The Role of Pesantren - Buntet Pesantren The Role of Pesantren - Buntet Pesantren
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    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    The Role of Pesantren


    Carilah ilmu walau kemana
    Walau adanya dinegeri Cina
    Itulah sabda junjungan kita
    Harus dikejar dengan segera.

    Seek knowledge wherever it is
    No matter if it is in China
    That is what our master (the Prophet) insisted
    It has to be sought immediately.

    In the preceding Chapters I have discussed the major religious
    traditions that currently prevail in Cirebon. Some traditions may be
    independently transmitted by one individual to make it known or accessible
    to others. An example of this is the accession of “ilmu ghaib” or “ilmu
    ” from an owner (master) to a learner. In this Chapter,
    however, I would like to focus my discussion on how the main corpus of the
    traditions is institutionally transmitted from one generation to the next
    in a more formal and systematic manner. It is not difficult to find out
    the main institutions responsible for this. They are widely known, being
    found everywhere within the society itself. They are the household, the
    madrasah (modern religious school) and
    the pesantren (traditional boarding
    school). With special reference to Buntet, the biggest pesantren in Cirebon, I wish to focus my
    attention in this Chapter on discussing the role of pesantren.

    The verse at the beginning of this Chapter reflects a pesantren tradition. The teacher, Pak Nawawi (47
    years), who wrote the verse, is a pesantren graduate. He composed the verse as a
    part of the lyrics to be sung by his students at the private primary
    religious school (Madrasah Diniyah) of
    “Budi Tresna” in Desa Panembahan of
    Kecamatan Weru. The first two lines of
    the verse contain a message which has been derived directly from a well
    known hadith that says: “Seek
    knowledge, even as far away as China.” The last two lines accentuate the
    fact that the message is indeed derived from the hadith and thus its conclusion is that it is
    everyone's duty because it is an instruction from the Prophet and thus
    part of the Islamic doctrine. The verse suggests that among the local
    people the pursuit of knowledge, especially religious knowledge, and its
    transmission from one generation to the next lie at the very heart of
    their inner traditions and become something which is always worthy of

    Islam, following its Judeo-Christian predecessors, is a religion of
    Scriptures whereby the activity of teaching and learning is an inseparable
    part of its doctrine. In a real sense, learning is worship, so the study
    of God's words, the traditions of the Prophet, and the system of law
    derived from them are part of everyone's fundamental service demanded by
    God.[1] For Muslims the first revelation which marks Muhammad's
    prophecy is God's instruction to mankind (via Muhammad) to read.[2]


    Many verses revealed subsequently also exhort believers to
    engage in the pursuit of knowledge. To mention a few, there is God's
    advice to man to pray: “O, my Lord, advance me in knowledge” (QS 20:114).
    Further, there are God's assertions that those who have no knowledge are
    not equal to those who have (QS  39:9); that those who do not observe
    and try to understand are worse than cattle (QS 7:179); that the meaning
    of revelation becomes manifest to those ‘who have knowledge’ (QS 6:97) and
    those ‘who have understanding’ (QS 6:98); that whosoever has been given
    knowledge indeed has been given an abundant good (QS 2:269); that the
    basic qualifications for leadership are, among other things, knowledge and
    physical strength (QS 2:47); that by virtue of knowledge man is superior
    to angels and has been made vicegerent of God on earth (QS 2:30),

    The enactment of these verses was also exemplified by Muhammad's
    apostolic career. After the first victory of 300 Muslims over 1000 Meccan
    Quraisyi unbelievers at Badr in AH 624, for example, Muhammad set all the
    prisoners free after requiring them to teach skills to the Muslims,
    especially reading and writing. He then insisted to his followers that
    someone who leaves his home in search of knowledge, actually walks in the
    path of God; that seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim,
    male and female. Also his instruction: “Acquire knowledge, because he who
    acquires it in the way of the Lord performs an act of piety; he who
    disseminates it (the knowledge) bestows alms and he who imparts it to
    others performs an act of devotion to God.”[4]


    Concerning religious knowledge, for which Muhammad himself
    held the authority, he always insisted his followers should transmit (to
    others) everything from him.[5] Under this scriptural scheme the Muslims have a legitimate
    claim to having Islamic ethics for the spirit of seeking knowledge. The
    verse cited above, which in fact is derived from a hadith, is part of this scriptural ethical
    package. As we will see this package is clearly manifest is popular

