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I. Expansion de l’islam et processus de vernacularisation en Afrique et en Asie

The New Turn to Mecca

Snapshots of Arabic Printing and Sufi Networks in Late 19th Century Java
Le nouveau tournant vers la Mecque : aperçus sur les imprimés arabes et les réseaux soufis à Java à la fin du XIXe siècle.
Michael Laffan
p. 113-131


À partir des écrits de C.Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936), cet article analyse les transformations des écoles islamiques de Java à la fin du XIXe siècle. Les notes de Snouck Hurgronje montrent une transition volontaire qui se traduit par le déclin des vieux manuscrits locaux et la diffusion d’ouvrages imprimés en arabe. Ce glissement s’est opéré conjointement à la popularité croissante de certaines confréries basées à la Mecque, plus particulièrement la Naqshbandiyya, qui ont adopté l’imprimerie pour la diffusion de leurs ouvrages. Je conclurai en suggérant qu’à long terme cette transition a permis l’arrivée d’un « modernisme islamique » dans les ports de l’archipel, auquel sera opposé l’islam décrit par Snouck Hurgronje, finalement considéré comme l’expression d’une tradition rurale et anti-moderne.

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Texte intégral

Sufi past, traditional present

1It is commonly held that a coalition between Arab and Indian Sufi traders must have been the seminal force impelling several leaders of the Southeast Asia’s port towns, such as those of Samudra and Perlak (at the northerly end of the island of Sumatra) to embrace Islam at some time in the 13th century. But while interoceanic trade must have played its part in the story, the positing of a saintly Sufi linkage remains speculation largely engendered by subsequent popularizations of the teachings of specific mystical orders (sg. tariqa, pl. turuq) among Malay and other Austronesian elites. This is especially the case in the 17th and 18th centuries, when more and more Southeast Asian scholars, such as the Malay-speakers `Abd al-Ra’uf of Singkel (1615-93) and `Abd al-Samad of Palembang (ca. 1704-ca. 1789), were travelling to the Holy Places of Arabia and linking themselves to the most eminent pedigrees (sg. silsila, pl. salaasil) represented at those cities, including that of the Shattariyya order.

2It would also seem that such pedigrees of learning carried back to Sumatra by `Abd al-Ra’uf in particular were crucial for a number of Shattari teachers who would be active on Java, such as Muhyi al-Din of Karang, in West Java, for whom Malay (known to many as Jawi, the pan-Southeast Asian language written in Arabic script) was recognized as an important vehicle of learning. It shared this status to a degree with Arabic though works in both languages would often be glossed or adapted into other regional languages, such as Sundanese and Javanese (the latter being called pegon when rendered in Arabic letters).

  • 1 See Barton 2004. Of similar ilk is the recent PBS documentary series, America at a Crossroads, whos (...)

3In this process of the implantation of Malay learning and the globally-prominent orders on Java, there seems to have been a similar process of rememoration by which the 15th and 16th century founder saints of the north coast ports, known collectively to Javanese as the Wali Sanga, have been retrospectively cast as Sufi masters as much as temporal rulers. These days too it is often asserted that it was mystics such as these who have gave what is now Indonesia its supposedly distinct tradition of syncretism and tolerance. Indeed, ever since the first Bali bombing of October 2002, there has been an attempt on the part of some scholars and journalists to reassert the once hegemonic view that Islam in Indonesia remains different; that it is at its heart a more mystical and tolerant form of the faith, the true soul of Islam.1

4The soul that some scholars and, it must be said, many Indonesians seek to preserve is one embodied by perhaps the largest Muslim organization in the world. This is the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which claims to represent the praxis of some 45 percent of Indonesia’s population of well over 220 million people. Originally formed in the Javanese port-city of Surabaya in 1926, in reaction both to the encroachments of the "modernist" movement inspired by Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905) and Rashid Rida (1865-1935) and the desire for representation at caliphate congresses of Mecca and Cairo, NU is often proclaimed to be the ultimate defender of the most "traditional" Islam.

  • 2 The most accessible and detailed overview of the works used in the pesantren since the late 19th ce (...)

5Indeed NU’s scholars remain committed to the use and memorization of what are now regarded as standard Arabic works of syntax (nahw), dogmatics (`aqida), jurisprudence (fiqh), and exegesis (tafsir) composed by leading scholars from the Middle East and North Africa.2 These works are often referred to by their authors rather than their formal titles, though this is not always the case. As examples of such standard works esteemed by NU and its allies, we might note the grammatical primer known as the Ajurrumiyya after its author Abu `Abdallah Muhammad b. Da’ud b. Ajurrum (d. 1323); the Sanusi (also known as Umm al-barahin), a dogmatic tract and commentary composed by Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Sanusi (d. 1495); various juridical works emulating the approach of Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi`i (767-820), such the Minhaj al-talibin composed by Imam Nawawi (d. 1277/78); or yet the omnipresent Qur’anic exegesis composed by the “two Jalals” of Egypt, Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli (1389-1459) and his student Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (1445-1505) - though this has often been confused by observers with an earlier tafsir by `Abdallah b. `Umar al-Baydawi (d. 1280).

6While the mosque was the original site of such learning, today’s formal Muslim education largely takes place in the archipelago’s institutional boarding schools (now generally known by the Javanese term pesantren). And although many modern Indonesians would see them as having been established as a form coeval with the nascence by the Wali Sanga, these institutions only seem to have arisen around the early 18th century.

7Formally speaking a student, usually known in Java as a santri, approaches Islamictexts under the personal guidance of a teacher, known as a kyai, though much of what goes on can also be described as peer-driven, as santris often memorise the texts in unison and check each others’ work. These days most texts can be studied in a single pesantren, but traditionally a student would move from one kyai to another as particular teachers were known for mastery of particular texts, ranging from the grammatical to the esoteric. In this respect it is important to note that NU maintains a conceptualization of orthodoxy that makes space for the teaching of Sufism (tasawwuf), both in terms of general ethical principals (akhlaq) and, for a selected minority under a specially recognized shaykh or guru, affiliation to a tariqa.

