The Nature of Adat Buntet - Buntet Pesantren The Nature of Adat Buntet - Buntet Pesantren
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    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    The Nature of Adat Buntet


    “Ma ra-a hul mu 'minuna hasanan
    Fa huwa ‘indallahi hasanun”

    “What the faithful believers find good,
    is [presumably] good on the side of God.”

    (Hadith transmitted by Ahmad).

    This Chapter deals with the ritual practice of adat
    which is nearly the same thing as what Rippin called the “additional ritual”, the ritual
    outside the enactment of the Five-pillars, used by the Muslims to express their identity. It
    thus, lies outside the domain of ibadat in the narrower
    sense. Some of the adat activities are undeniably Muslim
    creations, some others have unclear origins but all of these practices have an Islamic


    Other activities refer to indigenous ceremonies which are likely to have a
    non-Islamic origin but are tolerated or retained because they have been Islamised in that they
    have undergone modification from their original form. Their existence in their present form is
    harmless to the Islamic faith or has even been incorporated into it and is used as an
    expression of particular local Muslim identity.


    Among adat
    rituals belonging to the first type are commemorations of the Islamic holy days; those
    belonging to the second are thanksgivings (syukuran or
    tasyakuran) and slametan related to the individual life cycle and the commemoration of the death
    of a person. Examples of those belonging to the third are the communal feasts related to the
    agricultural season.




    Before going further into a description of adat rituals
    in Cirebon, it is worthwhile to take a brief look at the nature of adat and how they relate to the Cirebonese context. This is important because
    the relation between adat and Islam is an interesting
    subject of analytical discourse.

    The word adat is derived from Arabic ‘adat (plural form of ‘adah) meaning
    custom, or habit and is considered as synonymous with ‘urf,
    something which is commonly known or accepted. It generally refers to the result of
    long-standing convention, either deliberately adopted or the result of unconscious adaptation
    to circumstances, that has been followed where practical considerations have been


    By this definition, even an animal is said to have its own adat.[2] The early Sunni scholars considered some ‘urf as
    the roots of the fiqh, but in Wahhabi Arabia, ‘urf, if contrary to the rigid code held by the rulers, is stigmatised
    as a taghut, the mistaken conduct of the ungodly Jahiliya way.[3] Since the nineteenth century, especially due to the influence of Van Vollenhoven,
    ter Haar and Snouck Hurgronje adat has been used by
    colonial government in Indonesia as a legal term designating a prescriptive right, which was
    given currency as an independent legal entity apart from the canon law of Islam (syari'ah).[4] Local adat was encoded into units of jural
    management, whereby legal pluralism in colonial Indonesia was introduced.[5]


    Under this scheme, based on a classification of adat systems as cultural  geographic units, the Dutch divided Indonesia
    into at least nineteen adat law areas.[6] So called adat law rather than syari'ah, was then imposed wherever possible in an attempt to
    divorce the indigenous people from Islam. Adat law,
    however, was applied inconsistently as at the same time, under the 1854 Constitution (article
    75, para 3), the application of adat rules which were in
    conflict with generally recognised principles of justice in European terms was strictly

    Meanwhile, the ensuing discourse on South-East Asian Muslim societies concerning the
    relation between Islam and adat has become unclear.
    Adat is sometimes described as either mingling,
    suggesting an unstructured mixing, or as conflicting, suggesting the reification and existence
    of two separate bodies of knowledge and practice. Either view, according to Ellen, is a
    profoundly misleading over-simplification.[8]

    In Cirebon, the word adat is generally used precisely
    to refer to custom, habit or any form of ordinary behaviour commonly adhered to by many people
    (barang apa bae kang wis biasa dilakoni deng wong akeh).
    To illustrate this meaning, the following expressions may be helpful:

    Different places have different adat (customs); the
    adat of people here is like this, whereas the
    adat of people over there is like that.[9]

    It is the people's adat (customs) here to wear
    sarung and topong
    at prayer.[10]

    Commenting to someone who complains about the demanding and frequent
    crying child, one says:

    It is its adat (nature) if a child likes crying (so
    do not complain nor be startled).[11]

    Many other examples can be put forward but the point is that adat, from the Cirebonese perspective, is no more than custom. While like in other
    parts of Java there is no such a thing as desa adat,
    neither is there an adat official, nor is there, at least
    in contemporary Cirebon, any jural implication of such so-called adat. Rather, adat is conceived as a natural
    phenomenon whose occurrence commonly and inherently contributes to human conduct, to the way
    of doing things such as religious duties or social behaviour. Some adat may be genuinely of local creation while other adat may be of foreign origin. Some is ritualised and other adat is loosely technical. Most people are hardly aware of when
    adat came into being or where it came from.


