Religious Transmission

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Religious Transmission

Rabu, 25 Juni 2008


Before discussing the main issue, I feel that it is necessary to
touch upon the general features of religious transmission in Cirebon. In
general terms this transmission follows the same tradition of religious
education which occurs among the Javanese at large. As Dhofier
(1985:18–24) has sketched, every Javanese is  taught and formally
utters the confession of faith (syahadat) at least once in his life time, that
is, at marriage. In most cases however, the confession of faith among the
Javanese is conveyed to the child as soon as he is born.


In Cirebon, as
well as in other parts of Java, when a mother is giving birth the father
waits outside the room just in front of the door. Soon after the new baby
is born, even before it is cleaned, the midwife (dukun bayi) puts the baby on a round bamboo tray
called tampa, symbolising that its
presence amongst the family is ditampa
(meaning being accepted with warmth and welcome) as his presence really
means adding to the number of potential believers. Immediately the midwife
calls the father to enter the room to utter the adzan and iqamat (calls for prayer containing the
confession of faith) at the baby's right and left ears respectively. When
the father is unable to do so someone else, or the midwife herself, will
do it, witnessed by both the father and the mother. This means that the
first sound the child has ever heard in this world is the confession of
the faith.[17]

Although the formal utterance of the confession of faith comes
later, that is at circumcision for a boy and at marriage for both boy and
girl, the child undergoes both informal and formal religious education
during his infancy. The informal education is attained through observation
of and participation in the day to day village life of which, religious
activities of both adat and ibadat are essential parts. Meanwhile in Cirebon,
there are at least three forms of formal religious instruction known to
the villagers: ngaji, mesantren and
sekolah madrasah. The intensity of both
informal and formal education of the village children, however, depends
very much on the parents' knowledge of and commitment to religious

Plate 30: Two Qur'anic learners at "khataman" ceremony to mark
the completion of the whole Qur'an.

Plate 30: Two Qur'anic learners at "khataman" ceremony to mark the completion of the whole Qur'an.

Plate 31: Demonstrating the recital of the Qur'an.

Plate 31: Demonstrating the recital of the Qur'an.


One form of formal instruction almost everyone in Cirebon has
experienced is ngaji (Qur'anic
learning). It is a learning process carried on in the household when a
child is around six years old. At this age the parents begin to teach
their children to memorise step by step the short surah of the Holy Qur'an, and the incantations
to be uttered in daily prayers. This is usually carried out in the
evening after sunset prayer. When the parents are unable to do the
teaching by themselves they send or let the children go to a
neighbouring household, a tajug
(prayer house) or the mosque, where such teaching (ngaji) is held.


The instruction is basically on an individual basis in which the
teacher first recites the short surah
verse by verse and the child repeats again and again until he grasps it
by memory. The recital is presented in melodious format so that the
memorisation is made easier and more convenient. At this stage, neither
meaning nor understanding of the material is introduced, probably
because it is considered unnecessary as the main objective of this early
instruction is to give the child an acquaintance with and a basic
ability to conform to the minimum requirements for being a good Muslim,
especially to be able to perform daily prayers or at least to follow
congregational prayers. As all incantations uttered in prayers must be
performed without reading any text, the memorisation is therefore
crucial. Sometimes, accompanying this instruction, rules of conduct and
other religious or ethical dimensions are also added through chants and
story telling (dongeng) given by the
teacher (ustadz). The story may be of
a real occurrence or fictitious. In many cases, it is taken from a
segment or an episode in the life story of the Messengers, Sufi, or other exemplary figures.