8For those familiar with Islamic history in other parts of the world, this commitment to the pedagogy and textual traditions of Arabic-language scholarship should sound more familiar than strange. Certainly the texts being studied in the Netherlands Indies from around the 18th century, and thus in Indonesia thereafter, were (and are) to be found in other parts of the world. Indeed I shall suggest in the remainder of this paper that the scholars met by Snouck Hurgronje in the 1880s and 1890s, whose students would rise to challenge the modernists in the 1920s, had themselves grown out of a specifically modern moment of interaction with the wider world in the late 19th century. For as we shall see, it was at this time that more and more Southeast Asians were sending their children to Islamic schools, consuming newly-printed editions of Arabic works, and committing to journeys as pilgrim-scholars, both in trains across their home isles, and in steamships traversing the Indian Ocean. It was, furthermore, a moment in which more globally-ambitious tariqas with masters lodging in Mecca were the prime movers. Certainly this latter fact created great anxiety in many western circles, where Mecca was imagined as the seat of all plots against the colonial order, which brings us to this particular story.

The Mecca-Java Network

  • 3 See, for example, his comments in an article of 1883, C. Snouck Hurgronje, "De beteekenis van den I (...)

9Much writing on traditional Islam in Indonesia has rested heavily on the works of C. Snouck Hurgronje. Yet he was not engaged by the Dutch government in the 1880s to document some putatively accommodative Islam, but rather to understand the processes by which Indies Muslims were actively engaging with what was thought to be the less amenable attitudes prevalent in the Ottoman Empire. To this end he was dispatched to Jeddah in 1884 to study the Hajj and provide an account of the workings of the tariqas to which so many Indonesians were drawn; for it was the brotherhoods and their agents that were imagined as being the al-Qa`ida of the day. And even if Snouck Hurgronje did not subscribe to exactly this view, in his writings he made plain the threat he believed that they posed to the colonial state due to the institution of blind obedience pledged within many Sufi orders, which he first regarded as parasitic growths afflicting the larger Muslim body.3

10Snouck Hurgronje went further than Jeddah though, and, having converted to Islam and adopted the name `Abd al-Ghaffar, he spent several months in Mecca as a student of fiqh and tafsir. There he came under the wing of the leading mufti of the city, Ahmad b. Zayni Dahlan (1816-86), and formed a friendship with the prominent Javanese scholar Nawawi of Banten (1813-97), both of whom he had met through his West Javanese contacts and by way of letters from the respected Arab scholars Muhammad Salih al-Zawawi and his son `Abdallah. In Mecca too he could see at first hand how teaching was conducted in and around the Sacred Precinct, what ideas were discussed in its arcades, and who the masters were who greeted the constant flow of aspirant Sufis as they called on their lodges located nearby in the precinct of Jabal Abi Qubays (Snouck Hurgronje, 1931; Van Bruinessen, 2008).

11Through his experiences, too, Snouck Hurgronje was also able to see how the throngs of students coming from the Indies (and indeed from all over the Muslim world) were making use of both manuscripts and, increasingly, texts printed in Istanbul, Cairo, India and even the Holy City itself, where a press had just been opened with its own Malay subsection and a specific manager, Ahmad al-Fatani.

12Yet while many early Malay printed works, such as those laid out at Singapore in the 1860s and 1870s, and still printed in Bombay and Istanbul thereafter, had emulated the manuscript form by use of lithography, and with wide margins and open interlinear spaces to admit notes – if the local glosses were not actually supplied – the newer texts, increasingly produced at Cairo and Mecca by typography, admitted far less space in the page (see figs for examples).

Fig. 1 : A page from a text known in Java as the “Sharh al-Sanusi”, being an expanded treatment by the author on his own Umm al-barahin.


19th century copy made on bark paper in the possession of the author.

Fig.2 : A Bombay lithographic imprint of various popular Sufi litanies (including the Sharaf al-anam and Mawlid al-Barzanji) destined for the Southeast Asian market.


This particular version came from the Muhammadiyya press of `Ali Baha’ in 1906, but similar works had been in circulation since the 1860s.

13Such increasing availability and practical limitations must have played a role in the emergence of what Snouck Hurgronje called the new “Meccan” or “Arab” method of scholarship that was ascendant among the Southeast Asians in Mecca. For it seemed that many non-native speakers of Arabic, such as the Malays, Sundanese, Javanese and Madurese, were doing away with earlier methods of fragmentary memorization of books of fiqh or `aqida by way of glosses in some medial language – often the Malay or Javanese of their instructors – and emphasising direct comprehension of Arabic through Arabic (Snouck Hurgonje, 1931: 265-67). One particular approver of this method was Nawawi of Banten, who had little time for either Malay or Javanese as scholarly languages and who indeed wrote dozens of commentaries and supercommentaries for his Southeast Asian coreligionists in Arabic.

14It is also clear that, much as Ian Proudfoot (1993) and Muhsin Mahdi (1995: 6-7) have suggested elsewhere, even if scholars like Nawawi preferred to compose books relating to what Snouck Hurgronje (1931: 268-72, 284) declared to be a sober and “scientific” or intellectual Ghazalian Sufism, the Sufi orders constituted ready markets for such printed materials, taking in elementary works of fiqh, the lives of the saints and the pronunciations of their masters in Mecca, some of which were highly polemical. Indeed two particularly vigorous shaykhs overseeing global communities of print-consumers were the rival Naqshbandi masters, Sulayman Afandi and Khalil Pasha, who engaged in a war of pamphlets in the early 1880s. Through his superior connections to the Ottoman hierarchy, Khalil Pasha secured the printed support of Ahmad Dahlan, who issued an order for the burning of Sulayman Afandi’s books in 1883. As I will suggest below, this act may have allowed yet another interpretation of the Naqshbandiyya to flourish in the Netherlands Indies.

