Islam arrived several centuries earlier - and this awareness is being used to heighten a sense of entitlement to land and power, particularly along the west coast.

Finally, both communities are affected by developments that take place outside Papua. The worst period of communal relations in the recent past was 1999-2002, when post-Soeharto political euphoria and pro- independence organising in Papua coincided with the outbreak of communal conflict in Maluku, just to the west. The army-backed Muslim militia Laskar Jihad committed to fighting Christian separatists in Maluku arrived in Papua just at the time that local pro-Jakarta forces, with many migrant recruits, were trying to stamp out rising independence demonstrations across Papua. More than ever, Muslim migrants were identified with the government and became targets of indigenous wrath.

Today it is the attacks on churches elsewhere in Indonesia and the perception that the central government is moving toward an Islamic monoculture that are increasing the siege mentality of Papua's Christians, increasing their fear of marginalisation and strengthening their assertion of religious identity. This is the context in which tensions in Manokwari and Kaimana nearly exploded in 2007, lowering the threshold for eruption of violence in the future, and other potential conflicts are simmering.

Violence, if it occurs, is likely to be localised; trouble in Manokwari will not necessarily spread to Merauke. Also, while the underlying problems are Papua-wide, the current hotspots are relatively few, mostly centred in urban areas of West Papua, where the numbers of Muslims and Christians are more balanced than in the interior. But growing tensions can have ramifications in other ways. Unhappiness with how local governments handle religious issues could reinforce separatist sentiment in some areas or lead to appeals for help from radical elements outside Papua in others.

This report is based on extensive interviews in Mano¬kwari, Sorong, Kaimana and Jayapura in February, March and April 2008. It examines developments in the two near-conflict areas and explores the factors that have led to increasing tensions.


Manokwari, a kabupaten (the administrative division below a province) in the north eastern corner of the Bird's Head, is the site of Christianity's arrival in Papua on 5 February 1855. Two German missionaries, Carl Ottow and Johan Gottleib Geissler, set foot on Mansinam island, just off Manokwari's coast, and declared it holy land. Manokwari has been known informally ever since as "Gospel City", and a festival is held every year to commemorate the occasion. A dispute over a construction of a mosque on Mansinam and a subsequent effort on the part of Christians in early 2007 to draft a local regulation that would inculcate Christian values in public life led to unprecedented friction between the two communities. While the regulation seemed to be shelved as a result, a new draft suddenly appeared in late May 2008 that threatened to reignite tensions.


In late 2005, local Muslims decided to establish a Grand Mosque (Mesjid Raya) and Islamic Centre on Mansinam island, on four hectares of land. The proposed complex was far bigger than any local church. Rumours were rife in the Christian community that the Islamic Centre would be the largest in South East Asia, and that Muslims had a hidden agenda to turn Manokwari into a Muslim city. For church leaders, the decision to build the centre was misguided at best and at worst a direct affront to the "Gospel City". They could not believe that the largest building in the area was to be a mosque. They said it would be as if a church became the most visible landmark in deeply Islamic Aceh. And why, they asked, did Muslims need a mega-mosque when they had plenty of places to worship already?

While Christians suspected that plans for the mosque had been in development secretly for several years, the idea in fact only arose around September 2005, as local politicians were gearing up for the first-ever direct election for governor of West Irian Jaya, scheduled in March 2006. A candidate for deputy governor, Rahimin Kacong, was looking for support from Muslim voters and suggested the construction of the Islamic centre. The idea was warmly welcomed, and Kacong became head of the mosque development committee, which then began looking for private donors. To facilitate contributions, the committee proposed a system of "wakf-per-metre": individuals could purchase one or two square metres of land, then donate it as religious endowment (wakf) for the mosque. Local Muslims responded enthusiastically and within two weeks, the committee had raised Rp.500 million (about $50,000) - more than Rp.100 million from one mosque alone after Friday prayers.

But plans for the centre ran aground. On 4 October 2005, the committee submitted a formal request to the bupati (kabupaten head) requesting permission to build the mosque. This procedure was in accordance with a 1969 "Two Ministry Decree" from the religion and home affairs ministries requiring approval of local authorities for constructing places of worship. Before a response was forthcoming - but convinced that it would be positive - the committee scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony on 21 October. As the day approached, Manokwari's Christians began to protest, and banners rejecting the mosque appeared all over the city.

On 19 October, church leaders, through the Manokwari District Interchurch Cooperation Board (Badan Kerjasama Antar Gereja Kabupaten Manokwari, BKAG), issued a statement of "deep concern" over the "discriminatory and unjust" government stance toward the development of Christianity in Indonesia. They cited 991 attacks on churches across the country from independence in 1949 to the present; a pattern of intimidation of Christians and attacks on pastors and churches; material losses faced by churches and schools; the trauma suffered by Christians in conflict areas such as Ambon and Poso; and legal discrimination via the "Two Ministry Decree". The coming of the Gospel on 5 February 1855 on Mansinam island, the statement said, was "the vanguard of a new civilisation in Papua", opening a "dark curtain" and instilling faith "through the sacrifice and martyrdom" of missionaries.

Progress, development and the integration of West Irian into Indonesia could not be separated from the church's role, it continued, and only the church, through its principles of peace, had been able to resolve political conflicts in Papua. Manokwari was a historic city where Christianity had first arrived in Papua, and its status needed to be preserved and respected by all religious and ethnic communities. Therefore, it concluded, church leaders and the Christian community in Manokwari rejected plans for the construction of a Grand Mosque. Ironically, they cited as the legal basis for their rejection the same ministerial decree they deplored in the statement.

On the same day, Manokwari's district head, Doming¬gus Mandacan, wrote to the mosque committee, refusing a building permit, citing objections from church leaders and recommending that the committee hold further talks with them. The letter was not enough for Manokwari's Christians, however. A month later, on 17 November, thousands of people, representing 30 denominations, took to the streets to protest the construction of the Grand Mosque. Rev. Herman Awom, a member of the pro-independence Papua Presidium Council who was also deputy head of the Papuan Protestant Synod, took part. They demanded that the provincial parliament immediately issue a regulation formally declaring Manokwari "Gospel City".

A parallel demonstration took place in Jayapura, where about 100 people, mostly students, calling themselves "Student and Christian Solidarity in Papua" (Solidaritas Mahasiswa dan Masyarakat Kristen di Tanah Papua) marched in support of those rejecting the Grand Mosque. The demonstration almost turned violent, when participants became angry at the attempt by police in the Kotaraja area of the city to stop them from proceeding and threatened to burn a mosque, until allowed to continue. The students issued a statement opposing the Grand Mosque; urging local government to protect Christian assets and support Christian schools; and demanding that it provide protection from all threats "deliberately or not deliberately created by a certain group" and pass a regulation protecting the Papuan people from immigrants.

Most Muslims were angered by the Christian stance; a few talked ominously about jihad. Members of the provincial Indonesian Islamic Scholars Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, MUI) tried to find a compromise. In a 30 November letter to the Papuan People's Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP) a body established to safeguard indigenous Papuan rights and culture, they stated that Manokwari had been recognised as the capital of the new province of West Irian Jaya, as West Papua was then called. It followed that the construction of a Grand Mosque was in keeping with a 2004 decision of the religion ministry stipulating there should be a Grand Mosque in every provincial capital. Normally it would be designated by the governor and the provincial religious affairs office. But since there was not yet such an office in Manokwari, it was appropriate for the bupati to refuse a permit.

Nevertheless, since provincial capitals should be able to accommodate interests of various social groups, and MUI-Papua recognised the city's status as the birthplace of Christianity in Papua, the solution was to move the provincial capital to Sorong. This was not realistic, and emotions remained high.

The Muslim position that there was nothing wrong with establishing a large Islamic Centre in the cradle of Papuan Christianity was linked to a new awareness that Islam had taken root in Papua long before the missionaries arrived. Popularised in a book, Is Islam or Christianity the Religion of Papua? by Ali Athwa, a journalist for the magazine Suara Hidayatullah, the facts were not new, but for the first time, the idea that Islam was Papua's first major religion reached a mass audience across Indonesia. Reacting to the ban on construction of the Grand Mosque, one Muslim leader in Manokwari said angrily, "Islam was the original religion of Papuans, Christians are only guests; by what right do guests ban their host?"

