Study on this subject and especially in this area is still very rare. Pijper (1934) however, has thrown interesting light on aspects of Islam in Cirebon. In the introductory to his account of the rise of Tarekat Tijaniyah, he mentions specifically: (1) that the areas of Banten and Cirebon are marked by many kramat and many pesantren; (2) that the influence of kyai or religious scholars among the villagers is very strong; (3) that traditional village religiosity is still evident; (4) that the modernist Islamic movements such as Muhammadiyah and Sarekat Islam were unable to make inroads in these areas; (5) that only the conservative Nahdlatul Ulama was able to do so; (6) that it was in Banten and Cirebon where the people's religious piety was the most clearly apparent; (7) that strict observation of religious duties, particularly in performing prescribed daily prayers when the time comes, even while being at work, were characteristic of people's religious life in the villages. To make things clearer, he illustrated that such practices as unhesitatingly doing prayer at the road side or in the midst of a paddy field or anywhere else that made it possible to do so were common among the villagers. This study contributes to highlighting and substantiating Pijper's assertions.
Among the older generation in Cirebon, the term Jawa (Java or Malay) is inseparable from Islam. Being wong Jawa or Javanese is necessarily to be a Muslim; wong-Jawa is distinct from wong Cina or Chinese and wong Welanda or Dutch not only in terms of race as their appearances are different, but mainly in terms of religion as exemplified by the following informant's statement:
“The Javanese are those whose religion is the religion of Java, that is Islam, worshipping Allah, praying at mosque; whilst the Chinese, their religion is the religion of Chinese worshipping Tao Peh Khong (idols), praying at temple; the Dutch, their religion is the Dutch religion, that is Christianity, worshipping Jesus, praying at Church.”
Pijper's description about people's religious performances in Banten and particularly Cirebon which he calls “devout” but “still traditional”, and under the “strong influence of kyai”, is in marked contrast, for example, with what I found and experienced sometimes in Jakarta among fellow modern intellectuals, mostly modernist proponents. While discussing how Islam fits or can be fitted to modern times, that proposing the Muslims to do this and that in order that they become developed, arguing this and that will make Islam a moral force for modernisation, the call for prayer from the nearby mosque was treated as no better than the roar of motor vehicles in the nearby street. There was no sign that anyone in the group is being called upon to do a special (divine) duty. Some of us carelessly let prayer time pass and leave our duty undone although, according to our own standard of belief and knowledge, performing prayer is the core of being a good Muslim.
The situations are different, so are the contexts. My fellow intellectuals in the city have their own reasons, so do the villagers; both groups are more likely to claim themselves devout although they exhibit different expressions. Neither do I recall these contrasts to direct attention to traditional-modern issues. Rather, I want to recall to mind that now, in this era of globalisation, the largest segment of Indonesian society (around 90 per cent of the Muslims) keep professing and perceiving Islam differently from contemporary modernist intellectuals. Their form of Islam deserves our scrutiny.
It is already well known that many practices of traditional Islam in Java have been abandoned by the modernists-reformists, because according to them, these practices are not Islamic. On the other hand, the traditionalists see their modernists-reformists counterpart as attempting to deprive them of the meritorious practices which for them have real sacramental values. Currently, the major studies on Islam in Indonesia seem to favour the modernist-reformist discourse with tendencies to undermine the traditional one. To avoid showing contempt and to have sympathy for those who are caught in this undertow, some form of balancing attempt is worthwhile. Such an attempt has already appeared. Dhofier (1985) is a clear example. While pointing to the lack of serious study of traditional Islam, he criticises some writers who misjudged traditional Islam. He points out that such writers as Geertz, Samson and Noer who undermine traditional Islam by claiming it to be syncretic, Hindu-Buddhist, animistic, conservative are, according to Dhofier, onesided, unfair and unwarranted because they tend to distort reality. Throughout his work he then shows how traditional Islam, particularly that which is maintained within the pesantren tradition, more specifically among the Kyai, has real vigour and vitality. It is because of its inherent vitality and dynamics that until now traditional Islam has never ceased from winning so many followers.
