September 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Power Struggle Masquerades as Intrafaith Conflict in Cambodian Village

So Nasier

In my community in Cambodia, there is an internal conflict between people of the same religion but different sects; for although they are all Muslims, those from the sect known as Takvas—the local Khmer word for missionary—and those who identify themselves as being members of the sect of Kouvet—the local Khmer word meaning non-missionary—hold different religious beliefs.

The leaders of the two sects—Mamker of the Takvas sect and U-Koub of the Kouvet sect—are each trying to mobilize their supporters in the village to form radical religious groups to fight against the other sect. This move toward religious radicalism causes a major problem for all people in the village as they begin to dislike and even hate one another as well as feeling the necessity to take sides and to live apart by identifying themselves as members of either one sect or the other. Moreover, people discriminate against those who are believers of the other sect, and twice there have been minor fights among members of these two Islamic sects.

What caused the conflict is that U-Koub of the Kouvet sect wanted to give a lecture during Friday prayers at a mosque in my village of Phoum Chvea, a request that was approved by the chief of the mosque, Sarfifey.

Mamker, the leader of the Takvas sect, was against this decision, however, as he argued that the Kouvet sect is not one of the four acceptable sects—Sofiey, Maliki, Habli and Hannafy—that Allah provided to all Muslim people. Muslims outside of the Kouvet sect believe that members of the Kouvet sect are not strict and good practitioners of the faith because they do not follow the correct Islamic ritual principles.

As for the Takvas sect, it is known as a fundamentalist sect, and its adherents are constantly seeking to persuade other Muslims to join it and become their members. In my village of Phoum Chvea, some people who believe in the four acceptable sects of Islam do not want to obey members of the Takvas sect, and they dislike them as well.

Meanwhile, many people in the community are brainwashed and negatively transformed by the Takvas and Kouvet sect leaders’ divisive religious ideologies that create animosities toward members of the other sect; they all believe in the same religion but a different sect.

This conflict scares many people in the community as the leader of the Takvas sect wants to kill himself because of this issue. He wants to show his followers that he would rather sacrifice himself than let the Kouvet sect leader have a chance to give the lecture at Friday prayers. The villagers are also very afraid of the Takvas sect because they can be violent if the conflict is not resolved in a more rational manner.

However, I personally think that the root cause of the problem is that these two sect leaders, who want the popularity of leading the people in the village, have created misunderstanding and negative stereotypes among the people in the community about followers of the other sect even though they profess that they are followers of the same faith of Islam.

Frankly, if we try to analyze this problem deeply and critically, we will find that this conflict is simply a struggle over power and the popularity of leading the people in this village community. As far as I am concerned, I think that the only real conflict is between these two sect leaders, not the members of the sects, as these two leaders try to escalate and intensify the problem to make the situation more chaotic and tense.

Unfortunately, at the moment, they are succeeding as people are starting to mistrust and misunderstand each other. People in the community are beginning to discriminate and fight one another without reflecting critically on what is transpiring in the village. Consequently, there is a major problem for everyone living in the community.

At the present time, the government is trying to help resolve the problem, and one of the most well-known Islamic leaders in Cambodia is working to resolve the dispute too.

To conclude, this issue is very sensitive, and the people who benefit from this conflict are the two so-called religious leaders. Meanwhile, the members of the two sects are being used as tools by these leaders to create more violence and conflict between themselves. What is needed by people from both sects is more clear information and reflection, accurate analysis and a reminder that they are all Muslims and people of faith.

* So Nasier took part in the 14-week School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) in Bangalore, India, as a Muslim participant from Cambodia in 2008. He lives in the country’s Battambang Province.