Many hadith (traditions of the Prophet) state that to build a mosque - the house of Allah - is the most meritorious act possible. Allah deemed it an amal jariah, an act that continues to benefit the actor even after death, because as long as Muslims worship at a mosque, the builder will be rewarded. Mosque construction is also linked to social status, connoting wealth and piety. The "wakf-per-metre" concept suddenly made it possible for anyone to have that status and was an immense source of pride, especially since the result was to be not just an ordinary place of worship but a Grand Mosque.

Almost every Muslim migrant in Manokwari contributed. Then, suddenly, the project was halted by Christians, robbing the donors of cherished status. After the banners appeared rejecting the mosque, some Muslims were ready to use force to defend their plans for the mosque, even to die in the process, especially as according to Islamic teachings, protecting the house of Allah from enemy attacks was a legitimate form of jihad. "I never prayed regularly, I committed all sorts of sins, when else would I have the chance to go to heaven without worrying about my past?" said a local Muslim.

The anger was only tempered after security forces, worried about violence, lobbied Muslim community leaders. The government promised that after the local elections, plans would resume; in fact, resumption became a campaign promise of Rahimin Kacong. In the meantime, the controversy attracted the interest of jihadi groups outside Papua. Three Javanese, whom a source in Manokwari described as "followers of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir", arrived in December 2005, offering help to the Muslim community through a local contact in the event that conflict erupted. They drew up a list of 38 names and addresses of pastors leading the campaign against the Grand Mosque, apparently as contingency targets. Their local contact refused any assistance, however, and they soon returned to Java. About three weeks later, a jihadi delegation from Maluku contacted the same individual, also offering help in case of conflict and also receiving a polite refusal.


In February 2006, the Evangelical Christian Church (GKI) Synod, meeting in Wamena, in Papua's central highlands, discussed the situation in Manokwari and agreed that a local regulation should be adopted to preserve the town's status as "Gospel City". In the meantime, however, the local elections in West Irian Jaya went ahead. The ticket of Abraham Atururi and Rahimin Kacong won with 61.3 per cent of the vote and was inaugurated in July. Muslims expected that Kacong would deliver on his promise to authorise construction of the mosque. But the local government realised that to go ahead in the face of implacable opposition from the city's Christians would court more serious conflict, so plans for the mosque remained in abeyance.

Toward the end of the year, rumours began circulating in the Christian community that Laskar Jihad, the salafi militia that wreaked havoc in Maluku from 2000 to 2002, was conducting military training in a trans-migrant area known as Satuan Pemukiman (SP) 7 in Masmi, outside Manokwari, with the aim of fighting Christians who had opposed the mosque. The fears were calmed after it turned out that the young men involved, almost all of them migrants, were not Laskar Jihad at all but members of a non-political, non-religious martial arts organisation.

But on the Christian side, the successful halt to the Grand Mosque gave a sense of power to local leaders, who began campaigning for the banning of other mosques and Muslim organisations in the Manokwari area. On 11 December 2006, more than a year later, the BKAG sent a letter to the head of the al-Hidayah Islamic Foundation, rejecting the foundation's presence in Ransiki district and the construction of a mosque in nearby Abreso. If Muslims wanted to worship, it said, they should join the mosque in Ransiki town rather than build a new one. "Thank you", it concluded, "and may this letter be seen as a sign of interfaith tolerance in Ransiki district".

Then, on 1-2 February 2007, church leaders held a seminar - "Making Mansinam and Manokwari a Gospel City" - at the Elim Kuali church in Manokwari. Several participants expressed concerns at the spread of Islam in Papua. Rev. Phil Erari, a nationally known figure, warned that Manokwari, a holy city for Papuan Christians, was facing the same fate as Nazareth, Bethlehem and Capernaum. Bethlehem, Jesus's birthplace, was now controlled by Muslims, he said. The government needed to take a proactive stance to preserve Manokwari as a Christian city.

On 7 March, the church leaders outlined the city they had in mind in a draft "Regulation on Implementing Mental Spiritual Guidance", which was better known as the "Gospel Regulation". The basic idea was to inculcate Christian values in Manokwari society, and several provisions were bound to generate concern in the Muslim community. It defined the gospel as "good news that says the coming of Jesus Christ was the beginning of God's government on earth, giving new life to the values of compassion, peace, brotherhood, prosperity, justice, partnership and openness". The program of spiritual guidance would be devoted to promoting those values. Article 25 of the draft read:

Mental spiritual guidance will be conducted in accordance with historical, cultural and customary values and local wisdom that can be found in local society, especially the majority of indigenous inhabitants of Papua who profess the Christian faith.
Article 26 said the government could hang Christian symbols in public places and offices, because Christianity was the religion of most indigenous Papuans. Article 28 designated Sunday as a day of worship, on which all business activities would be prohibited, at least for half a day. This caused particular consternation because the port of Manokwari was usually booming on Sundays. The city was to be vice-free: all gambling, prostitution and production and distribution of alcoholic beverages would be banned.

The draft also contained provisions that seemed a direct response to fears of Islamisation. Article 37 in effect banned women from wearing the headscarf in public places, schools and government offices, by "outlawing dress which displays religious symbolism" in these areas; the headscarf was apparently seen as a means of propagating religion. Article 30 required places of worship to have the consent of 150 tribal elders and individuals in the neighbourhood concerned and in effect prevented mosques from being built in areas where the indigenous population was served by churches.

The draft was immediately denounced by Muslim and Christian leaders alike. Local Muslim leaders sent a protest to the bupati, but unlike the Grand Mosque dispute, which had remained a local problem, the draft regulation became a national issue. The major Muslim media portrayed it as discriminatory toward Islam - which of course it was. On 15 March 2007, Indonesia's main Islamic organisations, including the Indonesian Ulama Council, Muhammadiyah, and Nahdlatul Ulama issued a statement rejecting the draft. Hidayat Nur Wahid, speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly and a leader of the Prosperous Welfare Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera, PKS), said it could divide the nation. Not even Rome had declared itself a "Gospel City", even though it was the centre of Catholicism, he said. The hardline Forum Umat Islam said the regulation showed the true nature of Christians, which was that if they were weak, they made demands, and if they were strong, they oppressed. The draft regulation was the first step toward expelling Muslims from Papua, it claimed.

The head of the Indonesian Council of Churches and Indonesian Catholic Bishops Council also opposed the draft. Both said they rejected any local regulation based on religion, a not-so-veiled allusion to dozens of local regulations inspired by Islamic law adopted in strongly Muslim areas of the country.

The Manokwari government was taken aback by the protests. The provincial secretary told reporters that the draft was only a set of suggestions from church leaders and did not have the force of law. Everything would have to be discussed with a legislative team, and he was sure the discriminatory provisions would disappear. In May, the bupati, Dominggus Mandacan, said that while the draft represented the aspirations of the majority, it needed some fixing before it could be submitted formally to the district council, and the legislative team would consider the negative social impact if the designation of Manokwari as "Gospel City" went forward.


However, the damage was done. In August 2007, three members of the Manokwari district ulama council presented a statement to a Region V MUI meeting covering Papua, Sulawesi and Maluku that was noteworthy for its bitterness. It noted that "one group, in the name of a certain religion, is trying to... challenge the existence of Muslims in Tanah Papua and especially Manokwari", trying to undermine the unity of the Indonesian state and turning religion into a political commodity. Muslims, it said, were being denied equal access to resources, while Christians were claiming that "their" land did not belong to Muslims, even though Islamic civilisation preceded Christianity in Papua by more than 200 years. The 2001 Special Autonomy Law for Papua was described as a "horrific disaster" that would lead to disintegration of the nation.

If our community is always shackled, marginalised and manipulated to destroy the solidarity of the ummat [Muslim community], then it is time for the Islamic community to wake up, unite and wage jihad to implement Allah's teachings.
In the interests of ensuring peace and avoiding communal conflict as happened in Ambon and Poso, it urged the regional meeting to set up a special committee to study the problem of the ummat in eastern Indonesia and that the recommendation be conveyed to the central government, through the national MUI.

