Sat, 08 Mar 2003

Tracking the roots of Abdullah Sungkar's Jamaah Islamiyah

Blontank Poer The Jakarta Post Surakarta

Jamaah Islamiyah's (JI) existence somehow seems to fall between illusion and reality. Some say this group is a mere invention of the Indonesian and foreign governments.

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a figure frequently mentioned as JI's imam (religious leader), has repeatedly denied its existence. Others are absolutely convinced of it.

The group made headlines after police linked it to last year's Oct. 12 Bali bombing, which killed at least 202 people.

Documents on JI were found in one of the Bali bomb suspect's homes, and another suspect pointed to Ba'asyir as JI's spiritual leader.

But long before it gained its notoriety, JI was mentioned in an interview with Abdullah Sungkar published by the Nidaul Islam magazine in its February-March edition in 1997.

In it, Sungkar said he was one of the founders of JI.

He also referred to the Darul Islam/Indonesian Islamic State (DI/NII) organization as being the embryo of JI.

Initially, JI's objective was to set up a Daulah Islamiyah, an Islamic State, in Indonesia. And the means to that end was what he termed "non-cooperation" with the government.

JI did not intend to succeed the Darul Islam movement, which also aspired for an Islamic State.

Then an activist of the Indonesian Islamic Propagation Council (DIII), Sungkar, began to realize the need for a jamaah (religious assembly or community). This belief led to JI's inception.

Sungkar was inspired by the words of Umar bin Khattab, the second caliph who replaced the prophet Muhammad. Umar said: "No Islam without jamaah, no jamaah without leadership and no leadership without compliance."

Realizing the importance of Islamic propagation through a jamaah institution, Sungkar invited his close friend Abu Bakar Ba'asyir to join hands in founding a new assembly that they called Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).

JI, however, needed an organization to affiliate itself with. In the 1970s, the only Islamic jamaah was that of DI/NII, and so it was decided to affiliate the new jamaah with DI/NII.

The merger between JI and Darul Islam (DI) took place in 1976 in Surakarta (Solo).

It was marked by the giving of their allegiance by JI's founders, Sungkar and Ba'asyir, to Haji Ismail Pranoto, also known as Hispran, the leader of DI in Central Java.

JI became one of the DI movements led by Sungkar and imam Ajengan Masduki. The name JI itself was subsumed as part of the DI movement.

But despite the merger, Sungkar had a relatively more advanced system compared to DI in managing his jamaah.

DI's strategy was more focused on the cultivation of cadres by way of intensive yet limited Islamic elementary teaching.

Sungkar developed two additional strategic channels. The first channel consisted of providing cadres with formal education received in a pesantren (Islamic boarding school). Thus, he established the Al Mukmin pesantren in Ngukri village.

The pesantren was structurally separate from Sungkar's DI movement.

But as a cadre-forming institute, it proved effective in indoctrinating students with Sungkar's vision of the holy war version of Jihad.

Following graduation, the Ngruki pesantren students were sent out to various parts of Indonesia to spread Sungkar's vision.

After moving to Malaysia, Sungkar and Ba'asyir also set up a similar pesantren in Johor. It was named Lukmanul Hakiem.

Sungkar's second strategy was that of I'dad al Quwwah, or preparing forces for waging jihad.

Among DI movements, the groups of Sungkar and Ajengan were the ones that were most serious in striving for jihad. Their dual strategy became more developed after Sungkar moved to Malaysia in 1985.

At that time, Sungkar managed to gain funding access to Saudi Arabian donors. The best cadres were sent to join the holy war in Afghanistan when that country was still fighting the Soviets.

Afghanistan served as the training ground for the preparation of a jihad in Indonesia.

The Sungkar - Ajengan relationship, however, ended in 1992.

Ajengan decided to join the Sufic tarikat movement, whose mystical teachings emphasized non-violence and tolerance.

Sungkar's religious orientation was rooted in the rigid teachings of the Wahabi movement. He considered Ajengan's move a violation of the Islamic faith, as according to the Wahabi doctrine all forms of Sufism were heresy.

Following this rift, Sungkar and his followers quit Masduki's DI movement and formed a new faction within DI.

Meanwhile, Sungkar's stay in Malaysia exposed him to international Islamic groups. His supporters, upon returning from Afghanistan, also brought new ideas from their interaction with jihad fighters from various countries.

Sungkar than changed his movement's goal. The initial goal of establishing an Islamic nation state was replaced by that of a khilafah (world Islamic state).

The change was said to have taken place between 1994 and 1995. During that time, the Sungkar group reportedly also joined Gamma Al-Islami or Jamaah Islamiyah of Egypt, led by Syeikh Umar Abdurahman.

The name Jamaah Islamiyah, which Sungkar had used initially for his new jamaah, was once again revived.

In the meantime, with the fall of the communist Nazibullah regime in 1993, Afghanistan saw major political upheaval.

The groups of mujahideen (defenders/fighters) who fought the Soviet troops now turned against each other. Disappointed, Saudi Arabian donors slashed their financial aid for Muslims who sought military training in Afghanistan.

This funding cut affected Sungkar's group as well. So he shifted his jihad program to Mindanao, the Philippines, where the Muslim Moro rebels were fighting for independence.

The Moro group was waging a low-cost jihad. Sungkar began to send his cadres in 1995 and this has continued up to the present.

Abdullah Sungkar died in Indonesia in 1999. Since then the leadership of JI has shifted to Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. The change of leadership opened up a new era for JI.