The Nature of Adat Buntet

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The Nature of Adat Buntet

Rabu, 25 Juni 2008


“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