Some jihadi groups also were ready to defend the faith in Manokwari, sending reconnaissance teams to check out conditions. Groups like South Sulawesi's Laskar Jundullah discussed starting a new jihad there. In these circles, conspiracy theories were popular, such as that the draft regulation was a foreign plot to "Christianise" eastern Indonesia, or was part of a Christian agenda to establish the "Arafuru Raya Christian State" that would include both Maluku and Papua. This in turn became linked to rumours circulating since early 2004 that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Philippines, had written U.S. President Bush, asking his help in founding a Christian empire in South East Asia.

In the Region V MUI meeting, in Manado, North Sulawesi, Haji Adnan Arsal, the radical Muslim leader from Poso whose school became the centre of JI activities there, reportedly offered assistance from his mujahidin in the event conflict erupted in Manokwari. But local leaders continued to decline any help from outside.

Some Christians in Manokwari felt there should be no backing down from the draft, which they considered an absolute necessity, a protection against galloping Islamisation. For them, the provisions that Muslims considered discriminatory were not prohibitions but restrictions. With respect to the headscarf, "we're not banning it, but it should just be used in appropriate places", one said, "and especially for civil servants required to wear uniforms, why should some be allowed to be different?" They were not banning the call to prayer; they were banning the use of loudspeakers because they disturbed people of other religions.

In late May 2008, a second draft of the regulation appeared. It was much better than the first and the most controversial provisions had been removed, but the title was "Draft Regulation on Designating Villages for Mental Spiritual Guidance/Inculcation of Christian Values" (penginjilan). To most Muslims, the word penginjilan means proselytisation aimed at converting Muslims and as such generates anger. The draft also retained the provision requiring the permission of the community to build a house of worship - one that worries the Catholics as much as the Muslims, since both are minorities in the area. Religious polarisation seems set to continue.


As tempers cooled in Manokwari, they rose in Kaimana, a district on the south west coast of Papua carved out of Fakfak in 2002. For years it was known for its harmonious relations between Christians and Muslims; in 2006, a local priest wrote the standard reference on the topic, stressing the commitment both communities had to pluralism and co-existence. The tensions in late 2007 thus came as a shock, but they had been building for some time, especially since the Ambon conflict.

In 2005, Kaimana kabupaten had a population of 37,469. Most were indigenous Papuans from several ethnic groups including the Koyway, Irarutu, Mairasi and Madewana. Migrants, mostly working in the petty trade and transport sectors, came from Java, Maluku and North, South and South East Sulawesi; there are no figures on their total numbers.

Protestants are more than half the population; Muslims are second, with 40 per cent, most of them indigenous Papuans, and Catholics are 9.5 per cent. The religious harmony Kaimana enjoyed was the result of strong adat (customary) norms that stressed clan and family solidarity across communal lines. Many clans, such as the Werfete, Tanggarofa, Kamakaula, Amerbay, Jaisono, Feneteruma and Waita, included followers of both religions. Christians often sat on mosque development committees and joined in construction of new buildings; Muslims helped build churches. During Ramadan, Christians often prepared the pre-dawn meal for Muslim neighbours and woke them to eat it. Christian educational foundations built schools in Muslim neighbourhoods and hired Muslim teachers for Koran recitation and religious subjects.

Most Muslims followed practices similar to Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama. Protestants were divided between what was known as the Moluccan Protestant Church (Gereja Protestan Maluku), now GPI (Gereja Protestan Indonesia) di Papua, and the Evangelical Christian Church (Gerja Kristen Injili, GKI), the largest denomination in Papua. The near conflict arose in part because of the coming of new, less tolerant strains of both religions.


The tensions began in October 2007, sparked by the GPI deciding to have a concert to raise funds for the construction of a church. Such events were common in Kaimana, but this concert, with singers from Maluku, was to take place during Ramadan and to start at 6pm, around the same time that Muslims started shalat tarawih, the special nightly prayers during the fasting month. In addition, it was to be held in a Christian elementary school sandwiched between two mosques (Sabilillah and Cenderawasih) in the town's Cenderawasih neighbourhood. When they learned of the plans, many Muslims were angry and accused the Christians of being heedless of their feelings. Muslim leaders calmed them, saying the Christians probably did not understand that there were prayers after dusk. But one group was incredulous: how could Christians not understand the importance of Ramadan or not know about tarawih prayers? Eventually the organisers gave in and rescheduled the concert for 9pm.

A clash was thus avoided, but in mid-December, tensions rose again. This time they were sparked by the raising of an iron tower in the form of a Christmas tree, crowned not with the cross, as would have been more common in Papua, but with the Star of David, a sensitive symbol in Indonesia frequently used by charismatics. It was erected as a permanent structure in a public entertainment park (Taman Hiburan Rakyat, THR) not far from the town centre. Again, GPI, many of whose members were from Maluku and Sorong but also from the Kaimana neighbourhood of Ayamaru, planned a ceremony, without coordinating either with members of other Christian denominations or with its Muslim neighbours. GKI claimed to have no knowledge of the tree, but GPI was determined to erect it, saying it had a permit from the deputy bupati of Kaimana, Mathias Mayruma, who came to watch its installation. Hasan Achmad, the bupati, reportedly had no idea that the tower was to be permanent, complete with cement foundation.

Local Muslims were furious. In neighbourhoods such Kampung Seram, Anda Air, Bungsur and Kaki Air, crowds began to gather, waiting for a command to bring down the tree. In Christian strongholds such as Cenderawasih, Jalan Sisir and Kebon Kelapa, groups began mobilising after hearing rumours that the tree would be destroyed and their neighbourhoods attacked. In Kampung Baru, Muslims began organising trucks to bring crowds into Kaimana town. A sense of panic took hold, with some people preparing to flee if conflict broke out. In Arguni, a Christian neighbourhood, some did go into the jungle. The bupati intervened on 14 December 2007, urging Muslims not to blame the Christians for the tensions but rather his deputy, who had given the permit. The statement lowered the temperature, and the next day he called a meeting of religious leaders from both sides. It was agreed the tree could stand until 21 January 2008 and then would be dismantled.

Nothing more happened until 28 December. Then, suddenly, GPI members invited leaders of other denominations to a meeting and announced they had heard that Muslims intended to attack Christians the next day; to forestall this, they decided to dismantle the tree immediately. Oddly, however, GPI announced that before it was torn down, it would hold a joint prayer session and a service in which pastors were asked to wear their vestments. GKI rejected the idea, believing it would only fuel the conflict: it would appear to be an invitation to all Christians to attend as if it were a formal church service, but when they saw the tower being brought down, it could generate an emotional response, since in the eyes of many Christians, the tower was a sacred symbol. GKI members became even more worried after GPI leaders said Christians from Tual, in south eastern Malu¬ku, directly south of Kaimana, were prepared to help if conflict broke out. But the tower-dismantling service never happened - police broke up the meeting and summoned the head of the GPI classis (similar to a diocese) to explain why it was taking place.

On 1 January 2008 a ship from Tual arrived at the harbour, sparking rumours that the Christians from Tual had arrived, but Kaimana stayed calm. Tensions rose on 21 January, however, the deadline for destroying the tower. Muslims began mobilising, demanding it be brought down. Christians again feared attacks. GPI leaders refused to do the dismantling themselves, saying it was the bupati's job. Hasan Achmad was not prepared to take it on, knowing it would make Christians angry. Eventually a compromise was worked out that GPI would take down the structure and move it to one of its churches.

In the end, no conflict broke out, but many in the community were shocked that it had been such a close call. After all, religious differences in Kaimana were not mixed with ethnic and economic issues as they were elsewhere. Even though ethnic groups from South Sulawesi (Bugis, Buton and Makassarese) dominated the markets there as elsewhere in Papua, there were no serious indigenous-migrant differences. In the mosques, Muslims of all backgrounds, Papuan and non-Papuan, had always mingled easily; the predominant style of worship following the Syafi'i school of law, familiar to many of the Javanese migrants, also helped. Likewise, friendly interaction characterised migrant-indigenous relations on the Christian side.


What changed in Kaimana was the entry of new, more fundamentalist strains in both religions around 2000. Evangelical churches appeared, including Jemaah Jalan Suci (Congregation of the Holy Way), a charismatic group, together with the Bethel and Bethany churches. These Pentecostal churches frequently conducted what they call KKR (Kebaktian Kebangunan Rohani, Spiritual Awakening Services), often taking the form of mass religious rallies in public places, but also featuring testimonies from recent converts from Islam. Many Muslims saw these KKRs as an affront to their religion and decided to mount their own challenge, publicly questioning basic tenets of the Christian faith, such as the divinity of Jesus.

