4.4 The Modern Kiai and Santri

There are two types of kiai in the pesantren based on their educational background, that is the traditional kiai who have undertaken Islamic studies in traditional pesantren and modern kiai whose Islamic knowledge was acquired through a formal modern Islamic tertiary institution. The traditional kiai usually has more knowledge of Islam than a modern kiai. The modern kiai, on the other hand, has a better methodology in teaching Islam than a traditional kiai. The difference is generational. Most of the traditional kiai derive from an older generation who had no opportunity to acquire a formal modern education. It was not until the second half of the 1960s that the pesantren in Jombang and other parts of Indonesia provided the santri with a modern system of education (see discussion on  pesantren in Chapter II). Although this categorisation may be blurred in the sense that both traditional and modern kiai can have the same quality in their teaching, their difference in educational background has created a different image of them among the santri. In the future it is probable that all kiai in any modern pesantren will be modern kiai. This is because modern Islamic learning at a formal university or other institution is becoming a necessity from the perspective of the santri. Modern santri need modern kiai who have a broader educational background and range of skills. In addition, there is a trend among kiai families to obtain a formal degree from a university.

The presence of some modern kiai in the pesantren has hence resulted in no problems. Although their knowledge of Islam is doubted by their senior kiai, they are accepted by the santri and society in general. In my observation, some of them (people call them ‘secular kiai’) are equal in ability to senior kiai, since they have acquired sufficient knowledge of Islam. The santri give them the same respect as they do to the traditional kiai. The point is not whether a kiai is secularised in the sense of being educated in a modern Islamic institution, but whether or not he is equipped with Islamic knowledge. According to Idham[19], a current santri at the Pesantren Tebuireng, the respect given by a santri to his kiai has nothing to do with formal educational attainment. Idham feels he has to give homage to any kiai to the extent that he is well equipped with Islamic knowledge. In the view of other santri, it is essential for a kiai to have received a modern Islamic education, which can raise the position of the kiai in the eyes of his santri. Exposure to modern education makes the kiai  more open and gives him a wider perspective than those traditional kiai who completed their education in traditional pesantren. These are qualities appreciated by modern santri.

It should nonetheless be noted that the leadership of a modern kiai is different from that of a normal traditional kiai. The emotional attachment between him and his following is less strong in many respects. Some modern kiai, however, still invoke strong emotional feelings in their followers in so far as they are supported by other factors, such as the genealogy of kiaiship or certain institutions with which they are affiliated. I found, for example, that a santri kissed the hand of a younger modern kiai who had graduated from a certain university. Although this kiai is not particularly erudite in Islam, he is treated the same as the older traditional kiai. This is so because he is the son of a well known kiai in Jombang. In certain institutions, such as the tarekat, the position of the modern kiai does not incur any problem in the sense that they hold the same position in the eyes of their followers. Kiai Rifai Romly, to mention only one example, was a modern kiai who was able to build emotional ties with his followers. He was a modern kiai for he graduated from a modern Islamic institution, obtaining a degree of Sarjana Hukum (Master of Law). He also assumed a murshidship in the Tarekat Qadiriyah Wa Naqsyabandiyah, and his leadership in this tarekat ran well.

Although there is little difference between traditional and modern kiai in respect of the attitude of the santri in general toward them, the perspective of the santri on kiaiship in general is changing. This change not only relates to the santri interpretation of pesantren education but also impinges on their world view, especially the values underlying their social relationship with their master, the kiai

While the perspective of the santri toward their kiai within the context of the pesantren is changing, the change in the perspective of Muslim society towards the kiai is taken for granted. The modernising process which contributes to such change is greater in society generally than in the pesantren world. The changing pattern of kiai relationships within the broader society relates especially to the continuing process of social mobility in Muslim society in Indonesia. The emergence of more educated individuals, who have either graduated from Islamic or secular universities, has made available agents other than kiai who can give professional religious advice and who possess Islamic learning. The kiai is no longer the sole agent who provides Islamic learning, since society can obtain such learning from other agents, such as Muslim scholars[20] who teach in tertiary educational institutions. Another important factor which impinges on existing norms of relationship, especially between the santri and their kiai, is the availability of a greater flow of information which can give rise to the emergence of modern values. The santri now have access to a variety of books, magazines or newspapers provided by the pesantren, a situation which exposes the santri to a modernising world outside the world of the pesantren.