Java, 1889-91: Islamic Networks, Schools and Materials

The Relevance of Snouck Hurgronje’s Diary

15Ever since he had defended his doctoral thesis at Leiden in 1880, Snouck Hurgronje had advocated a combined textual and ethnographic approach to understanding Muslim societies. The task was not to measure the religiosity of a given society by comparing social practice to works of jurisprudence. Rather he argued that the jurist should cooperate with the “ethnographer and the philologist” to build a picture of how Islam was lived in daily life - for with such knowledge a colonial state could rule wisely, and perhaps even indefinitely (VG, I, 144 and II, 235).

16On his return from Mecca, Snouck Hurgronje compiled a two-volume work in German on the history of the city and its daily life that was published in 1888-89. In the interim he would hint to his findings as the potential threat embodied by the unchecked authority of certain tariqa shaykhs linked to Mecca. And when a rising was indeed attempted in 1888 at the town of Cilegon, in West Java, and by members of a Mecca-oriented fraternity known to outsiders as the Qadiriyya, Snouck Hurgronje’s expertise would be engaged anew (see MR 1888 no. 727/24 October).

17Indeed while his sojourn in Mecca would earn for him fame never to dim in colonial circles, his concurrent recognition as a Muslim scholar gained him ready access to the mosques and schools of Java, and he was able to both acquire original manuscripts and to draw on the services of copyists and informants embedded in the colonial system.

  • 4 In his first entry, for example, dated 16 July, he described being housed with the son-in-law of a (...)

18Such freedom is all too apparent in over 1330 numbered pages of observations made on his journeys between July 1889 and January 1891, giving us a window on the constructions of networks of knowledge across Java in general and of Sufi knowledge and the tariqas in particular. They also establish the identities of the various mosque officials (known as penghulus) and `ulama’ participating in the new religious councils set up by the colonial state, some of whom were themselves members of the orders.4

  • 5 See LOr.7931, p.1. On the Southeast Asian scholars mentioned by Snouck Hurgronje as being active in (...)

19Indeed it is evident that the detailed information and materials he gathered, including manuscripts, had been all too gladly shared by the shaykhs by virtue of his connections to the community in Mecca and the belief that he still manifested. Beyond this too, we can see that theses notes were the product of an engagement with learned intermediaries who accompanied him on his journeys. Principle among these was one of the scholars known in Mecca at the time of his visit there, Hasan Mustafa of Garut, whom he described at length in an entry written on the 18th of July.5

From Manuscripts to Print Books

  • 6 For Snouck Hurgronje’s notes on several Shattari teachers, including the Penghulu of Cirebon, see L (...)

20At the outset it is worth noting that a great many of the manuscripts gathered, rather than copied, by Snouck Hurgronje were Shattari manuals. Given the traditional reluctance to part with original materials so often bemoaned by earlier collectors, this may well reflect the declining popularity of that order in the face of the prominent emissaries of the Khalidiyya (see below). Still, the Shattaris, with their chains of authority mediated by way of the Malay masters of the 17th century, and with their instructions that were still often transcribed in Malay, remained entrenched in parts of Java.6

Fig. 3 : A Cairene typographic imprint of al-Jili’s Insan al-kamil (Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa Ikhwanahu, 1916), based on an earlier edition from 1884-85

  • 7 See "Nota dari peladjaran mangadji akan Igama Islam," signed Soerianataningrat and dated by Snouck (...)
  • 8 Ibid.

21It is also clear from the notes that Arabic texts printed in Singapore and Cairo since the 1860s were in widespread use in many of the pesantrens of Java. Indeed a Malay language report sent to Snouck Hurgronje in 1886 (for Malay, when written in the roman script, was also the language of communication between the Javanese and the Dutch) outlined the subject matter and prices of these books. In this report a local official, S. Soerianataningrat, listed the works used in the pesantrens of the Priangan highlands of West Java. The books themselves were listed by their local appellations, reflecting the names of the authors or initial phrases, and subdivided into elementary and advanced works. Soerianataningrat started with the Alif-alifan, which he noted explained the letters; the Turutan, which explained their order; and then the Qur’an, which was read “in order to begin to explain how to articulate the sounds correctly”.7 Of the advanced works, five were noted: the Sittin (probably al-Mas’ail al-sittin, a short text on basic doctrine by Abu l-`Abbas al-Misri, d.1415), the Tasripan (most likely on inflection, given the Arabic root on which the local title is based, i.e. tasrif), the Amil (another work on grammar, probably the `Awamil al-mi’a of `Abd al-Qadir al-Jurjani, d. 1078), the Jurumiyah (i.e. the Ajurrumiyya mentioned above) and, lastly, the Sarah Sittin (i.e. the Sharh al-sittin), an expanded gloss on al-Misri’s work either by al-Dasuqi (d. 1815) or al-Sharqawi (d. 1812), intended to equip the student with an understanding of the Sittin and which the reporter felt rendered him or her competent to read and understand “all the books of religion”.8

22The basic demand for this material was obviously both great and profitable. An appendix to Soerianataningrat’s report also lists the prices for all eight works that were apparently printed locally and priced within the reach of a determined student. The Alif-alifan, Turutan and Qur’an were all marked at fl 1 a piece and noted as being widely available. Of the rest, the Sittin was a similarly priced fl 1, the Tasripan, Amil, and Jurumiyah cost fl 1.50, while the crowning Sarah Sittin would set its owner back some fl 5 of the total, and by now quite considerable, investment of fl 11.50.

  • 9 With thanks to Pierre van der Eng, p.c., 11 October 2006.