As Christmas 2006 approached, another problem appeared. Suddenly, and without permission of local residents or adat leaders, the Jalan Suci charismatics set up a large cross on a hill in Bungsur, a Muslim majority area. Muslims pulled it down.

It was not just the new churches causing problems; a radical stream also began to emerge within the GPI around the same time. Under the name Gereja Protestan Maluku, the congregation had long been in Kaimana, brought by Moluccans working as bureaucrats or teachers after integration of West Irian in 1969. Relations with local Muslims were generally smooth, until conflict erupted in Ambon in 1999 and shortly thereafter in Tual. Many Christians fleeing the conflict came to Kaimana, bringing with them stories of atrocities committed by Muslim forces there. Many of their accounts were confirmed by the mass media, especially television. Even after the conflict waned, some Moluccans continued to come, including several priests, one of whom became head of the classis. Muslims date the deterioration of Christian-Muslim relations to his arrival.

A similar phenomenon of religious renewal was taking place on the Muslim side. But unlike the new strands of Christianity, brought by outsiders, the "new" Islam was brought by indigenous Papuans who had studied elsewhere. One example is Ahmad Nausrau, now deputy head of the Papuan branch of Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), who went abroad for Islamic studies. When he returned to Kaimana, he joined Al Fatih Kafah Nusantara (AFKN), led by Papuan Hizb ut-Tahrir leader Fadzlan Garamatan. AFKN quickly attracted local followers, because it provided not only sermons but also social services, such as mass circumcisions, and offered scholarships to Muslim children to study in religious boarding schools (pesantren) and institutes outside Papua.

Improvements in technology, especially the ubiquitous use of hand-phones, also played a role in changing relations between the two communities. Hand-phones with state of the art "3G" technology were used to download films and videos that spread hatred on the part of one community toward the other. One set of videos circulated showed atrocities against Muslims in Ambon and Poso. To many Muslims, they gave the impression that Christians were evil. Videos also circulated of the beheadings of hostages in Iraq, leaving many Christians with the impression that Islam was a religion of violence.

As in Manokwari, outside jihadi groups learned of the tensions and waited on the sidelines, ready to intervene if violence erupted. In the end it was averted, but the foundation for conflict is in place.


In early 2007 a new problem emerged in Jayapura. The local state Islamic institute, Sekolah Tinggi Agama Islam Negeri (STAIN), wanted to build a campus in Bumi Perkemahan, in the Waena area of the capital. Throughout Indonesia, with few exceptions, these institutes have become forces for moderation and home to some of the most progressive Islamic scholars in the country. In Papua, its proponents believed, such an institute would produce Papuan Islamic scholars (ulama), reducing dependence on non-Papuan teachers and ensuring that Islam's universal values were conveyed in a way that was in harmony with Papuan cultural traditions.

But believing this was another sign of increasing "Islamisation", the Association of Indonesian Pastors (Asosiasi Pendeta Indonesia, API) issued a letter opposing the project, even though it had been approved by the synod of GKI, the largest Protestant denomination in Papua. Indigenous Muslims were particularly angry. "Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama never tried to control us", said a local Muslim leader, referring to the two largest Islamic organisations in Indonesia, "then all of a sudden it's API that rejects us". The fact API was dominated by non-Papuans only increased their resentment.

The API letter was copied to the governor, the provincial legislature and the MRP, whose working group on religion discussed it and endorsed the API position. On 1 March 2007, the MRP issued its own statement, rejecting the proposed campus. Arobi Achmad Airtuarauw, a Muslim MRP member, was not present during the discussion. In mid-April 2007, the founding congress of an indigenous Muslim association he headed, the Majelis Muslim Papua, said the statement had "deeply hurt the feelings of Muslims in general and indigenous Muslims in particular" and called on the MRP to apologise.

In the end, the construction went ahead and the school now sits on a one-hectare site in Waena, but the episode left sour feelings on all sides.


The tensions in Manokwari and Kaimana are evident elsewhere in Papua, and some of the same elements are responsible: demographic changes, the impact of the Maluku conflict, new understandings of history, developments outside Papua and new technologies.


Official statistics show the steady growth of Islam in Papua (see table below). The Muslim population is overwhelmingly non-Papuan. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, migrants in 2000 were 90.82 per cent of the Muslim population; indigenous Papuans, largely concentrated in the Bird's Head region, were 9.18 per cent. By contrast, indigenous Papuans accounted for 81.24 per cent and 81 per cent of the Catholic and Protestant populations respectively. The impact of migrants was even more striking in Papuan cities. Indigenous residents were only 33.9 per cent of the urban population in 2000, ranging from 6 per cent in Sorong to 54 per cent in Manokwari, while across Papua, taking rural areas into account, they were over 60 per cent.

Many church leaders believe migrants are under-reported, and Papuans have become a minority in their own land. One report noted:

The current composition of the West Papuan population is 30 per cent native West Papuans and 70 per cent migrants. The native West Papuans have been marginalised in all aspects of life.
Likewise, an article in a widely read conservative Muslim magazine stated that 2003 data (not clear from where) showed 40 per cent of the population as Muslim, making Islam the dominant faith, since animists were grouped with Christians, resulting in skewed figures. But, it stated, Muslims occupied less than 10 per cent of Papuan political positions - holding the bupati job only in Manokwari and Kaimana - and the imbalance should be redressed.


Many Papuans see the steady rise of Islam in Papua as the result of deliberate government policy. It is one point made in a book banned by the Yudhoyono government in December 2007 - and therefore wildly popular - about the "drowning" of Melanesian identity in Papua. The author, Sendius Wonda, a young Papuan activist, wrote:

It was a systematic and planned effort to annihilate (through genocide) indigenous Papuans by sending transmigrants or illegal migrants to Papua, on the grounds that there were too few Papuans in areas where new administrative divisions were planned - a means of long-term Islamising and Javanising Papua to control the Pacific region and Australia.
The book was tendentious, but the author was only saying in print what many Papuans have been saying for years. When GKI held a discussion on the banning of the book in Jayapura, nearly all participants said they believed the Papuan people would eventually be wiped out by mass migration.

Population statistics show a particularly dramatic jump in the percentage of Muslims between 1975 and 1985, when a government-sponsored "transmigration" program was in full swing. While its rationale was to ease overcrowding on Java and develop Indonesia's outer islands, there was also a strong security dimension in border areas like Kalimantan and Papua, and the perception was powerful among Christian leaders that Jakarta was encouraging Muslim migration, daawa and construction of mosques to dilute Papua and undermine the independence movement.

The number of transmigrants sent to Papua rose steadily through the first three five-year plans of Soeharto's New Order (1969-1973, 1974-78, 1979-83). The government moved some 10,000 families (41,701 individuals), mostly Javanese, to Papua, settling them in five areas: Jayapura, Merauke, Manokwari, Paniai and Sorong. Between 1981 and 1985, all 9,772 transmigrants settled were from Java, most of them Muslims. As available land in other receiving areas declined, Papua by 1985 had become the top destination for all government-sponsored transmigration.

International criticism of transmigration in Papua, including that it was linked to Islamisation, prompted the Soeharto government in 1986 to change tack. It issued Presidential Decree no.4/1986, designating the islands of Flores, Alor, Sumba and Timor in East Nusa Tenggara, all areas with strong Christian populations, as sending areas for transmigration. From that point until the program ceased altogether in 2000, the religious make-up of transmigrants changed.

At the same time, however, there was an increase in spontaneous migration - voluntary movement by individuals at their own expense in search of better economic opportunities, most of them from Muslim South and South East Sulawesi. Migrants had been coming to the coastal areas of Papua for centuries. In 1959 there were some 14,000, but their numbers rose sharply after the Indonesian government in 1970 eased restrictions on travel there. Most spontaneous migrants settled in urban areas, quickly filling niches in the trade and transportation sectors. They not only worked in the urban markets but also became itinerant peddlers to far-flung corners of the province. With Indonesian civil servants and soldiers coming to Papua in greater numbers as well, the number of non-Papuans grew significantly.

