A Perfidy at Meunasah

Pak N was quite and often blinked his eyes more than normal statistic. For twelve years he remained silence about what happened to his mind and bodies. “It ached at first time,” he said. “But when the second kick hit me, I no longer felt anything.” During the martial law in Aceh, he had considerably calm and regular-Joe neighbourhood where soldiers just passed by like nothing would ever happened in his gampong. Sometime he heard bullets grazing through his paddy field or when he wanted to sleep during the night, it was all nothing but daily life. But after six soldiers died in Greater Aceh (Aceh Rayeuk), June 2002, peace became something elusive. Suspected as TNA (Tentara Nasional Aceh/combatant for Free Aceh Movement/GAM), he was then dragged to meunasah (smaller mosque) near by and tortured.

A cuak (roughly translated as spy) informed the military platoon the names of GAM-affiliated villagers, presumably false one, and Pak N was on the list among the other 35 men, especially when he was village administrator. “I used to take care of him (cuak),” his eyes shut as he tried to gather his strength to open up. “He was a poor man from another gampong far from here. We took care of him because he could recite Koran better than anyone else in our village, so did he on adzan. My family is close to his. He managed meunasah for us.” He took a deep breath, “I still don’t know why if anything, he would do such thing for us.” But later, he shook his thought as he declared he didn’t want to care anymore.

“Isn’t betraying somebody who helps you through thick and thin also a sin? But no matter how much I decried back then, it was war (konplik). Maybe he was so poor, and we couldn’t afford his need at that time, so he turned his back on us. And everyone has their own story,” so told Pak T, another survivor. We now face the key term ‘poor’; a single poverty struggled by one individual, caused by system, had changed faiths of 35 men in the village. “He could no longer pray,” Pak T patted his comrade, Pak J — survivor who suffered the most severe wounds that could still be witnessed on his face and neck. “His neck couldn’t go straight. He is identified as mentally-disturbed, at that time he became punch bag for three soldiers.”

Did they get any compensation as the war already ended?

“How come? We refused to talk until this very day to you,” said Pak N. I didn’t dare asking why. These three old men were among 35 people dragged by soldiers to meunasah. Where exactly did it happen? “In front of the meunasah door. Near the place for wudhu.” Soldiers forced them to gather inside the meunasah, then brought them to the field in front. “They put iron chains inside the rubber tube, it used to flow water for wudhu.” And, the soldiers hit them with that newly-engineered rubber tube. The scars remained for months.

What was once a place for people gathering to pray and discuss collective needs transformed into a havoc and hellish memory for some. They were beaten up on sajadah and in the same room where Korans were recited repeatedly.

Years later, people marching on the street reviled Basuki Tjahja Purnama for so-called blasphemy and a church being bombed by a hard-liner. A child died, in church, and mosques always stood coldly accept the chanting prayers of many people who would die in the name of religion, or misconduct their religious deeds.


Agama is somehow assumed as inherently and benevolently untouchable by humane atrocities, emphasized by how those politically correct people buzz and preach how Islam (or basically any religion) never permits violence. You can say, ‘Ooh, it’s the people, not the system’, but when it lasts for hundred of years, and in the same time there is also a layer of peace, can we really blame the agency instead of trying to get closer and perlustrate the reciprocal and holarchichal process both for the believers and the institution that manages their faith?

What we often disregard is how to see religion as a system. Just like any other system, its birth also came out from a complex string outside of ‘faith’ and God’s divinity. It has political, economic, geographical, and social context. This notion leads us to have responsibility as collectives when an agency’s behaviour resulted in a dead two-year old.

That cuak whom Pak N refused to have his name for me could do justice by keep his mouth shut, because he should have remembered the ethics of Islam to help in difficult times especially for people who saved you. But no, the villainy had context, a conflicted society, and he had other burdens: financial condition, mouths to feed, and so on. Those people marching paid Rp 100.000 a day? They had families and were political because apparently Islam that they know is something that keeps them alive throughout the times. The fact we always fail to dismantle rhizomatic string on religion and the complexity and dynamic of society and its history would always bring us to another death, torture, and banal political correctness of how an agency should behave in certain way under some (assumed) well-mannered rules. Let alone if we still insist the concept of sole humanity.

It is quite upsetting to see more analysis but still on the same tone of one’s denial to acknowledge that particular behaviour in religion is responsibility of the people in the system he believes in, while it happens repetitively — or even worse, pointing fingers at other people about that responsibility or asking where they were on [insert any issues here] before. It’s never that simple. It’s not about asking the partiality; where other people are when the problems arrive or keep preaching that the system is inherently free from predicaments. We might need to conduct an intact approach — both of agency and system — of why such mischief on the paradox of religion still occurs, massive in numbers, as the system we have faith within already hold certain codes of conduct. This attempt however, needs more than just a very noisy social media status, wondering digitally.

Aceh Rayeuk-Pekanbaru, 12–16 November 2016. All the initial names in this story might be falsified for security reason.

originally posted on my Wordpress blog on www.blogadaryu.wordpress.com

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