23Indeed, given that in 1885, one guilder bought about 11 kg of rice, for which an unskilled labourer had to work about 3 days, the cost of education was obviously a substantial investment.9 Still, it was an investment that increasing numbers of better-off Javanese were prepared to make. As Merle Ricklefs has recently demonstrated, the numbers of pesantrens on Java and Madura doubled between 1882 and 1893, with estimated student numbers increasing from nearly 81 thousand to over 272 thousand in the same period (see Ricklefs, 2007 : 70). And as one official would observe of Javanese of all classes in 1888, the railways had “made the visitation of the pêsantrèns almost commonplace, and no youngster, who would represent himself as being possessed of some civilization or knowledge of the world, would willingly deny that he had spent some time, however brief, at a pêsantrèn” (MR 1888, no. 728/26 October).

24Indeed, while basic literacy and prosody were valued locally in West Java, the more advanced – and, as we shall see, generally eastward – paths led away to a more detailed knowledge of the broader Arabic studies of religion compartmentalized in the branches of tafsir, nahw, fiqh and tasawwuf. Seen in this light, a separate report sent from Kendal, Central Java, in March 1886 is instructive. In it, another local official reported, once more in roman-script Malay, that the books of the pesantrens consisted of:

a. kitab Tapsir [i.e. tafsir], for understanding high Arabic as is written in the koorän.

b. kitab nahwoe [i.e. nahw], for understanding by instinct (boewat mengerti dari rassanya) the Arabic stories used by the people written of in the koorän.

c. kitab Fikih [i.e. fiqh], for understanding and memorising the actions of a good heart

d. kitab Tasawoof [i.e. tasawwuf], for remembering the doings of the Prophets accepted by the Lord God, or those people who never committed sins, or to guard Islam from forbidden things, such as lying, offending others, taking other people’s possessions or stealing, or using magic spells against the living.

25Nonetheless, these four kitabs, a, b, c, and d, are weighty volumes, each one having about 300 pages. Further, one normally studies them individually… I have already asked the Goeroe here [who tells me] that one can also buy these books a, b, c, and d, from Singapore, as they have been printed there. (n.n. at Brangsong, to Bergsma, Apeldoorn, 4 March 1886, in LOr. 7572)

26While such a report is illuminating both in terms of the division of knowledge and what at least one Javanese deemed tasawwuf to entail, it was probably less helpful to Snouck Hurgronje, who wanted to tread the ground himself as ethnographer and philologist encountering a living past.

Surabaya as an Eastern Way Station on the Road to Mecca

Fig. 4.

  • 10 On Salih Darat, see notes from Purbolinggo, LOr. 7931, p. 181, and ‘Undang pondok di Kyai Saleh Dar (...)
  • 11 On `Ubayda see LOr. 7931, p. 6, 8-9.

27Of course Snouck recognized that that world was in the process of rapid change and he therefore wanted to reconstruct as much of the past as he could. Such antiquarian concerns might be seen in his interest in acquiring the bark-paper manuscripts once owned by the fathers and grandfathers of his interlocutors. It also seems that he was attempting to connect such texts to their local authors, such as Kyai Lengkong and Ripangi of Kalisalak, who had each been exiled, in 1842 and 1854 respectively, for alleged hostility to the colonial order. Perhaps the greatest trend observable from the very beginning of his journey was the strong easterly pull for students of fiqh towards Surabaya, then the largest port-city in the Indies. Even when an excellent teacher was to be found more locally, as was the case with Muhammad Salih of Semarang (also known as Salih Darat, 1820-1903), Surabaya remained the lodestone for most, many of whom would be satisfied enough to return to their home towns as santri Surabaya.10 More particularly, it seems that the attraction had been to the formerly great pesantren of Sidosremo and its late master, Kyai `Ubayda.11

28Surabaya and its nearby pesantrens also formed a staging post for the more advanced, and better funded, students of fiqh to make their way to Mecca, on average for a period of six years, sometimes after a further diversion in Madura to study advanced grammar. It would be clear that the new (and imported) editions of Arabic works were especially important, even if some scholars, such as Salih Darat, would produce their own Javanese imprints for local consumption (Sugahara 2007).

29Meanwhile the older and more theologically speculative Malay language works associated with the Shattariyya order, such as the Sirat al-mustaqim of Nur al-Din al-Raniri (d.1656) and the Tanbih al-mashi of `Abd al-Ra’uf of Singkel, were definitely on the decline as increasingly faint echoes of earlier connections with Mecca via the Malay world and Sumatra in particular (LOr. 7931, p. 73 v, 90). Even so, local Sundanese language verse versions of the Sirat were still sung in Bandung, and Malay remained an important vehicle for teaching in the West Javanese town of Cianjur by virtue of many of that centre’s kyais having studied in Mecca under the Malay master Zayn al-Din of Sumbawa, an island well to the east of Java. And then there were those connected to the wider Malay-speaking world by marriage – often as a result of friendships formed in the same study circles in Mecca.

  • 12 i.e. Hajji Muhammad Ahyat in Kebun Dalam, who had studied locally in Surabaya, as well as in Madura (...)
  • 13 While information on `Abd al-Ghani of Bima is scant, the fact that the later Sayyid `Uthman of Bata (...)

30Zayn al-Din was by no means the first scholar from Sumbawa who would be of interest to West Javanese scholars. Snouck Hurgronje’s 1886 notes, based on reports from Surabaya, even suggest that there were kyais in the vicinity of that city12 who had formerly studied there under the by-then legendary master `Abd al-Ghani of Bima (a town on Sumbawa), before he had moved to Mecca (perhaps in the 1830s), where he was still famous as the leading teacher to an entire generation of Southeast Asian scholars.13 Indeed it would seem that this fame ensured that a Malay primer he had assembled on `aqida and fiqh - the Bidayat al-mubtadi - was one of the first selected for printing in Singapore in 1861, from where it would have been imported to Surabaya and the other north coast ports; ports from where so many of the Singaporean printers had themselves originated (Proudfoot, 1993: 181-82).