Despite the enormous controversy that transmigration provoked in Papua, the market trumped the state as the main generation of population movement into Papua. In fact the total number of unsponsored migrants settling in Papua had exceeded 560,000 by 2000.
The sense of economic displacement strengthened local hostility toward the migrants. When violent social unrest has erupted in Papua, the migrant-controlled markets frequently have become the targets, as happened in Abepura, outside Jayapura in 1996, Entrop, Jayapura in 1999 and 2000 and Sentani, on the north coast, in 2000. A migrant shopkeeper in Abepura said that after the 1996 destruction of the market there, he was keeping a third of his profits in Papua and sending two thirds back to Sulawesi, because he was convinced that if Papua ever became independent, he and other migrants would be expelled.

A Papuan Muslim said part of the problem was that migrants brought with them the confidence of the majority and felt no need to accommodate themselves to the local population. They also found it easy to get permits for mosque construction from non-Papuan officials. Many Papuan Christians believed disproportionate goverment assistance was going to mosques and Muslim activities through the religion department at the expense of Christian projects, to the point that in 2003, a treatise by autonomy advocates on how to better implement Papua's special autonomy legislation demanded that government support for religious activities be proportional to the recipient group's size.

If Christians fear Islamisation, some Muslims in traditional Islamic strongholds fear they are losing ground to Christians. In the Babo subdistrict around Bintuni Bay, an area best known for a giant natural gas project run by the multinational oil company BP, a commentator wrote that the Muslim population had shrunk drastically, with one village going from 80 Muslim families in the 1970s to five in 2003. He attri¬buted this to the lure of worldly temptations, the aging of influential ulama and aggressive Christian mission¬ary activity and failure of Muslims to defend themselves against it. The contractors brought in by BP included many Muslims willing to donate construction materials for mosques and schools, he noted, and the hope for Islam's revival might lie with the company.

This was in late 2003, before some of the more conser¬vative Muslim advocacy groups began to adopt an anti-globalisation agenda. But it is a reminder that one vector for the growth of Muslim migration has been corporate investment, and while seen by some as necessary for the province's development, the social and political consequences need to be taken into account.

Another factor driving migration has been the administrative division (pemekaran) of Papua into ever more units. In 1999, it had one province and nine kabupaten. In 2008, it had two provinces and 36 kabupaten or equivalent municipalities. Several of the new units originally lacked qualified personnel to run them, so in Boven Digoel, Yahukimo, and Tolikara, all created in 2002, non-Papuans are between 84 and 85 per cent of the civil servants. Despite concern over migration, the interests of local elites in creating new top jobs and access to resources for themselves or in getting greater opportunities for their social networks, often clan-based, ensures that the division will continue.

It is worth noting that in Merauke, Papua's south easter¬nmost city, near the border with Papua New Guinea, where migrants already exceed locals and Muslims are 58 per cent of the population, a political accommodation of sorts has been reached. The bupati is an indigenous Papuan; his deputy is Javanese. They are considered one of the effective executive teams in Papua, giving more attention to health and education than many others. They are also working hard to secure a new province of South Papua, which would increase patronage spoils. This does not mean that Merauke is free of communal tensions, but with the demographic threshold long since passed, they are being worked out in a different way.


The impact of the Maluku conflict in Papua in strengthening religious identities was profound, especially as it coincided with an opening of political space for expression of pro-independence views. Muslim migrants became identified with pro-Jakarta, anti-independence forces, indigenous Christians with Papuan nationalism. The fact that many Papuan Muslims also sympathised with independence and chafed under Indonesian rule was often overlooked but reinforced their potential importance as mediators.


The collapse of the Soeharto goverment in May 1998 led immediately to demonstrations in Papua demanding accountability for past human rights violations and resource exploitation and withdrawal of the Indonesian military. It was the beginning of what became known as the "Papuan Spring". Calls for independence increased, and within six months, half the districts were flying the Morning Star flag, the official emblem of the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM).

In 2000 pro-independence leaders formed the Presidium Dewan Papua (PDP), with adat leader Theys Eluay as the head and Thaha Muhammad al Hamid, a Muslim of Yemeni descent, as the secretary general. They convened what they called the Second Papua Congress from 29 May to 4 June, attended by thousands who called for independence.

PDP leaders proposed including a "pillar" for migrants within the movement's governing structure to show its commitment to diversity in the future state, but this was never filled, perhaps because renewed demands for independence were accompanied by a strengthening of anti-migrant sentiment. It was as though long pent-up resentment over loss of land and economic control suddenly found an outlet. Some were calling for expulsion; others approached migrants and demanded the return of occupied houses or land. One man said:

We couldn't reject their demands; most of us said, "yes, yes". But it didn't mean we just accepted it. We Bugis and Makassarese agreed that before we left Papua, we would burn our houses. Easy for them to demand the land and homes we bought with our own sweat. If we were forced out, Papua could burn.
The same sentiment was shared by migrants in the larger cities like Jayapura, Timika, Sorong and Manokwari.

The rising political temperature worried the migrants. Some joined anti-independence groups backed by the army, making relations with indigenous Papuans more strained. On 8 July 1998 in Sorong, for example, after several attacks across Papua on migrants by a pro-independence militia, the Satgas Papua (Papua Task Force), migrants calling themselves the South Sulawesi Group for Integrity and Unity of the Nation (Kelompok Pro Persatuan dan Kesatuan Bangsa Kerukunan Keluarga Sulawesi Selatan) held a provocative anti-independence demonstration, with protection provided by the army's Infantry Battalion 733. They carried machetes, sickles, iron pipes and other implements, shouting, "Curse the troublemakers!", "The OPM are thieves and robbers!" and slogans of a much ruder, racist nature against the Papuans.

The alliance of migrants with anti-independence forces in some areas only made the situation worse. Indigenous Papuans' hostility increased, as they accused migrants not only of stealing their land and controlling their economy but also of obstructing independence. The tension erupted in Wamena in October 2000. A scuffle between police and pro-independence forces ended with an attack by thousands of indigenous Papuans against migrants that left 37 dead, 24 of them migrants; 89 wounded; and some 13,500 people detained in twenty different locations. Thousands of migrants lost their homes and belongings and left Wamena, but the incident had repercussions beyond the central highlands. While some families elsewhere packed their belongings and quietly left, others decided to stay and defend themselves with sharp weapons or homemade guns and some to join anti-independence forces.

Religion influenced the choice made by this last group. Many Muslim migrants viewed independence as the aspiration of Christian Papuans, all the more so because Christian attributes such as crosses, Biblical references and hymns often accompanied pro-independence demonstrations. Muslims were increasingly convinced that if Papua achieved independence, they would suffer.

The perception that the independence movement was essentially a Christian one was strong not just among migrants but among indigenous Muslims as well. In Kaimana and Fakfak where Papuan Muslims were the majority, most rejected independence and saw Christians as the promoters of separatism. Indeed, Fakfak became the headquarters of a pro-government militia, the Red and White Task Force (Satgas Merah Putih), led by Ismail Bauw, a local government official.

Most but not all its members were Muslim. One was Ismail Yeni, a clan head from Yapen Waropen. In the 1970s, the Indonesian army took him on as a "civil volunteer" in a program called ABRI Masuk Desa (the military enters the village). It was supposed to be a hearts-and-minds program to assist the local economy but became a euphemism for the military's extension into rural areas. Ismail became a loyal servant in the local public works office, and then, while still a Christian, a leading figure in Satgas Merah Putih. But he had four wives and 35 children, and the Protestant church would only acknowledge the children of his first wife. He decided to convert, but local Muslims refused to help him, fearing religious disturbances. He flew to Jakarta, where his conversion in 2002 at a large Jakarta mosque was witnessed by former army chief of staff, General Hartono.

Clashes between Satgas Merah Putih members and local Christian pro-independence supporters in Wayati, Fakfak, in March 2000 deepened the religious-political cleavage, but it was the Maluku conflict that had a lasting impact.


In July 2000, ELSHAM, a Jayapura-based human rights organisation, reported that 100 displaced youths from Ceram, Maluku, who had fled the communal fighting there were being given military training in Sorong, with about a dozen guns and Molotov cocktails. There were questions about the credibility of the information, but no question that many Papuans believed the Maluku conflict was spreading to Papua. Independence leaders, however, understood well that the eruption of communal conflict could wreck their own struggle, and they ordered the pro-indepedence Satgas Papua to turn away any migrants from Maluku.