    From their
    religious view point, some adat is good and other adat is bad; some matches precisely with the syari'ah set forth in fiqh,
    other adat matches the ethical spirit emanating from Islam.
    Still other adat just parallels Islam, while some other
    adat may stand in opposition to Islam. The sepikulan-segendongan principle in the Javanese rules of
    inheritance whereby a male sibling gets twice that of a female is an example of adat belonging to the first.[12]


    Many forms of feasts may be the example of the second, the use of local clothing
    to cover ‘awrat at prayer is an example for the third,
    whereas such activities as cock-fighting, betting and gambling at the lebaran festival are examples of the fourth. Given that adat may either be good or bad, its treatment, whether one wishes to keep it or
    avoid it, is subject to an  individual's own ethical consideration be they of
    Islamic, Christian, or any other origin.

    The quotation from the hadith at the begining of this
    Chapter comes from Pak Soleh (44 years), the thoughtful trader already acknowledged in the
    preceding chapter, the one who enunciated the broader and narrower meaning of ibadat.[13]


    He claimed that the hadith is one of the
    scriptural bases that guides him whether to accept or reject certain adat. In relation to a number of ritual and ceremonial activities belonging to
    adat, it is the true believers, represented by ulama and pious figures, who attest to a practice's Islamic
    validity. He asserted, that such activities as the commemoration of Islamic holy days and many
    forms of slametan have gained support from, and have become
    part of the favourable work of many ulama, pious figures
    and kyai. It is enough to say that these activities,
    according to Pak Soleh, have become good Muslims’ adat
    (wis dadi adate wong Islam kang bagus) and have a certain
    Islamic significance. It is thus, unnecessary and, sometimes even difficult, to set a clear
    boundary between adat and syari'ah. To clarify the relationship between the two, Pak Soleh gave the
    following illustration:

    The case of adat and syari'ah is just like doing prayer and wearing sarung and topong. Prayer belongs to
    syari'ah, wearing sarung and topong belong to Javanese
    adat. How then, should they be separated? It is true
    that doing prayer is valid without wearing sarung and
    topong provided the awrat is covered. But clearly, doing prayer and wearing sarung and topong are
    united, they are not opposed to syari'ah; rather, in
    our taste, it even looks better as it indicates more humbleness to God.[14]

    Pak Soleh's approach to adat vis-a-vis syari'ah undeniably represents the position of many traditionalist
    Muslim villagers. Unfortunately, this position stands against the main stream of Indologie scholarship put forward by Snouck Hurgronje and others
    who, under the guise of scholarship, exploited adat and
    Islam as a means to enable the colonial government to exercise easier political control. In
    dealing with Islam in South-East Asia, Hurgronje and others have successfully enjoyed esteem
    for arguing for the necessary separation and opposition between adat and syari'ah (Islam).[15] Virtually, the reliability of this colonial scholarship is now under siege from
    the current trend of more objective research.

    Based on a strong denial of the significance of Islam in Dutch colonial policy and in the
    interest of preventing the emergence of a national integrity in the colonial state, ethnic
    divisions were fostered. In the meantime, the European colonial cultures, especially British
    and Dutch, misunderstood and distorted Islam from the very start when they made systematic
    descriptions of it. Ironically, it is this confusion and distortion which provided the
    framework for the scholarship of Islam in South-East Asia that followed.[16]

    Leaving aside this issue for a while, it might be useful to echo Hooker's assertion that
    Islam, being the youngest of the world's monotheistic religions, in its own view, is intended
    to complete the great Judeo-Christian traditions. Also in its own view, Islam prescribes a
    complete scheme for the temporal and spiritual worlds and thereby it does not separate
    religion from daily life, something that the secular West can hardly comprehend.[17]


    Yet, to understand the local manifestations of great traditions such as Islam, it
    is not enough to simply focus on ethnographic  particularities alone, especially the
    ethnography of colonial vintage which, according to Ellen, has failed to make valuable
    contribution in analysing Muslim belief and practice other than as a part of a cultural


    It is true, as Ellen holds, that an initial recognition of distinctive Muslim
    culture within the totality of Islamic tradition is a prerequisite before one starts to
    grapple with an understanding of the local expression of the Islamic faith. Muslims all over
    the world live within diverse cultural niches whose expressions of identity bear the colour of
    their diversity, one of which is in the form of various adat. With these convictions, I shall start my discussions of adat to include the following items.




    Adobted from the Book

    The Islamic Traditions of Cirebon

    Ibadat and Adat Among Javanese Muslims


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