31Snouck Hurgronje’s sojourn in West Java coincided with a period of rapid development in communication in Surabaya. And although the construction of the Great Post Road that linked Java from end to end in 1808 may have facilitated the rise to networked prominence of the pesantrens of Pekalongan and Madiun; Kebunsari, Tempursari and Tegalsari near Ponorogo; as well as Sidoarjo, Tugu and Sidosremo near Surabaya, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the connections from Sundanese areas to Surabaya may have formed as a side-effect of its Malay-oriented students travelling to Surabaya (and perhaps even Bima itself) to study with `Abd al-Ghani.

  • 14 See LOr. 7931, p. 5, 1147 v. Mulabaruk certainly fostered an ongoing link with Central and East Jav (...)

32In the case of the Sundanese-speaking town of Garut, Snouck Hurgronje’s notes seem to indicate that such an easterly journey was already commonplace when it was undertaken by a teacher called Kyai Mulabaruk. When Snouck Hurgronje passed through that town, the ancient master, who had once travelled to Tegalsari to study under the famed Hasan Basri II, was still alive. Indeed he was still teaching, specializing in the tafsir of al-Baydawi, the Minhaj of Nawawi, and an explanation of the fiqh-work al-Muhadhdhab of Ibrahim al-Firuzabadi (d. 1083). All his teaching was done directly with these Arabic texts, albeit with oral glossing in Javanese, and in a particular style identified as pertaining to the study circles of the Central Javanese town of Madiun.14

Pesantren Networks and Sufi Orders

  • 15 See LOr. 7931, p. 21 v. In most cases the female students were given instruction by the wife of the (...)

33Obviously the listings of scholarly connections found in Snouck Hurgronje’s notebooks was a recounting of pedigrees that linked all the kyais together in very complex knots that are almost impossible to represent on paper. And many more such lists would be made as he travelled eastward, giving an incredibly detailed insight into the ties of marriage and sojourning that created the pesantren network – a network which for West Java alone – if the notes collected by officials and summarised by Snouck Hurgronje on 21 August 1889 are any guide – consisted of some 419 institutions, catering to some 3 345 male and 572 female students.15

  • 16 These included: the late Hajji `Abd al-Salam of Cianjur (p. 12), Hajji Mansur of Blubur (p. 20), th (...)

34These lists also show how the teachings of the Khalidiyya order, with its propagation of Arabic silsilas via the recently harrassed Sulayman Afandi and his father-in-law Sulayman al-Qarimi, and indeed its dissemination of Arabic hagiographical manuals printed in Istanbul, Cairo, Bombay, and Singapore, had cast roots by way of several charismatic teachers in West and Central Java.16 Of course there were other tariqas in evidence. One also finds mention of kyais having studied the Khalwatiyya under `Abd al-Shakur of Surabaya in Mecca or (very rarely) with Muhammad Maghribi in Medina, practitioners of the ratibs of the Haddadiyya order transmitted by Ahmad Dahlan in Central Java, and the Shattariyya in the Priangan. Still, it is clear yet again that this last order was under pressure, as some of the older Shattari centres linked to the silsila of `Abd al-Ra’uf of Singkel, such as that of Kota Lemah Abang, only seemed to have a half dozen students (LOr. 7931: 21 v).

35There were also indications of counter challenges launched by the inheritors of localized understandings of mysticism, such as the Akmaliyya or a certain Imampura of Bagelan, who began propagating his idiosyncratic version of the Shattariyya for thousands of visitors around 1885 (LOr. 7931: 227). And there was evidence of new fusions. For while two texts copied for Snouck Hurgronje in West Java seemingly bring elements of the Naqshbandiyya and Khalwatiyya orders together, these would appear to be lineages that are, in truth, more juxtapositions than fusions of tariqa practice (See LOr. 7337 and LOr. 11.012).

  • 17 For a translation of the elementary manual approved by Ahmad Khatib, see Shellabear 1933.

36Such a statement cannot be made, however, for another interpretation of tariqa that was rapidly gaining ground in the area. This was consistently identified by Snouck Hurgronje (like many officials) as the Qadiriyya, whose members had risen at Cilegon in 1888. More correctly it was an interpretation of the Naqshbandiyya, founded in Mecca by the Malay-speaking Ahmad Khatib of Sambas, Borneo, maintaining the rituals of recollection (dhikr) of the Naqshbandiyya but transmitting the silsila of the Qadiriyya in Arabic and Malay.17

37While Ahmad Khatib’s motivation for doing so is unclear, he certainly went on to garner his own, almost exclusively Southeast Asian support base. On his death, around 1876, the mantle was passed on to his Bantenese successor `Abd al-Karim, whose local background certainly won him many adherents in West Java. Matters could only have improved further once the Khalidi master Sulayman Afandi was marginalized in Mecca in 1884.

38Based on one report alone, supplied to Snouck Hurgronje by the Resident of Batavia in July 1889, the neighbouring towns of Batavia, Tangerang, and Bogor (then known as Buitenzorg) counted some 38 pesantren teachers, of whom at least eight were engaged in teaching tariqa Sufism. Of these, four were accounted as Naqshbandis (most connected to Sulayman Afandi), and having on average around 40 students - a number equalled by two local “Qadiris” in Ciomas and Citrap, but well and truly dwarfed by Hajji `Abd al-Rahim al-Ash`ari of Bogor, who claimed 600 pupils (LOr. 7931: 19-21).

39Another of the Qadiris to have a prominent following was another of Ahmad Khatib of Sambas’s deputies in West Java, Muhammad of Garut, who was a son of Mulabaruk’s student Hasan Basri by the latter’s Javanese wife in Mecca. Indeed his name was often given by Snouck Hurgronje’s informants in tandem with that of `Ubayda Surabaya -- the one for fiqh, the other for tasawwuf (i.e. LOr. 7931: 16).