The first victims of this policy were 3,000 displaced Christians from Maluku, brought by a passenger ship, the Dobonsolo, to Papua on 27 July 2000. At first the Satgas Papua and the local government prevented them from disembarking. For several days their fate was uncertain; eventually, after complex negotiations, they were allowed to stay two or three months under the protection of the church.

The Dobonsolo case did not end the rumours that Papua was on the verge of religious eruption, particularly after rumours of the arrival in Papua of Laskar Jihad, a mostly Javanese army-backed militia led by Yogyakarta-based salafi leader Ja'far Umar Thalib that had led attacks on Christian communities in Maluku. In September 2000 Amnesty International, citing local human rights organisations, reported that some 300 armed Laskar Jihad members had arrived in Sorong. Some reports placed its fighters in Manokwari, Biak, Nabire, Jayapura and Arso, in addition to Sorong, with total numbers in the thousands. Some of the wilder figures appear to have been based on sightings of men with turbans and long white robes, the characteristic dress not only of Laskar Jihad but also of Jemaah Tabligh, a missionary group long active in Papua, particularly on the west coast.

Ja'far Umar Thalib acknowledged that some of his men did arrive in late 2000 - he did not say how many - as a reconnaissance team to investigate the needs of Muslims, and only after they completed their survey, in October 2001, did he send about 200 men. He believed there was a conspiracy of Christians in eastern Indonesia, including Maluku and Papua, to secede and form a Christian state. Laskar Jihad, he said, saw its mission as crushing the Papuan independence movement:

The Papuan independence movement in Irian Jaya sounds the gong of Holy War by terrorising Muslims there. This must be answered by sending Ahlussunnah wal Jama'ah mujahidin there to crush the potential for a revolt of Christian Papua. The mujahidin are forced to function as the guardian of the Indonesian unitary state, because the defence institutions are shackled by issues of human rights violations and the belief that they are the enemy of democracy.
The Laskar Jihad forces were welcomed by some in the Muslim migrant communities, but not by Papuan Muslims; H. Zubeir Hussain, head of the provincial ulama council, very clearly rejected the presence of any Islamic militia, fearing they would spark religious conflict. For the most part, Laskar Jihad members focused on daawa rather than military training, and most, but not all, left Papua after the organisation was disbanded in October 2002.

But concerns about its activities did not go away. In February 2003, a salafi businessman, Haji Muhamad Koya, head of a courier company called PT Bina Tirta, was arrested in Sorong, after police found a small arsenal in his office warehouse of homemade bombs, explosives and arrows with tips designed to be dipped in petrol. Church leaders, believing he was storing these for Laskar Jihad, sent a letter of concern to the police. Although close to Ja'far Umar Thalib, he said he was storing the weapons for his own protection. He was convicted of weapons possession, but his ties to Laskar Jihad were never proven.

As the conflicts in Maluku and Poso waned, and other developments took precedence in Papua, communal tensions also subsided, but suspicions remained. The Maluku conflict to this day continues to be invoked at major events of both communities as an example of what must not be allowed to happen in Papua.


New religious forces in Papua have brought with them a doctrinal intolerance that complicates communal relations. On the Muslim side, there has been an influx of Islamist groups, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and salafist groups, some, like the Makassar-based Wahdah Islamiyah, with ties to militant groups. On the Christian side, pentecostals and charismatics have gathered strength. Each is convinced of its own unshakable truths and tends to see the other faith as the enemy.


Hizb ut-Tahrir is a case in point. An international organisation founded in Jerusalem in 1953, it began to operate clandestinely in Indonesia in the early 1980s; only after Soeharto fell did it come out in the open using its name. The Indonesian branch (HTI) was brought to Papua at the beginning of the 2000s by activists from Java and Sulawesi who came to work in Papua and grew rapidly. One indication was the strength of the Papuan contingent - some 300 people - at HTI's International Caliphate Conference in August 2007 at the main sports stadium in Jakarta. In Jayapura, HTI members formed a student wing, the Student Liberation Movement (Gerakan Mahasiswa Pembebasan).

HTI members took an active part in discussions on Papua, although they tended toward conspiracy theories. In their view, for example, separatism was caused by two factors. First, America and its allies, like Australia, Singapore and the Philippines, wanted to weaken and divide Indonesia; one way to do this was by encouraging Papuan separatism. According to this theory, the U.S. feared that Indonesia and Malaysia together would become a new, anti-American, Islamic force in the region, so preventive steps had to be taken. The visits to Papua in 2007 of Eni Faleomavaega, the U.S. Congressman from American Samoa, and Hina Jilani, the UN's special representative for human rights defenders, were seen as part of the U.S. strategy to wrest Papua from Indonesia.

Another cause of Papuan separatism, according to HTI, was inequitable distribution of economic resources, so that while Papua had undreamed of wealth, its people remained poor. The giant Freeport copper mine was an example of how capitalism exploited local resources to the hilt; Islamic economic practices, by contrast, would bring justice for all. In late May 2008, the Papuan branch of HTI led demonstrations in Jayapura against fuel price rises, saying natural resources like oil and gas belonged to the people but by the price increases, the government was making the people suffer.

HTI teachings took hold not only among migrants but also among indigenous Papuans, thanks to the recruitment of Mohamed Zaaf Fadzlan Garamatan. A native Papuan born in Patipi, Fakfak, in 1969, he became the spearhead of HTI in indigenous Muslim communities. After finishing school in Fakfak, he went to Hasanuddin University in Makassar to study economics and was active in various Muslim student organisations. After graduation, he established an Islamic charity in Pondok Hijau, Bekasi, outside Jakarta, which he called Al Fatih Kaafah Nusantara (AFKN), to support daawa in Papua and provide free education for hundreds of Papuan students, mostly in pesantrens in Java, Sumatra and Makassar. AFKN has also provided university scholarships to Papuan Muslims; it claims that 29 of them have gone on to receive masters' degrees. It also helps Papuans make the hajj: Fadzlan says that in 2007, he also sent seven clan leaders to Mecca.

He likewise has strong links with Islamic organisations in Jakarta. In addition to HTI, he is close to Forum Umat Islam (FUI) headed by Mashadi, a former PKS politician who is at the forefront of the campaign to establish Islamic law and ban "deviant sects". In terms of his political contacts, he is close to Mochtar Ngabalin, a Papuan member of the Crescent Star Party (Partai Bulang Bintang); he himself has aspirations to become a member of parliament in 2009.

In an interview in a Hizb ut-Tahrir tabloid newspaper in 2007, Fadzlan maintained that Papuan Muslims had led the fight against colonialism in Papua and that the anti-Dutch bases in Kaimana and Fakfak worked together with the Indonesian government to return West Irian to the republic. He said Christians were trying to work with the OPM to create a Christian state, while Muslims were working together to deepen their faith and their Indonesian nationalism, "to show that Papuan Muslims think like Indonesians". He also claimed that Muslims now constituted 65 per cent of Papua, both migrants (muhajirin) and indigenous (whom he termed anshar), and that Christians claimed a majority only by including animists in their statistics.


Papuans first became aware of salafism, or neo-Wahhabism, through Ja'far Umar Thalib and his Laskar Jihad. The ultra-puritan method (manhaj) of practicing Islam grew rapidly in Indonesia in the 1990s, thanks to returning graduates from universities in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Concerns about the role and prominence of Laskar Jihad in 2002 led to divisions in the movement, and eventually to Laskar Jihad's dissolution. Most of its members returned to Java as a result; almost all of those who stayed in Papua joined a rival salafi faction, led by a Cirebon-based scholar, Umar Sewed.

The salafi community grew, but not as quickly as HTI. Its preachers had little success among indigenous Muslims; most members were migrants. It set up Islamic foundations (yayasan) in cities to support daawa activities. In Sorong, the base for ex-Laskar Jihad was a school started by Yayasan Ta'dhimus Sunnah; several mosques there hosted salafi religious discussions (pengajian). In Jayapura, the community has not yet managed to establish a foundation or school but has one regular public forum and smaller religious discussion groups both at the home of Abu Zahwaa, the leading salafi preacher there, and in one of the capital's main mosques. The number of salafi preachers is so limited that the Jayapura salafis often bring in Java-based scholars by telephone for discussions, including Umar Sewed from Cirebon, Abu Hamzal Yusuf al-Atsary from Bandung and Usama bin Faishol Mahri from Malang.