At around seven years the child is taught the Arabic alphabet and,
also step by step, to read the Holy Qur'an. The reading lesson usually
starts from the first Surah of the
Holy Qur'an (al-Fatihah) of the first juz (division), then jumps to the last
 (30th) juz. This procedure is
taken partly because this juz
contains short Surah (QS 78–114) and
also because most of the Surah of
this juz are frequently recited in
the prescribed prayers. Learning this 30th juz proceeds in the reverse direction, from the
shortest surah (QS 114) which
consists of only a few short verses to the longer ones (QS 78). This
procedure allows the child to gain an easy and gradual mastery. The
standard text for this initial learning is called Turutan (literally meaning ‘something to


This text is available in local book shops, containing
elementary materials for learning to read the Arabic letters, al-Fatihah
and Surah 114 through Surah 78 of the Holy Qur'an. The completion of
this text is marked by a minor khataman (completion ceremony) in the form of
syukuran or slametan. A du'a is uttered at this occasion and food is
served. A bigger khataman is held
upon the completion of the whole Qur'an. Further learning moves from
Qur'an to Kitab (religious texts)
dealing with jurisprudence (pekih or
fiqh), theology (tauhid) and ethics (akhlaq, part of tasawuf). The kitab learned at ngaji varies considerably from village to
village and from individual to individual, but the most commonly used
are Safinah and Sullam at-Taufiq by Imam Nawawi of Banten,
which contains a blend of jurisprudence, theology and ethics.


As there is no binding rule, ngaji in the village is not so effective. The
proportion of ‘drop-outs’ is high. Only a few children who follow from
the start proceed consistently to the completion of a certain kitab; many of them do not even
complete the Turutan. Some factors
which contribute to this are that older children are busy with their
school work, some teaching sessions are short-lived as the teachers are
volunteers, and in addition, especially since the second half of the
1960s, there has been the intrusion of television into village life.
Quite often, children are tempted to watch an entertaining program on
the television rather than going to the place where the Qur'anic
teaching is held. When a child quits and drops out from ngaji however, it does not necessarily mean
that his religious education in  the village terminates. Religion
is still taught in public schools; informal education by observation and
participation in the village religious activities is an unavoidable
process because it is part of the village life. Parents who can afford
to and who are more concerned with bettering their children's religious
education prefer to send them to pesantren, while some others are satisfied with
sending them to the nearby madrasah.



The local term mesantren is
synonymous with nyantri meaning ‘to
go to,’ or ‘to learn in’ pesantren
whose purpose is to become santri.[18] A young girl or boy who goes to a pesantren gets special treatment from the
parents. For example, I found in Plered, a group of three boys and two
girls with their suitcases going by becak being escorted by a mass of people
walking behind them for a distance of seven kilometres from their
village to the railway station. The escorting people were walking not
because there was no means of transportation but they intentionally did
this to express honour to the children going to pesantren.[19] The boys and girls were primary school graduates, who for
the first time were leaving their village for Yogyakarta to start
learning at Pesantren Krapyak.


Pesantren in Indonesia are
officially classified by The Ministry of Religious Affairs, into four
types, A, B, C and D. Type-A is that which retains the most traditional
characteristics where the students (santri) stay in a boarding house
 (pondok) around the kiyai’s house; there is no set curriculum and
thus the kyai holds full authority
over the teaching-learning process including the type and depth of the
offered subject matter. The method of teaching is typically
‘traditional,’ relying on the sorogan
(individualised instruction) and the bandungan (collective learning) methods. In
either one the santri sits around the
kyai who reads, translates and
explains his lessons, which are repeated or followed by his students.
The lessons consist only of religious subjects and Arabic language,
usually taken from or using classical religious texts. Type-B pesantren includes those which, besides
offering the traditional instructions in classical texts with sorogan and bandungan, have madrasah (modern religious schools) where both
religion and secular subjects are taught.