40Snouck Hurgronje had certainly heard of the fluent Arabic-speaker Muhammad of Garut during his stay in Mecca, although, perhaps like Zayn al-Din of Sumbawa, he seems not to have met him at that time (Laffan, 1999: 536). According to Snouck Hurgronje’s informants, Muhammad Garut had had his early education from his father in Kiara Kareng, his uncle Muhammad Razi in Sukamana and his grandfather Hajji `Abd Allah of Cibangbang. He then studied with Bunter of Sumedang, before moving farther east to sit at the feet of `Ubayda and then others at Madura (LOr. 7931: 26). Muhammad Garut had apparently first gone to Mecca aged around 20, where he stayed for seven years studying first under Shaykh Zahid of Solo. Thereafter he had attached himself to renowned Arab teachers - including Muhammad Salih al-Zawawi and Muhammad Hasab Allah - before forming a connection with Ahmad Khatib of Sambas. He then returned to Garut to build up a following, returning to Mecca in 1882 and travelling back and forth to the Holy City thereafter, ultimately appointing his own deputies in West Java, such as Muhammad Salih in Sukabumi (LOr. 7931, pp. 8, 15).

41More interesting though is the connection between Muhammad Garut and Snouck’s primary informant in West Java, Hasan Mustafa, with whom he taught and to whom he was related. Hasan Mustafa was indeed the ideal informant, already linked with quasi-colonial networks of patronage via the Chief Penghulu of the town. What this personal contact may have done though is opened Snouck’s eyes anew to the less-scholarly practitioners of the tariqas; and to rethink, or at least downplay, his earlier prognostications of incipient danger as he moved eastward through Java.

42Many other local teachers seem to have played a role in defusing, at least in Snouck Hurgronje’s mind, any lingering linking of extremism to the orders en masse, or else to particular tariqas with known lineages. Certainly, in reading these notes today it is hard to pin all teachers down into ready-made lineages, and most especially those who claimed mastery of the declining Shattariyya or of the Akmaliyya. It also became apparent to Snouck Hurgronje that the “Qadiri” element of the teachings of Ahmad Khatib of Sambas may not have been clear to everyone, nor were these the ones necessarily deployed by his former adepts.

43At any rate the multiple fusions or transitions from one order to another are in evidence in the person of a future claimant to the headship of the Qadiriyya wa-Naqshbandiyya in West Java, whom Snouck Hurgronje met in Cirebon on 24 August 1889 (LOr. 7931: 79). This was Muhammad Talha of Kalisapu (d.1935). The son of a former Chief Penghulu of Cianjur, Talha had studied locally under Muhammad Sahih (d. 1886), yet another student of Mulabaruk and `Ubayda Surabaya.

44It would also appear that Talha’s father may have been instrumental in banning the local, and by then legendary, Kyai Lengkong in 1842 (LOr. 7931: 73, 77; see also Drewes, 1925: 10-18). And while the sons of Kyai Lengkong had since found favour in the eyes of the colonial government as respected Islamic teachers, Snouck Hurgronje was at times disparaging of what he saw of their ilk. These included Hasan Absari, a Shattari of Cianjur, and the many gurus of Cilacap, who named their teaching the “Satariah Mohamad”, but who Snouck Hurgronje effectively dismissed when he asserted that the town had “no scholars” (LOr. 7931: 74 and 269).

45Juxtaposed with such localism though, Kyai Hajji Talha seemed to set a higher standard, and Snouck Hurgronje was clearly impressed when he first met him at Kalisapu, where his complex boasted a stone house, prayer hall, Friday mosque and dormitory for visiting students. From what Snouck Hurgronje could glean, Talha often advised the local officials on questions of Islamic law, and was particularly known for his “useful” fatwas on brandy and polygamy.

  • 18 Later, however, he claimed to have inducted him as a Qadiri, whereas other sources insisted that th (...)

46Talha had also had a very diverse tariqa education. During his nine year stay in Mecca, he studied with Hasan Mustafa and he chose to affiliate directly with the Khalidiyya through Sulayman al-Qarimi (LOr. 7931: 22 v, 79-79 v). Talha pledged himself not only to the Khalidiyya though, but to the Haddadiyya via Ahmad Dahlan and to the Qadiriyya of Khatib Sambas. Locally, however, he was still engaged in teaching the dhikr of the Shattariyya, whose enrolment ritual took some three to four days; a ritual in which he claimed to have inducted the local regent three years beforehand.18

47If Talha’s multi-tariqa approach seemed to fly in the face of more recent scholarly prescriptions regarding the mono-loyal nature of “neo-Sufi” reformism, then his library and juridical credentials were an equally mixed bag. Among his books Snouck Hurgronje noted an eclectic mixture of manuscripts and printed works. Of the former, presented by a prince of nearby Cirebon, there was a much esteemed copy of the Tuhfa al-mursala ila ruh al-nabi of the Indian Shattari master Muhammad b. Fadl Allah al-Burhanpuri (d. 1620), which had been extremely popular in the Malay world and Java ever since its composition (see Johns, 1965). The printed works, meanwhile, included a two-volume edition of Ibrahim al-Jaylani’s al-Insan al-kamil, published in Cairo in 1876, and an 1884 lithographed edition of epistles by Sulayman Afandi; most likely the same ones ordered burned in Mecca that very year (LOr. 7931: 80).

48This mix was by no means strange though, as Snouck Hurgronje would find in many other personal libraries to which he was granted access for reading and copying. What further marked Talha out, though, was that while he taught the Shafi`i approach to fiqh, reflecting the market in which he was engaged, he regarded himself as a Hanafi (the dominant juridical school of the Ottoman Empire) and argued that the fatwas of all the schools should be taken into consideration, an approach more usually associated with such reformists as Muhammad `Abduh in Cairo.