The notion of ‘followers’ is one thing that I wish to underline in that traditional Islam is not only adopted by knowledgeable individuals like kyai, but also by the mass populace, the ‘followers’, whose knowledge of the Scriptures vary considerably, from not knowing to being very knowledgeable. The former group, is called wong bodo (ignorant), the second group is the small number of wong alim or wong pinter (knowledgeable people). In between, the largest in number, are people with rudimentary or general knowledge. Part of this group are devout (wong santri), another part are non devout (dudu wong santri or bli santri). This religio-devotional categorisation is further complicated by moral or ethical categorisation in relation to daily conduct, ranging from wong bener (right or good people) to wong mlaun (sinners). Wong bener refers to those who keep from malima (the five sins): madat (taking opium), maling (stealing), maen (gambling), madon (womanising) and mabok (drinking alcohol); whereas the latter (wong mlaun) refers to those who commit one or more of the malima. This categorisation does not at all reflect a static and clearcut grouping but rather is dynamic in that a sinner at one time can later be very devout, or vice versa. These categories stand independently from each other. Alim/pinter-bodo is a grouping based on mastery of knowledge; santri-bli/dudu santri is based on devotion to God especially regarding the prescribed prayers; bener-mlaun is based on individual conduct and behaviour. Ideally, a wong alim is both a wong santri and wong bener at the same time, but this is not automatically so. In theory, it is quite possible to find an alim who is neither santri nor bener, or wong bodo who is santri and bener. In reality however, the former rarely occurs, the latter occurs frequently.
My concern in this work is to delineate the forms of Islam to which these people claim to belong. Such claims are manifest in their participation and commitment in various religious activities which to them are part of their tradition, the very tradition to which I personally claim to belong. I was born, raised and nurtured within this tradition. Thus I shared the feelings, knowledge and experience of these villagers. With rudimentary knowledge I also participated in village activities for the maintenance and preservation of the tradition. This work, therefore, represents a genuine observation from within. Being in this position, I was never trapped into what I would call an “elite cage” that I suspect many outside (especially foreign) observers usually find themselves in. Very often an outside observer becomes a “distinguished guest” who is given special treatment. In turn, this observer relies for much of his information on this elite host. In this situation, most elites, for their own interests, more often than not, temper the information they provide. In contrast, beside my being flexible as a participant observer, my informants are various individuals from various strata of the society, ranging from the wong bodo to very knowledgeable kyai; from the wong mlaun to wong santri; and from priyayi in the kraton, clerks and officials in the offices, to wong beburu (labourers), wong tani (farmers) and even people with uncertain occupations in the villages and streets; from the wong sugih (rich people) to the wong mlarat (poor people) and wong bli duwe (the have-nots). I was free to move in and out the mosques and prayer houses, sleep in kramat with pilgrims, participate in rituals and ceremonies, and mix amidst spectators. Despite the fact that my main concern was with the grassroots’ tradition, inclusion of some elites (kyai, government and kraton officials) among my informants was inevitably necessary because in many cases, the kyai and the priyayi are in fact, masters of this tradition. Information from them was, however, confined to something relevant or related to their own roles and views, not about something else, unless it was needed for verification purposes.
This study, differs from other studies that have already appeared. Although it is closely related, it differs for example from Dhofier's. Dhofier's excellent work is concerned with knowledgeable kyai. In contrast, my concern is with the grassroots. In some way, it may be regarded as an expansion of Dhofier's with a much wider spectrum involving not only their world view, but also beliefs and practices. This study also differs from those such as Geertz's. Geertz is an outside observer who supposedly worked within a tradition similar to mine. Unfortunately, I think, he misconceived the real situation from the start, misunderstood as he went through and misinterpreted at the end. He, for example, took only the modernists’ stance uncritically when he started working. He speaks about santri but very little, if anything in his work, reflect santri traditions. Finally, he distorted part of what really occurs. In fact, except for a portion on Javanese adat, The Religion of Java reveals very little about Javanese religious tradition. Instead of seeing it as an account of the “religion” of Java, Geertz's stimulating work is much more concerned with ‘adat ritual’ and ‘politics’ in Java. It presents an interesting account about conflicting groups resulting from the intrusion of Western type political parties into Javanese village life. It is Geertz's narrating talents which wrap everything up to look like religion.