The madrasah has a curriculum of its own or adopts
the curriculum set by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Type-C is a
pesantren which, along with providing
religious education of a type-B model with both traditional instruction
(sorogan and bandungan) and madrasah system, has also an ordinary public
school administered by the Ministry of Education and Culture such as a
Primary (SD) and Secondary (SMP and SMA). Thus, a type-C pesantren is a
type-B plus public school. Finally, a type-D pesantren is that which provides only boarding
accommodation to students. These students go to either madrasah or public schools somewhere outside
this boarding complex. No formal instruction is given in this type of
pesantren. The function of the
kyai is only as a counsellor and
spiritual guide to create a religious atmosphere at the

Currently, according to the statistical records issued by the
Regional Office of Religious Affairs, there are 133 pesantren in the Regency (Kabupaten) and 7 in the city (Kotamadya) of Cirebon. Following the above
classification there are 54 type-A's, 68 type-B's 16, type-C's and none
of type-D. Three of the pesantren
were  established in the 18th century, five in the 19th and the
rest are of the 20th century stock. Thus, pesantren education in Cirebon has evolved for
no less than two centuries.


Sekolah Madrasah

In Cirebonese vernacular, the word sekolah (which literally means ‘school’), can
either be a verb or a noun. Used as a verb it means to go to school; as
a noun it means the type of schooling (primary, secondary, general,
vocational, state owned, private owned, etc). To refer to a school
building, the word is sekolahan or
sekolan. Thus, sekolah SD and SMP means respectively going to
primary school (Sekolah Dasar) and
Junior High School (Sekolah Menengah
), whereas sekolahan or sekolan SD means the primary school building.
The term sekolah madrasah therefore,
refers to going to Madrasah (modern
religious school), which can either be madrasah
(which gives religious subjects) or public madrasah where both secular and religious
subjects are given. Each type of madrasah consists of three levels, the primary
(six years), junior secondary (three years) and senior secondary (three


The three levels of madrasah
are called Awaliyah,
and ‘Ulya, whereas
the three levels of public madrasah
are called Ibtidaiyah, Tsanawiyah and
Aliyah. The proportion for the
secular and religious subjects in public madrasah varies from one madrasah to another but the Ministry of
Religious Affairs sets a standard of 70 per cent secular and 30 per cent
religious subjects. Any private madrasah wishing to follow the Ministry's
accreditation should prove that it has fully adopted this standard. The
students of a standard madrasah are
entitled to sit for the national examination and those who pass this
examination receive the state issued certificate. This leads to an
easier way to continue their education within the  educational
system and finally to attend an IAIN (The State Institute of Islamic


According to the 1990 official record, throughout the Kabupaten and Kotamadya Cirebon, there are 373 Madrasah Ibtidaiyah (MI) accommodating 66,504
students, 51 Madrasah Tsanawiyah
accommodating 9543 students and 20 Madrasah
accommodating 5466 students. Most of them follow the
curriculum set by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.[22] Only 21 of the schools are Madrasah Diniyah, one of which is Madrasah
“Budi Tresna” whose song was cited early in this Chapter.


At present, madrasah undeniably
play an important role in the transmission of religious knowledge both
in the urban and rural areas. Their presence in the Islamic educational
arena in Indonesia, especially on Java, has involved a long and complex
process, but certainly, the madrasah
system is quite a recent (20th century) development.[23] Madrasah, however,
stands as complementary to and not as a substitute for the older form of
religious learning institute, the pesantren. Along with the development of
madrasah, some pesantren may have disappeared but some others
have flourished. Although there has been a changing attitude and more
and more people rely on madrasah,
people do not expect too much from it beyond the  acquirement of a
basic knowledge of religion.[24]


Until now it is the pesantren rather than the madrasah that is considered to be the real
place for acquiring advanced knowledge of religion especially when the
student intends to ‘know religious rules’ (kanggo ngerti ning hukum). The people regard
the expected result from going to madrasah, without learning at pesantren, is only fair (lumayan), a little better than not knowing
anything at all (tenimbang bli ngerti babar
).[25] Thus, although madrasah
is important, its depth and intellectual level are considered inferior
to the pesantren. Even among the IAIN
graduates, those who have prior pesantren education have more potential depth
in their religious knowledge and understanding compared to those who do
not.[26] Institutionally too, madrasah are also said to be the offspring of


In the next section I wish
to concentrate my discussion on the role of pesantren in the transmission of religious



Adobted from the Book

The Islamic Traditions of

Ibadat and Adat Among Javanese Muslims