By Khairil Azhar, Jakarta

In Mecca, much earlier than the Oct. 28, 1928, Sumpah Pemuda (Indonesian Youth Pledge), Malay had been functioning as the uniting language of Nusantara or the Indonesian archipelago. This had been made possible by several factors.

First, Martin van Bruinessen, in his study on the Indonesian haj in pre-independent Indonesia, noted that not many, among the haj pilgrims, were able to communicate in Arabic.

However, this was never a problem. Ulema from Nusantara were everywhere and they delivered their services in Malay.

The sheikhs of Tarekat (ascetic denominations of Islam), had their own “Javanese” representatives to serve Nusantara’s haj pilgrims if they wanted to deepen their tarekat knowledge.

Second, haj pilgrims had to stay for about five months in Mecca. People from Java, Moluccas, Celebes, Borneo, Sumatra or Malay Peninsula freely encountered one another, shared their experiences and thoughts — which included how to fight against the Dutch colonialism.

As such, Snouck Hurgronje noted, the haj pilgrims (with the help of the Malay language) lived in an anti-colonial atmosphere that was henceforth etched in their minds.

The uprisings of Bantenese peasants against Dutch colonialism in 1888 as well as the Sasak people against Balinese occupation in 1892 were, to a certain extent, inspired by the experience of the main players in their Mecca time.

Together with the Malay language, the sense of togetherness interwove with the sense of being oppressed and had, bit by bit, created a sense of nationhood or even nationalism.

All of this blended with the progressive nature of Islamic teachings, the thing that Hurgronje really wanted to eradicate with his secularization programs.

On the other hand, there were mukim, Indonesian or Malay people who decided to live permanently or for a long time in Mecca. These individuals, who primarily stayed for study and then became religious teachers within their disciples, were mainly from the Malay archipelago.

Yet, the mukim actually had another reason, more humanly, which was that they could not bear the colonial circumstances where freedom was very limited if not unobtainable.

However, for someone like Sheikh Ahmad Khatib al-Minangkabawi, one of the most renowned Indonesian clerics in Mecca at that time, his other main reason was that he never tolerated Minangkabau adat (customary law) which was against the Islamic law as he understood and was legally enacted in Mecca.

The haj pilgrims who did go home, since many of them died as a result of diseases, ship accidents or sold as slaves because of the debts made to finance their journeys, more or less inspired their surroundings.

With their enhanced social status, they were able to organize movements against the imperial power or to impose changes in economic or religious affairs.

Ahmad in the famous story of Djajadiningrat, intentionally left by his father in Mecca to study Islam, went home to do something different. After he helped his father selling coconuts, he tried to set up a new business producing copra, the dried endosperm of the coconut which was more expensive. He then became a tough
competitor for the Chinese traders who had given better chances by the colonialism.

Five years after the disastrous eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, Bantenese peasants rose up against the Dutch. Before and after, there were guerilla attacks against not only the Dutchmen but also other foreigners. The attackers, armed with traditional knives and other weapons, were mostly organized by haj alumni or acted of their own accord.

Put shortly, since the 17th century until the official recognition by the Dutch government of the existence of free Indonesia in 1949, the haj pilgrimage was really an effective way to learn new things and acquire experiences from other parts of the world, while at the same time using it to channel struggle activities. On the side of the imperialism, conversely, it was really taken as a diehard “virus”, which was tamed with fortune and blood.

But now, to our sadness, haj has significantly lost its social soul. In the religious services welcoming haj month and Idul Adha holiday, we still can listen to preaching that discusses equality, Islamic internationalism, humanism or other embedded characteristics of haj. There are quotes from the Koran or traditions, but they are more like the voices of the past.

Haj is now more like a kind of tourism. Taking pictures is much more necessary than communicating with other pilgrims from other countries. The noteworthy spiritual journey of Abraham and his wife and son, which is actually to be followed, is more like a spiritless concept. We ourselves, the ones left and awaiting the return of the haj pilgrims, expect more from the souvenirs and berkah (blessings) or mystical benefits.

In their haj journey, as in the Wahabization of Saudi Arabia, our pilgrims only experience a single school of Islamic teaching.

The corners of Mecca’s Holy Mosque, which had previously been used by various sheikhs with different mazhab (school of thought) to teach, are now vacant of the soul of diversity.

Even, in the additional tour, I was told by a friend a year ago, it was found that the Saudi authority seems to only allow books, brochures or other things related to Islamic teachings in accord with the official mazhab.

So, what can we do? Let’s try to return the lost soul, however small it might be.

The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation and Ciputat School for Democratic Islam.



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