Unlike HTI, the salafis almost never raise Papua as a political issue in their discussions. The focus is on religious principles and on combating idolatry and deviance. Nevertheless, one source said, most believe that Papuan Christians want to separate from Indonesia to form the Arafuru Christian state. His friends, however, are no longer interested in jihad. "There is no more jihad", he said flatly, "or at least our jihad is no longer through war but through spreading knowledge". They remain strongly committed to the principle of al-wala wal bara (loyalty and disloyalty), or in his terms, loving Islam and hating kafirs (infidels).


The Muslim missionary organisation Jemaah Tabligh deserves mention here, not as a hardline group, which it is not, but because many Papuans confuse tablighis, as its members are called, with Laskar Jihad due to their dress: women are often veiled to the eyes, and the men often have full beards and wear white robes and turbans. A non-political, non-violent international movement that was founded in the 1920s in Lucknow, India, and came to Indonesia in 1952, Jemaah Tabligh aims to improve the moral character of Muslims and make them better practitioners of their faith. It is tolerant of other religions, aims its activities only at Muslims and has no interest in converting people of other faiths.

Like Mormons, it requires its members to undertake missionary work; tablighis are required to spend 40 days per year in the field, usually in groups of five to fifteen members. Many Indonesians go to Malaysia, Bangladesh or India, and many South Asians come to Indonesia, especially the eastern region. In January 2002, the Indonesian press reported the arrest in Sorong of six men from Afghanistan possibly linked to al-Qaeda; they turned out to be Pakistani tablighis quietly doing their mission work.

Tablighis, like salafis, believe that the Prophet provided the model for Muslims to follow, and they try to emulate him in everything, without adjusting to time or place. For example, they brush their teeth not with plastic toothbrushes but with a wooden stick called siwak, similar to what the Prophet is said to have used. Because there is a tradition (hadith) that says the Prophet ate using only three fingers, tablighis do the same, even though it is more difficult in rice-based cultures than it would have been with bread in seventh-century Arabia. They refuse to be drawn into debates over interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence, which only divide the ummat, and they reject any discussions on subjects they deem controversial, such as politics or jihad.

Jemaah Tabligh arrived in Papua in 1988, after a group of tablighis meeting in Jakarta decided to send ten members to Jayapura for three months. They established a base at a mosque in the Hamadi area of the capital and gave it the name "Serambi Madinah" (Veranda of Medina). This has been their headquarters in Papua ever since. Two other bases are in Sorong and the Kampung Makassar neighbourhood of Mano¬kwari. A tablighi estimated membership at about 1,000 each in Jayapura and Sorong and about 500 in Manokwari. There are smaller numbers of tablighis in Kaimana, Fakfak, Nabire, Merauke and Wamena.

Most tablighis in Papua are migrants, but a significant number of indigenous Muslims have also joined, especially around Kaimana and Fakfak. There is no discussion of Papuan politics in tablighi meetings; members believe it would undermine their mission. Jemaah Tabligh meets openly and anyone can join, but it remains widely misunderstood and confused with more militant Islamic groups.


Papua has also seen the arrival in recent years of pentecostal churches and charismatic groups, also called neo-pentecostals. These churches and groups are controversial, not only because they boast of converting Muslims, putting them at odds with the Muslim community, but also because they sometimes have government or military backing, setting them against many local church groups. Active in several Papuan cities, charismatics and pentecostals are almost identical in terms of religious doctrine and practice "an expressive quality of worship style that is dynamic and physically demonstrative".

They differ in organisational form. The churches have fixed locations and congregations, while the charismatics tend to meet in prayer groups or cells that move from place to place; examples are Yayasan Filadelfia and the California-based Full Gospel Businessman's Fellowship. The cells are used for recruitment, much as radical Muslim groups rely on small prayer groups to identify potential members. When a critical mass is reached, they can form a church. Most charismatic groups see themselves as inter-denominational, so do want a more formal organisation.

Charismatics stress the Holy Spirit and faith healing. They believe the Holy Spirit enters individuals after they are baptised and bestows the blessing of glossolalia (speaking in tongues), in which someone suddenly utters words of an unknown or never-studied language. The blessing of the Holy Spirit is also believed to cause miracles, for example allowing the blind to see, the lame to walk and the deaf to hear.

They also teach the "theology of success", in which faith is linked to wealth and comfort. To be devout is to be rich; poverty, sickness or suffering is a sign of inadequate faith. As one pastor put it, "if a sinner has a Toyota, then the pious will surely get BMWs". One explanation of the doctrine's popularity in Papua is that it meshes well with indigenous Melanesian religion.

The aggressive evangelising of both groups has caused resentment in the mainstream Protestant denominations, which have lost members to them. There are also accusations that the evangelical groups are driven by economic motivations. They preach that every member should tithe (donate one-tenth of income to the group), so the more members, the more income at the disposal of the preachers.

The groups also aim their proselytising at non-Christians, causing anger among adherents of other faiths, especially when there is a sense that conversion by any means is permissible. In a widely reported case in 2003, two charismatic pastors, Muhammad Filemon, a Muslim convert, and Fachli Bachriudin, distributed video CDs of their lectures. Filemon claimed he had baptised one of Indonesia's most popular Muslim preachers, Zainuddin MZ, while Fachli boasted in Sukabumi, West Java that he had baptised 68 kyai (Muslim leaders) and 400 members of Laskar Jihad. The claims generated a firestorm, particularly after an investigation by the news magazine Gatra showed they were false.

Since the late 1980s - much later in places like Kaimana - these groups have been organising KKRs (Spiritual Awakening Services) in Papua. Gereja Bethel Indonesia (GBI) and Gereja Bethani are the two most active organisers. In April 2008, GBI ROCK (an acronym for Representatives of Christ Kingdom) organised a KKR in Sorong, bringing in Rev. Timotius Arifin, a "success theologian" from Surabaya.

Another Gereja Bethel figure active in organising KKR in Jayapura, Timika and, most recently in February 2008 in Sorong, is Rev. Kirenius Bole from the Jakarta-based Yayasan Filadelfia Indonesia (YFI). Bole is a pastor from Jayapura who is also secretary of the foundation. In February 2007, working with Pondok Daud, a group that a Protestant scholar described as "extreme charismatic", he organised a Service of Praise and Faith-Healing in the Papua Trade Centre in Entrop, Jayapura. Thousands packed in to hear the husband-wife team of Rev. Jacob B. Sumbayak and Rev. Susan Sumbayak, Pondok Daud's founders. The group was the subject of a cover story in a leading newsweekly in 2005 that discussed what it called cult-like practices.

Another charismatic group with growing influence in Papua is the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International. Based in Irvine, California, it claims to have 5,000 branches in 160 countries and over a million members. The Indonesian national president is the retired army general and former ambassador to Singapore H.B.L. Mantiri; the Papuan chapter is led by Julius T. Subay. In May 2007, the group brought an American evangelist, John Hartman, and a team from Television Crusade with Gospel Overseas Television Network to Papua to hold a KKR in Jayapura. As with the Pondok Daud event three months earlier, an estimated 20,000 packed the stands of the Papua Trade Centre to hear them. Probably the best-known foreign evangelist in Papua is a Canadian, Rev. Peter Youngren, who has traveled back and forth to Papua for seven years, holding KKRs in Jayapura, Manokwari and Merauke.

The growth of these charismatic groups cannot be separated from the strong support they have from some local officials and the security forces. One characteristic of the charismatics is that they gravitate to centres of political and economic power. For that reason, unlike the Catholic or mainstream Protestant groups, they are either silent on Papuan political issues or actively support the government, which they preach is God's representative on earth; to criticise the government is to criticise God.

In 2001, virtually all the costs of a huge KKR called Festival Papua 2001, with Rev. Youngren in attendance, was borne by the provincial government, including the travel costs of participants, according to Dr Benny Giay, a well-known mainstream Protestant pastor. He said security forces arranged 40 trucks to bring participants from all over Papua. The festival took place only days after the military killed an important customary and pro-independence leader, Theys Eluay, then head of the Papua Presidium Council. Giay said Youngren tried to cool the anger of the Papuans over the murder by claiming that Theys' death was God's plan, not a human rights violation by the Indonesian state. If Youngren could really demonstrate miracles from God, Giay said, he should have summoned the voice of Theys Eluay from the grave to explain to the participants how he was killed and by whom.