49Talha was by no means the only Sufi guru who was trained in one juridical or mystical tradition who taught locally in another. Nearby was `Abd al-`Aziz Cirebon, a Shattari who had taken the Khalwatiyya from `Abd al-Shakur Surabaya in Mecca (LOr. 7931: 77-78). And then there was Muhammad Ilyas, who taught both Shattariyya and Naqshbandiyya dhikrs to his students in Sukapura (LOr. 7931: 164 v-165). Further afield in Tegal too there was evidence of a transition in progress, as Shattari gurus began teaching Naqshbandi rites by affirming that the former tariqa was in fact the basis for the latter (LOr. 7931: 123-24). Indeed there seems to have been a circular process in motion, by which manuscript-oriented Shattaris had been drawn eastward to Surabaya, on to Mecca, and then back to West Java as communicators of the Naqshbandiyya, bringing with them a concomitant use of modern printed Arabic manuals. The problem, then, for Snouck Hurgronje, was to make sense of such flows and, more importantly, to communicate his findings to a still worried European colonial public.

50This he did by way of a series of letters, sent to Semarang’s De Locomotief, in which he wrote under the guise of a minor Javanese official outlining the ways in which Islam meshed with the daily life of his people, from the cradle to the grave. This journey included induction into a mystical order, though now the tariqa became merely a cipher for the incomprehensible, rather than the incipient means of resistance to the colonial order (VG IV-1, 194-95).

51Arguably though, in this transposition from threat to backward confusion, Snouck Hurgronje obscured the role of many Sufi teachers in communicating the modern to Java in the 1890s. For it was many of these teachers, and most especially those linked to the journeys between Mecca and the Java Sea, who brought with them Arabic manuals of the saints and their praises approved by the Naqshbandis of Jabal Abi Qubays, or their emulators among the broader scholarly community that was turning increasingly to the use of prestigious manuals now rendered in type even in the Holiest City of Islam.

52Looking back today through a haze of Sufi rebellions cast, more often than not, as anti-modern demonstrations of resistance to the Dutch, or yet at the more recent framings as passive seekers of the otherworldly, it is hard to see the shift in emphasis to Arabic printed works undertaken by so many of the scholars that Snouck Hurgronje met in the 1880s and 1890s. Yet it was arguably this adoption - by jurist and Sufi alike - that began to undermine the personal bonds between `ulama’ and students and anticipated the arrival of modernist Islam in the ports of the archipelago. After all, the availability of cheaper, and undeniably authoritative, works meant that access to Islamic learning spread to wider and wider circles of believers, some of whom were also engaging in debates begun in Paris and Cairo.

53In the long run too Snouck Hurgronje and his own students would form active alliances with advocates of these new, modernist, trends within Muslim circles, who, with their emphasis on rationality and ordered classrooms (modelled both on Western and Cairene examples), would make their predecessors (and in many cases opponents) seem archaic in comparison, and lead subsequent observers to forget the major shifts that had occurred in Java and the Malay world with the adoption of print, in part under the aegis of the Naqshbandiyya. Still, it has been just that guise of rural "Sufi" tradition and accommodation, that has been emphasised afresh of late, just as the apparently less amenable outcomes of modernism have been conflated today with an "Arab" Islam imagined, quite falsely, as sharing nothing with the properly irenic archipelago somehow isolated from the intellectual currents elsewhere in the Muslim world.

54For certainly the relationship continues, with the representatives of all streams - whether Sufi or anti-Sufi, modernist or traditionalist - maintaining links with religious authorities and like-minded scholars in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And in all cases too they share a corpus of Arabic materials, though at home this is often mediated for those beyond the pesantren networks or the modern academy in their own languages (now represented in roman script). Nonetheless, all recognize the primacy of Arabic as the language of true religion. Indeed it is this maintenance of script within the pesantren that perhaps best signifies the linkage to the broadest Islamic ecumene, in which the manuscript is a prized heirloom and the printed text a commodity accessible to all, though not necessarily comprehensible without proper guidance.

I wish to express my appreciation to the editors for their close reading and suggestions for the improvement of this piece, to Wangyal Shawa for drawing the maps, and to the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, for its support during the initial phase of writing.

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Manuscripts and Archival Sources

1. Leiden University Library, Oriental Manuscripts Division (OLG)

LOr. 7572. Reports on education in the pesantrens, ca. 1885-1886

LOr. 7931. Snouck Hurgronje’s Java Diaries, 1889-1891

LOr. 7337. “Tariqa khalwatiyya wa naqshbandiyya”

LOr. 11.012. “Tariqa khalwatiyya wa naqshbandiyya”

Mail Reports, National Archives, the Hague

1888 no. 727/24 October

1888, no. 728/26 October

Published works

Barton Greg, 2004, Indonesia's Struggle: Jemaah Islamiyah and the soul of Islam, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press.

Bruinessen Martin van, 1990, “Kitab kuning: Books in Arabic script used in the pesantren milieu”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 146, KITLV Press : 226-69.

Bruinessen Martin van, 2008, “After the days of Abû Qubays: Indonesian transformations of the Naqshbandiyya Khâlidiyya”, Journal of the History of Sufism, 5, Paris, Maisonneuve : 225-251.

Drewes G.W.J., 1925, Drie Javaansche goeroe's: Hun leven, onderricht en messiasprediking, Doctoral Dissertation, Leiden, A. Vros.

Johns Anthony H., 1965, The gift addressed to the spirit of the Prophet, Canberra, Australian National University.

Laffan Michael, 1999, “Raden Aboe Bakar: An introductory note concerning Snouck Hurgronje's informant in Jeddah (1884–1913)”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 155-4, Leiden, KITLV Press : 517–42.

Mahdi Muhsin, 1995, “From the manuscript age to the age of printed books”, in G. N. Atiyeh (ed), The book in the Islamic World: The written word and communication in the Middle East, Albany, State University of New York Press/Library of Congress: 1-16.

