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Al-Umm boarding school: FPI’s forgotten cradle of history
“You are in Islamic territory. Please mind your manners by speaking politely and not showing your aurat *parts of the body that should be covered in Islam*,“ reads a welcome sign at the entrance to Al-Umm Islamic boarding school.
Tucked in a small alley called Gang Jamblang on Jl. WR Supratman in South Tangerang regency, the school is hardly recognizable as a typical Islamic establishment from its exterior. A small plastic name plaque is the only clue to the building’s function.
The fairly modest establishment played witness to the birth of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), a hard-line organization notorious for its violent attacks on those it deems offensive to Islamic values and virtues.
Inside the compound another sign reads, “Do not tire or become exhausted in the struggle to eradicate Ahmadiyah”.
Ahmadiyah is a religious sect considered blasphemous to Islam because it does not recognize Muhammad as the last prophet.
Despite the signs, a student, Ilham, greeted visitors in a friendly manner, taking them to meet the school’s founder and owner Syeikh Misbahul Anam.
There was no hint of menace on the features of the 40-something year old sheikh, who smiled in a friendly manner - a far cry from the terrifying expressions worn by FPI field commanders in action
Misbahul, from Brebes, Central Java, said his school was established about a year before the FPI was officially founded at the school on Aug. 17, 1998.
He said that during the first year, the school had occupied a 70 square-meter plot of land, and had only nine students. Now the school has around 51 students.
“*FPI chairman* Habib Rizieq was also one of the facilitators and the conceptualists of the ideas that led to the establishment of this school,” said Misbahul, now the secretary of the FPI’s consultative assembly.
Misbahul said the FPI had been born when he befriended current FPI leader Habib Rizieq long before the establishment of Al-Umm.
Together they decided to set up the FPI at the boarding school, which was the group’s first headquarters before it was relocated to Rizieq’s residence in Petamburan, Central Jakarta.
“We share the same ideas on cruelty, infidelity and injustice toward Muslims,” said Misbahul, who was FPI secretary-general - second in command after Rizieq - during the early years of the FPI.
However, Misbahul said, he and Al-Umm had slowly moved out of the limelight as the leaders and instigators of the FPI.
In spite of this, Misbahul said, he remained an active member of the FPI, and that one of his tasks was to prepare the next generation of FPI leaders to replace Rizieq when he was too tired to continue.
“We have some potential members who deserve to lead, and we are continuously developing them for the next congress *in 2013*. Anyone can be named leader,” he said.
“We do not recognize seniority. Everyone has the same obligations, rights and chances.”
It is thought that the FPI branched off from the Pamswakarsa civil guard, a security force formed by the military to support the Habibie regime.
Then Indonesia Military (TNI) commander Gen. Wiranto and then Jakarta police chief Noegroho Dja-yusman are thought to have masterminded the formation of the FPI.
Both have repeatedly denied the allegation despite that the FPI openly declared support for Wiranto during his presidency bid in 2004 and vice-presidency bid in 2009.
Misbahul also denounced an allegation that the military and the police were backing the FPI. He said the military would not approach the FPI until the group gained popularity and influence.
“For example, then TNI territorial chief Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono *now the President* once asked for our assistance in dealing with insurgencies in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam,” Misbahul said.
“So, it was not us who came to the military generals, it was they who came to us.”
Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said he was not aware of the cooperation between Yudhoyono and FPI leaders.
Misbahul also said the generals had come to the FPI to seek assistance in dealing with security issues.
“As long as their requests are made for security reasons, then we will help them. We will not help any request concerning infidelity,” he said.
Rendy Witular/Hans David