Sunday, April 13, 2003

Life goes on for Mukhlas' wife


PARIDAH Abas lives in a small and remote hamlet in the Klaten area in Central Java, about 400km south-east of Jakarta. The hamlet is called Bendo, and it has dozens of farmhouses surrounded by padi fields. 

Paridah’s husband Ali Ghufron, who was arrested last December for allegedly bombing Bali, brought the family to Bendo about one month after the bombing. 

“He came here by himself and the following day his wife and children arrived,” said landowner Lestari. 

Ali Ghufron rented Lestari’s two-room pavilion. He used one room as a bedroom where Paridah and her five children now sleep. The other room is about nine square metres and serves as kitchen, dining room and living room. 

At a corner in this small room is a gas stove and some cooking utensils. Paridah’s eldest daughter usually fries chicken nuggets there. 

The wall is bare and the floor is covered with a plastic carpet. Paridah keeps some reading materials, including a few Indonesian novels. One that she is reading is Ahmad Tohari’s Jentera Bianglala

The closest town to Bendo is Klaten. It is 5km away and the family has to take public transport – half an hour’s ride – to reach Klaten where there are government buildings, a courthouse, police stations, stores, bus stations and bigger schools. 

Every week, Paridah has to leave her hamlet for Klaten where her trial sessions are held. 

Her four daughters and one son are aged between two and 11 years. Under Indonesian law, she cannot leave Klaten while the court proceedings are going on. Her three eldest children, however, are still registered in public schools in Lamongan, about four hours’ drive from Klaten, where their paternal grandparents live. 

Ali Ghufron was born and raised in the village of Tenggulun in Lamongan. It was here that Indonesian police initially arrested Amrozi, Ghufron’s younger brother, who bought the car that exploded in Bali last October as well as the fertiliser bomb material. 

Another younger brother, Ali Imron, was also arrested while trying to escape Indonesia. Imron admitted he helped to make the deadly bombs that killed 202 people in Bali. 

The brothers had visited Pakistan and Afghanistan, and fought there as “Mujahidin” against the Soviet army. 

Paridah usually refers to her husband as “Mukhlas”, Ghufron’s nom-de-guerre, or “Abi” (father in Arabic). Arab culture is indeed implemented in this family. The children call Paridah “Umi” (mother). 

Paridah herself is the seventh of nine children. She was born in Singapore in 1970. Her parents still live in Johor Baru. 

Paridah is in her eighth month of pregnancy. 

Below are excerpts of an interview with her: 

Q: How did you get married to Ali Ghufron? 

A: It was my father who asked him to marry me. My father is a straightforward person. He wanted me to marry someone whom he knows to be a responsible person. So my father asked him: “Do you want to marry my daughter? If you want to just say yes, without asking me to let you meet my daughter first.” 

It was an aggressive proposal indeed. But Mukhlas said yes. He initially did not know that I had studied in a madrasah. We got married in Malaysia in 1990. Mukhlas got a permanent residence permit from the Malaysian Government. 

Our five children were all born in Malaysia. It is a pity that our next child will be born in Indonesia. If I could choose, I prefer to deliver the baby in Malaysia. It is nice to be close to my family. Here I have no one. 

Q: Your family moved quite often. How do the children deal with this? 

A: Even in Malaysia we lived in several places. The children moved from one school to another. But is a close-knit family. The children are fluent in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia. Their father taught them to speak Arabic and I sometimes teach them English. 

I just moved to Lamongan from Malaysia last June. Before that, Abi had already stayed in Indonesia for two years because of his father’s illness. So he moved between Malaysia and Indonesia. I told him it was better for him to stay in Indonesia, and the children and I would follow. 

Q: You are facing trial and your husband is in the prison. How are the children? 

A: My eldest goes to two different schools: a madrasah in the evening and junior high school in the morning in Lamongan. The second, third and fourth are in Grade Six, Five and Four. The fifth is still staying at home. 

Prior to the court sessions, they all lived with their grandparents in Lamongan. I asked them to move in here when the sessions began. Financially it is difficult with these children but I receive assistance from my family.  

Q: What did you do before your marriage? 

A: I taught in a madrasah. I translated the Quran and taught in a kindergarten. 

When my husband helped develop the Lukmanul Hakim boarding school in Johor Baru, he asked me to teach there. So I moved to Lukmanul Hakim. 

When the Malaysian Government closed the school in early 2002, my husband was no longer at the madrasah. He had left the school in 1997 to concentrate on the development of al-Islam boarding school in Lamongan. Sometimes he was asked to help in Lukmanul Hakim. He was once asked to visit Pakistan to learn about a school in Pakistan where some graduates will be sent to continue their studies.  

I taught at Lukmanul Hakim until the closure. I cannot teach here because I have no permit in Indonesia. I could only raise some money by selling cakes in the neighbourhood. 

Q: How do the children react to their father’s arrest and the allegation that he is a Jemaah Islamiyah leader? 

A: The children learned about the arrest from the media. It has no impact. They still go to school. Nobody jeers them at school. Sometimes they feel angry with the police. But I told them that the police were only doing their duty. 

Now I tell them that whatever the result of the trial, whether he is right or wrong, whether he is punished or not, the most important thing is we understand the person himself. Do we know Abi? Yes we know Abi as a religious person. The children know their father as a good person. 

Abi and I could only send letters. The police do not allow me to meet him. 

Q: Ghufron might face death sentence in the trial? 

A: We already know it. But the court decision will not alter the children’s view. Their father was close to them. When he was home, they would spend time together. They went fishing and even climbed trees, both the boy and the girls. 

He also cooked at home. He is a modern man. I always told them to respect their father. Since the very beginning, we tried to build a family in accordance to the Prophet's teachings. 

Indeed, we miss him. The children and I can only be nostalgic about our Abi. Sometimes we like to say, “Abi used to do that, Abi used to do this.” We would laugh at the memory. The best memory is indeed about going out fishing with Abi. 

When the children feel blue or miss their father, I would ask them to write letters. If the letters are too sentimental, I don't send them to him. I myself have to watch over my feelings. I never show my sadness in front of the children. I should not show my weaknesses. 

How do I do it? Well, I write and write. My motivator is the Quran. It tells us we should not be sad. We should be strong. 

- Additional reporting by Helena E. Rea in Klaten