Proudfoot Ian, 1993, Early Malay printed books: A provisional account of materials published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major public collections, Kuala Lumpur, Academy of Malay Studies and The Library, University of Malaya.

Ricklefs Merle Calvin, 2007, Polarizing Javanese society: Islamic and other visions, c. 1830-1930, Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press.

Shellabear William G. 1933, “A Malay treatise on popular sūfī practices”, in The Macdonald Presentation Volume; A Tribute to Duncan Black Macdonald, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press: 351-70.

Snouck Hurgronje Christiaan, 1931, Mekka in the latter part of the 19th century: Daily life, customs and learning of the Moslems of the East-Indian-Archipelago, J.H. Monahan (trans.), Leiden, Brill.

Sugahara Yumi, 2007, “Kitab Jawa : Islamic textbooks written in Javanese (Pegon)” in Kawashima Midori, Arai Kazuhiro, and Yamamoto Hiroyuki (eds), Proceedings of the Symposium on bangsa and umma: A comparative study of people-grouping concepts in the Islamic areas of Southeast Asia, Sophia University, Section for Islamic Area Studies (SIAS), SIAS Working Papers Series No.1.: 40-48.

Wensinck A.J. (ed.), 1923-1927, Verspreide Geschriften van C. Snouck Hurgronje, 6 vols, Bon and Leipzig, Kurt Schroeder.

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1 See Barton 2004. Of similar ilk is the recent PBS documentary series, America at a Crossroads, whose episode on Indonesia was similarly titled as Struggle for the Soul of Islam: Inside Indonesia.

2 The most accessible and detailed overview of the works used in the pesantren since the late 19th century is that of van Bruinessen (1990).

3 See, for example, his comments in an article of 1883, C. Snouck Hurgronje, "De beteekenis van den Islâm voor zijne belijders in Oost-Indië", in Wensinck, 1923-27: 1-26, 13.

4 In his first entry, for example, dated 16 July, he described being housed with the son-in-law of a local official in Garut, their visit to a nearby pesantren and an examination of the works in use there, which included a redaction and commentary by his Meccan friend Nawawi of Banten and a work by al-Sanusi known simply as the Usul. He also noted that in the town instruction on Arabic works was given orally in Sundanese. See LOr.7931, p.1.

5 See LOr.7931, p.1. On the Southeast Asian scholars mentioned by Snouck Hurgronje as being active in Mecca, see Laffan 1999.

6 For Snouck Hurgronje’s notes on several Shattari teachers, including the Penghulu of Cirebon, see LOr. 7931, pp. 23v-24, 74, 77, 169.

7 See "Nota dari peladjaran mangadji akan Igama Islam," signed Soerianataningrat and dated by Snouck Hurgronje "1885" in LOr. 7572.

8 Ibid.

9 With thanks to Pierre van der Eng, p.c., 11 October 2006.

10 On Salih Darat, see notes from Purbolinggo, LOr. 7931, p. 181, and ‘Undang pondok di Kyai Saleh Darat’ contained at p. 735. For mention of the term santri Surabaya, see notes from Perapen, p. 728.

11 On `Ubayda see LOr. 7931, p. 6, 8-9.

12 i.e. Hajji Muhammad Ahyat in Kebun Dalam, who had studied locally in Surabaya, as well as in Madura and Bima itself with `Abd al-Ghani. See notes on the kyais of Java, LOr. 7572.

13 While information on `Abd al-Ghani of Bima is scant, the fact that the later Sayyid `Uthman of Batavia claimed to be his successor as mufti to all Southeast Asian Muslims is indicative of his importance.

14 See LOr. 7931, p. 5, 1147 v. Mulabaruk certainly fostered an ongoing link with Central and East Java through some of his own students, the most prominent of whom included (1) the grammarian Muhammad Razi of Sukamana, who had studied in Madura; (2) Raden Hajji Yahya, then the Chief Penghulu of Garut; (3) the jurist Muhammad `Arif of Sumedang, who had died in the previous year; (4) Muhammad Sahidi in Bumikasih, who had also gone on to study under `Ubayda; (5) the grammarian Kyai Bunter of Tanjung Sari, Sumedang, who had died in Mecca; (6) the Qur’an reciter Hasan Basri of Kiara Kareng, Suci, who had died in 1865; and (7) Kyai Ci Pare of Wanaraja (LOr. 7931, p. 5-6).

15 See LOr. 7931, p. 21 v. In most cases the female students were given instruction by the wife of the Kyai. See, for example, discussion of the pesantren of Bolong at p. 23v.

16 These included: the late Hajji `Abd al-Salam of Cianjur (p. 12), Hajji Mansur of Blubur (p. 20), the hajjis Ash`ari and Jamsari of Lewiliang, and Hajji `Abd al-[M]ajid of Kebun Jeruk (p. 21), `Abd Allah Ash`ari of Mangundipura (p. 121), Muhammad Ilyas of Sukapura (pp. 165, 170), `Abd al-Kafi of Somolangu (p. 255), Hajji Khalil of Cianjur (pp. 394-95). For a general comment about the Naqshbandiyya of Sulayman and Qadiriyya of `Abd al-Karim overwhelming the Shattariyya, see p. 459. For reference to the earlier Sulayman al-Qarimi, who had inducted the older Muhammad Ilyas and `Abd Allah Tegal, see p. 166, 255.

17 For a translation of the elementary manual approved by Ahmad Khatib, see Shellabear 1933.

18 Later, however, he claimed to have inducted him as a Qadiri, whereas other sources insisted that the regent and his entire family were Shattaris. See LOr. 7931, p. 78 v-79v.

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Michael Laffan, « The New Turn to Mecca », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 124 | novembre 2008, mis en ligne le 09 décembre 2011, consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL :

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Michael Laffan

Princeton University, USA.

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