Just as traditional Islam maintained in pesantren has been misunderstood and distorted by some observers, so too has been the traditional Islam of the populace, the ‘popular Islam.’ Some modernists, including ignorant or ‘popular’ modernists, to which I also belonged during my High School period, stigmatise the performers of this form of Islam by derogatory references such as jumud (static), taqlid (to follow others uncritically), bid'ah (innovations), and syirik-musyrik (equating God with something). These stigma are launched merely because these people rarely question the authority of the ulama, especially the kyai who preserve the pesantren tradition. Ironically, at the same time and in the same manner, these (ignorant) modernists rarely question the authority of the modernist orators. They only believe that these orators are true and the others are wrong. The beliefs and practices of the traditionalists are alleged as idolatrous, mingling with them the beliefs and practices of pre-Islamic past, merely because these beliefs and practices do not conform with the modernists'. Yet for those performers who happen to be incapable of enunciating their ideas, almost all these condemned practices find their roots and justification in formal Scriptures. While standing between those who condemn these practices and the performers of these practices, it is interesting to delineate what the performers hold from their point of view. It is also here that I would like to make a contribution to an understanding of Islam on Java.
Malinowski (1935) rightly implies that doing genuine field work can be difficult, more so is organising its results into a readable coherent work. Faced with the difficulty in sorting out the wide range of popular tradition, I shall present this work in nine chapters which I think properly represent the popular tradition of Islam that prevails in the area under study. After this Introduction, which I designate as Chapter One, follows Chapter Two which discusses the Cirebonese belief system. It discusses peoples' basic concept of and belief in God, spiritual as well as physical beings and their position in relation to God. Chapter Three is concerned with the mythology and cosmology of Cirebonese traditions. Included in this discussion are the myths of creation, both the creation of the universe and the creation of human beings, as well as the origin of the Javanese and their religion, the idea of calamity, the afterlife world and Cirebonese numerology. The latter is the science of the meaning that involves manipulating numbers to speculate about bad or good times to do certain work.
Chapters Four, Five and Six deal with ritual practices, the many religious practices in which most people in Cirebon are frequently involved. Chapter Four is concerned with ibadat, formal religious devotion to God, officially prescribed by Islam as everyone's duty so long as he or she is a Muslim. It is the commitment to this ibadat, especially daily prayers, by which a Muslim is locally considered as devout or non devout. Although failure to fulfil this duty is religiously considered sinful, in reality, due to various reasons, many people take the risk of being in this condition. Chapter Five discusses many forms of ceremonial undertakings, none of which is a formal religious duty and thus, failure to perform such activities are not considered sinful despite the fact that by local social standards, such non-performance may cause a sort of embarrassment. These ceremonial undertakings, regarded as adat, for those who like to do them and can afford them, are considered religiously meritorious. Many people use them either to express their Muslim identity or to ensure harmonious relationships among themselves in the light of God's mercy. Many forms of slametan fall into this category and for this reason these undertakings are discussed in detail in this chapter. Chapter Six contains a discussion of the veneration of wali and holy men. This form of ritual belongs to what is considered adat. While the adat discussed earlier is more concerned with relationships among the living, the adat discussed in this chapter concerns relationships between the living and the deceased, also in the light of God's mercy. The overall tenor of wali and holy men veneration is the belief in possible merits, in this world and in the hereafter, of establishing relationships with the venerated dead. As God loves the pious, establishing a good relationship with the pious, dead or alive, is itself considered a pious act. The dead, with whom a relationship is more likely to bring merit, are individuals who were known to have excelled themselves during their lifetime in pious acts and in extra devotion to God. The best known individuals of this kind are wali and holy men. It is these persons who, by their piety, are venerated. The widely practiced veneration of wali and holy men requires ziarah (visits) to their tombs, known as kramat (shrines). It is not clear when all these traditions began to appear but certainly they are as old as Islam on Java.
Seen from a wider context, ibadat and adat, including wali veneration cannot be separated from each other. Rather, as we shall see, there are mutual interrelationships because there are some forms of adat in the performance of ibadat, and ethically, there is a certain sense of ibadat in the adat. All these traditions, in one form or another, have been transmitted from generation to generation through various means and by various individuals. There are, however, certain institutions which are considered as most responsible for this transmission. These institutions are discussed in Chapter Seven which deals with pesantren, and Chapter Eight which deals with Sufi orders (tarekat). Both chapters lead to Chapter Nine, the conclusion of this thesis.
This work is neither perfect nor complete. There may be many things not included here. To the best of my effort, however, what I have put into this work constitutes the most essential parts of the manifestations of the Islamic tradition in Java and, in particular, in Cirebon. Hopefully, this work will provide a basis for further study and exploration as well as stimulate better understanding of the richness and intricacy of the long established tradition of Islam in Java.