The tendency of KKR meetings to showcase new converts is also causing friction with Muslims. The converts testify to their new faith in front of large crowds, in public places, often over loudspeakers, in a way that causes deep offence to adherents of the faith they left. For example in February 2008 in Sorong, a woman from Madura, Siti Muslika, appeared at a KKR and testified how she had been a Muslim and now was joyful because she had found Christ. "Changing religions should be a private matter, not something you do in public to denigrate Islam. It makes us angry", said a Muslim in Sorong.


The rediscovery by Muslim commentators of Islam's long presence in Papua is a positive development if it leads to academic research on early Papuan history. But history is easily politicised, and some Muslim commentators are using the fact that Muslim traders preceded Christian missionaries to suggest that Islam was Papua's original religion, much like the "Balik Islam" movement in the Philippines.

Whether Islam was brought to "Nu Waar" by a Gujerati trader on 17 July 1214, as one Papuan Muslim preacher asserts; by a Hadrami trader, according to another; or through the Bacan sultanate in North Maluku in 1569 is immaterial for these commentators. Wihtout probing how far Islam penetrated between the thirteenth and nineteenth century, the subtext to the new popular history is that foreign missionaries were responsible for Christianisation of a Muslim land; that Christian colonialism proceeded to obliterate all traces of Islam; and that not just Papua Muslims but Indonesian Muslims more generally must redouble efforts to regain lost ground and exert the control that is rightfully theirs.

History seminars are now a popular adjunct to Muslim events in Papua. The latest took place on 23 April 2008 in Fakfak in conjunction with a West Papua-wide Koran-reading competition (Musabaqah Tilawa¬til Qur'an, MTQ) at the local sports stadium. The seminar, "Geliat Muslim Irian: Antara Sejarah, Kiprah dan Tantangannya" (Awakening of Irian Muslims: Between History, Progress and the Challenges Faced), was one of a series of activities jointly funded by the Hizb ut-Tahrir-led AFKN and the kabupaten government. The bupati told the press that one reason for the program was to "open the eyes of the world to the fact that Irian is not synonymous with non-Muslims".

At the same time, the bupati stressed that 25 per cent of the committee for the event were local Christians, and banners raised across the district read "One Family, Three Religions" (Islam, Catholicisim and Protestantism). The inter-faith participation is at one level a hallmark of Fakfak's traditional tolerance, but the fact that it had to be so publicly proclaimed suggests a new level of contestation.

Meanwhile, on 26 April 2008, on Biak and Supirori islands just west of Manokwari, Christians celebrated the 100th anniversary of local Christianity with a proclamation of Supiori as "Gospel Island" - an act sure to feature in subsequent discussions of religious history in Papua.


In the midst of these tensions, a new body emerged that may be able to play a mediating role in the future. On 13 April 2007, the Papuan Muslim Council (Majelis Muslim Papua, MMP) was established in Jaya¬pura as a body of indigenous Muslims committed to upholding Papuan cultural identity and Islamic uni¬ver¬sal values. It was an outgrowth of Solidaritas Muslim Papua, a group set up in 1999 which included several pro-independence Muslims among its founders.

The MMP announced at its founding congress that it was composed of Muslims "from the seven cultural regions of Papua" who were committed to the principles of moderation, tolerance, balance and dialogue and to democracy, the rule of law and human rights. It stated specifically that its goal was "not to be exclusive, not to promote Islamisation, let alone fundamentalism that could lead to the emergence of radical groups, but to extend a hand to the local government to work for justice and prosperity".


The recommendations that emerged from the congress included telling commentary on the social and political situation in Papua. It said the reform movement was being "threatened by political groups with a tendency to use physical intimidation, anarchism and political thuggery" to achieve their aims in a way that undermined basic freedoms of expression and association - a reference to some of the hardline Islamic groups causing consternation among Christians in Papua. It expressed concern over signs of communal politics that threatened to lead to "horizontal disintegration" at both the local and national level. "The development of Papua", it noted, "cannot be undertaken by just one ethnic group, one race, one religion or one group".

Unlike some of the migrant-dominated Muslim groups, it called the 2001 Special Autonomy Law for Papua a "monumental and historic event", although it had not been implemented effectively. It urged the central government, local government, provincial parliaments and the Majelis Rakyat Papua - as noted above, the body set up to safeguard Papuan culture - to do their utmost to turn special autonomy into a blessing and not a curse. It sharply criticised the MRP for having become too politicised and tendentious - despite the fact that its own general chairman, Arobi Achmad Airtuarauw, is an MRP member. And it closed by urging the government to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights, including by setting up a human rights court in Papua and forming a truth and reconciliation commission in Papua.

The MMP proceeded to set up branches in almost every kabupaten in Papua. Ironically, it failed in Fakfak, the place where indigenous Muslims are most numerous, apparently because of the bupati's support for Hizb ut-Tahrir and AFKN - both of which see it as separatist. But while the MMP may not claim Fadzlan Garamatan among its members, it does include several figures who are seen as pro-Indonesia. When tensions arose in Kaimana, some of its members played a critical role in cooling emotions in both communities.


Few other institutions, whether NGOs, religious bodies or government agencies, seem likely moderating influences. Several long-term observers of Papua suggested that one possibility might be the Zone of Peace movement, begun in 2002 by the Jayapura-based Justice and Peace Secretariat (Sekretariat Keadi¬lan dan Perdamaian, SKP) of the Catholic Church. While it was aimed primarily at ensuring a non-military solution to the political conflict between the Indonesian state and pro-independence Papuans, a working paper prepared for a 2003 meeting underscored the importance of tolerance and the need to prevent discrimination, eliminate "primordial" sentiments based on race, religion or ethnicity and initiate dialogues among religious leaders. The problem is that while the SKP has excellent contacts at the Catholic grassroots, its ability to reach beyond the elite of other religious groups is limited. Moreover, its focus has been on what most Papuans see as the more important conflict, not on inter-religious tensions.

The MRP's working group on religion (pokja agama) consists of eight Protestant leaders, four Catholics and two Muslims, one from Kaimana and one from Wamena in the central highlands, but it played no role when the Manokwari and Kaimana tensions reached a crisis stage.

The Papuan Peace Commission, established in 2002 as an outgrowth of the "peace zone" movement, is not an option either. Aimed at ending violence in Papua by advocating, among other things, the withdrawal of Indonesian troops, it also recognised the importance of preventing conflict between migrants and indigenous Papuans. In 2004, however, the Commission head, Benny Giay, described its efforts as "an attempt to boil a stone that will never cook", because of lack of support from the Indonesian military, and the commission has since virtually disappeared.

If other options do not yet exist, perhaps they should be created. One possible model, though formed under very different circumstances, is the Maluku Media Centre, created in Ambon as a forum for journalists writing for Christian and Muslim papers to share information and ensure that more balanced accounts were disseminated to readers. Communities in Papua are not segregated the way Maluku was during its con¬flict, but the idea of a media-based approach to defusing conflict, engaging journalists from both com¬mu¬ni¬ties and reaching a mass audience through radio, television and the print media deserves attention.


The potential for communal conflict is high in Papua because both sides consider themselves aggrieved. Indigenous Christians feel threatened by ongoing Muslim migration; Muslim migrants feel democracy may be leading to a tyranny of the majority, where in the long term they will face discrimination or even expulsion. Even though there are significant rifts and factions in both communities, especially over competing nationalisms (Indonesian vs. Papuan), the developments in Manokwari and Kaimana may be a sign of more clashes to come.

Changes in demographics are part of the problem, but even if migration from outside Papua were to stop tomorrow, communal polarisation would probably continue because of other developments. Papua's Christians are only too well aware of attacks on churches elsewhere in Indonesia and see the country as a whole moving toward more support for Islamic orthodoxy. Muslims from outside Papua are easily mobilised to defend what they see as slights to a beleaguered community and to bolster the latter's numbers through daawa and other forms of outreach. With ever more new kabupatens and districts being created as a byproduct of Indonesia's decentralisation process, the chances for communal sentiments being mobilised in service of local politics is high. Leaders at all levels of government must be alert to existing tensions and do everything in their power to ensure at the very least that they are not exacerbated.

Jakarta/Brussels, 16 June 2008


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