    In recent versions albeit more popular Babad,[6] Walangsungsang's and Rarasantang's being Muslims and their
    departure to Mecca for pilgrimage, as cited in the previous chapter, did
    not occur accidentally without precedence as the Babad Tjerbon of Brandes edition recounts. The
    popular Babad explain that Syeikh Qura
    of Pesantren Karawang paved the way for Islam to penetrate the core Hindu
    Pajajaran ruling house when he encouraged his student, Nyai Subanglarang,
    to respond positively to the wish of Prabu Siliwangi, the Hindu Pajajaran
    king, to marry her. This marriage produced Muslim offspring's,
    Walangsungsang, Rarasantang and Kian Santang. After a long adventure in
    seeking wisdom, Walangsungsang and Rarasantang finally became Syeikh
    Kahfi's students at Amparan Jati. Upon completion of their learning,
    Syeikh Kahfi advised Walangsungsang to open a settlement at a Tegal Alang-alang (Field of wild grass) in
    cooperation with the local elder, Ki Pangalang-alang. After Tegal
    Alang-alang grew into a busy village, it became Cirebon and eventually
    needed a sort of government. Ki Pangalang-alang was appointed the
    Kuwu (chief) and Walangsungsang his
    assistant. Upon Pangalangalang's death Walangsungsang succeeded him and
    became Pangeran Cakrabuana. Thus, it was after having settled in Cirebon
    and becoming the Chief's assistant, according to this Babad that
    Walangsungsang went to Mecca for pilgrimage. What happened with
    Walangsungsang and Rarasantang during the pilgrimage and later after his
    return to Cirebon, by and large accord with the scenario of the Babad Tjerbon which tells the story of the
    emergence of Cirebon kraton.

    In other words, according to this Babad version, the Cirebon region, sprang up and
    developed from the teaching-learning enterprise of pesantren-like institutions.[7] Pesantren Krawang (Syeikh Qura) paved the way for Islam to
    penetrate the core of the Hindu Pajajaran kingdom, whereas Pesantren
    Amparan Jati (Syeikh Kahfi) paved the way for the establishment of an
    Islamic kingdom (kraton). In return,
    pesantren gained full recognition,
    legitimation and political support from the kraton.

    The Babad scenario provides even
    more information than this, however. It says that both Walangsungsang
    (Cakrabuana) and Sunan Gunung Jati were themselves priest-king (raja-pandita), a kind of pre-Islamic title, the
    ruler and the priest (guru) at the same
    time whose performances were much more like missionary workers (Sufi wanderers) than rulers.[8] Their stories are more centred around preaching than ruling.
    They tended to use political power to ensure fruitful missionary efforts
    rather than the contrary, using religion to gain political
    benefits.[9] During their reign, as far as the Babad narrative is concerned, not only did the
    transmission of Islam enjoy political support, recognition and
    legitimation from the kraton but the
    kraton itself took over and established
    the mission of the pesantren. Such
    antiquities as Tajug Jalagrahan, Pengguron Kaprabon, the grand mosque of
    Kesepuhan, the Panjunan mosque and many sites now known as kramat are but a few examples that are taken
     as evidence to substantiate this suggestion.[10]


    Consequently, the Cirebon kraton at that stage is represented as a
    missionary rather than a political institution. De Graaf's and Pigeaud's
    assessment may be right in arguing that Sunan Gunung Jati did not have
    substantial political power although clearly his spiritual charisma was
    acknowledged and highly respected by the Demak imperium and other Javanese
    royal circles.[11] This may indicate that Cirebon was not a political
    institution although to a certain extent it also exercised a
    quasi-political power. The extent to which Cirebon was known as a centre
    of learning and piety is witnessed, among others, by Hoadley

    This situation was maintained throughout the period when Cirebon
    stood as a fully independent state. The situation changed dramatically
    however, when, under Pangeran Girilaya who succeeded Panembahan Ratu,
    Cirebon lost its independence, being first, controlled by Mataram and then
    by the Dutch Company (VOC). Girilaya's lack of status as a religious
    teacher in comparison to his predecessors removed Amangkurat's hesitation
    in demoting Cirebon from ally to vassal. Girilaya and his two sons were
    invited by Amangkurat to visit Mataram where they were then held as
    hostages. During the 1660’s Amangkurat sent his governor to rule Cirebon
    on his behalf and thus Cirebon became the vassal of Mataram.[13]

    When Java was in chaos due to the Trunojoyo revolt, on April
    30, 1681 Cirebon signed a contract for VOC's protection.[14] The cession of Cirebon to the VOC became official when, at
    the  end of the Trunojoyo revolt, the Mataram-VOC contract was signed
    on October 5, 1705, by which Mataram transferred its suzerainty over
    Cirebon and Priangan to the VOC.[15]

    There is enough grounds to suppose that at the earlier stage
    predating the kraton era, the
    transmission of Islam in Cirebon was centred in the village (Syeikh Qura
    at Krawang and Syeikh Kahfi at Amparan Jati). Since Cirebon had its own
    ruling house under Cakrabuana and then developed into a kraton under Sunan Gunung Jati (circa 1570), and
    his successor, Panembahan Ratu (circa 1650), the centre of religious
    transmission moved from the village to the ruling house. In 1702 the VOC
    removed the main traditional function of the kraton by forbidding learning activities within
    it, leaving the kraton as a mere ruling
    house with lands and other possessions but with neither political nor
    economic power.[16]


    Religious transmission moved back to the village one hundred
    years after the death of Panembahan Ratu when Kyai Muqayim, the Kraton
    Religious Official (Penghulu Kraton),
    fled from the kraton to the village and
    established Pesantren Buntet. The kraton became more and more a colonial subject
    and finally collapsed while the pesantren, despite encountering hardships and
    suppressions, kept its independence and has continued to function until
    this day. It is on this pesantren that
    further discussions in this Chapter will be focused.



    Adobted from the book:

    The Islamic Traditions of

    Ibadat and Adat Among Javanese Muslims

    by: Abdul Ghoffur Muhaimin

    ANU Press Australia

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