The following account describes the change in the attitude of a santri in terms of his relationship with the kiai:

Barghowi is a lecturer at the Universitas Darul Ulum. He has just finished his MA in sociology at the Gadjahmada University, one of the few prestigious universities in Indonesia. He used to be a khaddam of Kiai Musta‘in. His promotion to his current job at the university is due to his closeness to this kiai who established the university. Khaddam is an Arabic term which literally means servant; but the term is commonly used to refer to a special servant, since the khaddam serves the kiai in such matters as taking his drink or receiving his guests. Barghowi's position as a khaddam indicates that he did not come from a well-to-do family. Becoming a khaddam was thus a way by which Barghowi could afford his life and education during his stay in the kiai's pesantren. In addition, being a khaddam enables one to obtain baraka. Being a khaddam not only involves being in a subordinate position (facing the kiai) but also being part of the culture of obedience or giving exaggerated homage to the kiai and his family.

Together with other khaddam, Barghowi was sent to the local school owned by the kiai until he finished high school. Later the kiai married him to a woman of Barghowi's choice. While he was working as a teacher in a local madrasa, he continued his study at the university owned by the kiai. Again, due to his closeness to the kiai family, he was accepted as a lecturer at the Universitas Darul Ulum after he finished his sociology study at this university.

Teaching at the university and living in a Javanese social environment as head of a family has introduced Barghowi to life which is different from that of the pesantren. His involvement in academic activities widened his perspective, a situation which encouraged him gradually to change his accustomed behaviour as a santri formed during his service as a khaddam. He dared to propose more openness in the university environment, making some criticisms about undemocratic practices occurring in it. This is an action which he was unlikely to have undertaken while he was a khaddam. Barghowi made his criticism at a meeting presided over by the kiai's wife (who happened to be the one who had sent him to school during his service to her husband). When he was told that the nyai was disappointed and even felt offended by his criticism, Barghowi just smiled. He did not feel uncomfortable when the nyai called him kemelinti (a Javanese term which means tidak tahu diri, that is one who does not acknowledge that he was supported by the person whom he criticised). Later he came to the nyai, asking her apology. He said: “Nyai, saya mohon maaf karena saya kemelinti” (I apologise for my being kemelinti). It is said that when he said kemelinti, he emphasised the word (by stressing its sound and displaying no shyness), an attitude which in santri culture expresses a rather rude and arrogant manner. He emphasised the word kemelinti because it was the word which was spoken by the nyai to someone else when she talked about Barghowi's unacceptable behaviour. 

This example shows how the change in attitude of the modern santri toward the kiai can occur. Barghowi is the personification of those who grew up and were socialised in a culture of respect but have subsequently changed. The Barghowi case also provides an example of the response of a kiai family to such change.

Such occurrences are becoming less rare. At the end of February 1994, according to a fortnightly magazine[21], hundreds of high school (SMA) students of the Pesantren Darul Ulum in Jombang held a demonstration. They asked the pesantren leader to establish a more democratic situation in their school environment. The leader of the pesantren responded to this action by expelling 15 of the students involved. “Diukur dengan uang puluhan milyaran pun tak cukup untuk mengobati kekecewaan kami. Di pondok tidak pernah ada demonstrasi” (“Millions of rupiah cannot heal our disappointment. In the pesantren no demonstration has ever been carried out”), he said. Furthermore, a senior kiai of this pesantren suggested that “Kalau murid sudah berani menilai gurunya, hubungan rohani antara mereka bisa tertutup. Murid tidak akan tambah pandai, tapi akan bodoh” (“If a student evaluates his teacher, the spiritual relationship between them is closed off. The student will not become clever but become stupid”).

The action taken by the kiai to expell some of the students involved did not stop other santri from holding similar protests. As reported by a newspaper[22], a number of students of the Universitas Darul Ulum held a similar protest at the Pesantren Darul Ulum. The protest was clearly directed at the head of the pesantren, Kiai As‘ad Umar. The kiai was reported to have given political support to President Suharto's candidacy for another term in office (1998). Not only did the student consider that the support had been given too early, but they also saw such support as the kiai's effort to gain certain political ends. The student thus felt that the kiai had exploited Islam for political purposes[23].

What I have described above is a new phenomenon in the pesantren world. Modernisation of the pesantren has not only produced a favourable condition for the emergence of modern santri, but has also distorted the character of the pesantren world. The characteristics of keihklasan (lit. willingness to serve for Islam), which have for a long time been the foundation of pesantren education, have been replaced by a more profit-making one. The secular school-based system, which has been established in the pesantren, differs on a basic level from that of the traditional pesantren. The former stresses the transference of skill based knowledge, while the latter emphasises character building. The relationship between the teacher and the student in traditional pesantren is marked by exaggerated respect. In modern schools, however, such a pattern of relationship is less likely to occur, making it feasible for a teacher to be criticised by his students.