The Ambiguity of Religion: A Study of the Ambon Conflict, 1999-2001

Title: The Ambiguity of Religion: A Study of the Ambon Conflict, 1999-2001

Author: Marthen Tahun (CRCS, 2007)

Keywords: Ambon Conflict, Laskar Jihad, Conflict Resolution, Religion and Violence



The aim of this thesis is to understand the major contributing factors of the Ambon conflict from 1999-2001, the influence of religion on the conflict escalation, and the contribution of religion to the process of conflict resolution. The Ambon conflict that started on January 19, 1999 is recorded as one of the great human tragedies in Indonesia happened after the economic crisis that hit Indonesia in 1997 and after the leadership transition from the Soeharto regime to the more democratic reformation era. The conflict started on the Islamic holy day when the Muslims in Ambon were supposed to celebrate the day of Idul Fitri peacefully. Only a few days after the conflict eruption, thousands of BBM (Bugis Buton Makasar) people leave Ambon in a massive exodus as response to rumors that the Ambonese indigenous would attack and destroy the BBM who for a long time took control over the trading sectors in Ambon city and the seashore areas.


That exodus created more nervousness in the city while the uncontrolled mass of Muslim and Christian groups in amok attacking the facilities related to religious symbols. Thousands of peoples had to flee from their houses and lived as refugees in schools, the military or the police bases.


The issue of religious conflict between Muslim and Christian in Ambon was amplified in a short period creating more religious segregation in that city. The discourse of this religious conflict was strong in Ambon. Many people outside of Ambon also perceived the Ambon conflict as a religious conflict between Muslim and Christian, especially when the Laskar Jihad from Java finally came to Maluku. The religious issue then empowered to be a separatist issue based on the assumption that RMS was behind that conflict. This issue was stronger at the declaration of the FKM (Forum Kedaulatan Maluku).


There is a mix of issues such as ethnicity, religion, and separatism in the Ambon conflict. In the midst of all this background, this writing critically adopted the thought of three scholars: Scott Appleby, Charles Kimbal and Charles Selengut as a tool to understand the Ambon conflict.

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