Finding Self-Reflection on The Teachings of Wali Songo

by Siska Widyawati.
* This is the English version of this article. The Jakarta Post version is here.

“About the path that you shall take, don’t be exaggerated. Lead life with simplicity, don’t be arrogant if you talk, and don’t over act in front of other human beings. That is the true path.

To meditate on the mountain or in the cave only creates vanity. True meditation is in the middle of the crowd. Be noble and forgive people who make mistakes. This is the only true path.”

(Syekh Syarif Hidayatullah Sunan Gunang Jati, Naskah Mertasinga, in Sajarah Wali. Wahjoe: Pustaka, 2005)

THIS paragraph was quoted from an ancient paper “Mertasinga” which was a teaching of Syekh Attaulah to Sunan Gunung Jati. Gunung Jati was one of “Wali Songo”, or “Nine Saints” in the history of Islamic preaching in Java in the 15th century. The paper was translated by Amman N. Wahjoe who has inherited this document from his father, handed down from generation to generation in his family.

Wahjoe translated the paper that used to be called babad—originally written in Javanese and Sundanese, then translated to Indonesian, it has became an important document in unveiling the history of the saints in Java.

These kind of documents or papers are scattered across Indonesia. They are variously called babad, kawuh or kinanti, and written in Sundanese, Javanese or sometimes, Arabic. They are sacred documents that were usually considered as exclusive heritage within a family and treated as a charm even though most of the family members do not know the meaning or even how to read them.

For me personally, these ancient documents are very interesting, and allow us to gain deeper understanding of the teachings of the Wali’s in Java. It shows the root of beliefs of my ancestors. The more I search; the more I find the simplicity of their teaching that touches my inner spirit and religiosity. I was used to hear their stories that are full of syncretism and myth; such as how one of the wali conjured a gold tree from a normal tree, or travel to maccah in a minute. There is no problem with myth, but problem is people are more attracted with the myth than the real teachings.

I find that the wisdom teachings of the Wali are deep treasures within Islamic Sufism. One example is the teachings of Sunan Kudus, one of the Wali, who lives in Kudus city, central Java. He asked the people in Kudus not to slaughter cows, to tolerate the beliefs of Hindi people who also lives there. Some people in Kudus follow the teaching until today.

One of the sunan who is famous for his creative approach, and whose teachings are rich with local content, is Sunan Kalijaga. This wali used cultural approaches to preach. One of his legacies that is famous among the Javanese is the tale of demi-god Ruci (Dewa Ruci or Deva Ruh-Suci, Ruh Al-Quds, Holy Spirit–ed.). The tale was of Bima (one of Pandava’s brother) who met with demi-god Ruci who shared the same appearance with him, but in miniature scale. The meeting of Bima with Dewa Ruci, symbolized the meeting of a human with his own soul.

The tale of demi-god Ruci, is a symbol that is really famous among Sufism treasures; that every human must meet with her/his own soul to know their true mission in life. Unfortunately, there are many Javanese people who perform the tale of demi-god Ruci with skin/shadow puppets to purify their condition without knowing the true meaning behind the tale.

The other fact that is a bit surprising for me, is the historical fact that most of the wali’s were foreigners. According to the books written by Sudirman Tebba, “Mengenal Wajah Islam Yang Ramah” (To Know The Kind Face of Islam), Pustaka Irvan 2007, and also in the Mertasingan paper, (most of the walis came from the Middle East and Campa)

Sunan Gunung Jati and Sunan Kudus had Arabic descendant. Other Walis such as Sunan Ampel, Sunan Giri and Sunan Bonang, had family ties from Campa descent. Campa is thought to be a town in Cambodia.

The fact that foreigners came especially to Java and undertook Islamic preaching is an interesting fact to track. Why did they came to Java? And moreover, how did they, as foreigners have the ability to translate Islamic values into local values, or in other word, preach in the language of the people?

This is a mystery that demands serious research, but with their unique Sufism treasure, the walis have taught my ancestors to worship God in a simple self-surrender; as what else is the meaning of Islam other than total surrender to God?

It is a shame that the essence of Wali’s teaching is forgotten now days. Many people in Indonesia try to see their Islamic reflection from outside rather than in their own history. The pan Islamisme movement of the 80’s has had a big influence in changing the way Indonesians understand Islam.

The intolerance teachings, only focus in the implementation of sharia (regulation) without wisdom, made Islam become perceived in a very different perspective among the young generation of Indonesia’s Moslems nowadays.

Modern Indonesian Islamic movements primarily descend from Islamic movement from Egypt or the Middle East, and this has made many people alienated from their own history of religiosity. The hardliner school of thought is triggering a reactionary movement, called liberal Islam that tries to put Islam-that has its own transcendental logic—into a framework that is sometimes too material.

I don’t find the face of Islam that I believe in my conscience to be divided between two extreme movements. I find the inherence connection of my beliefs, about how to be a real moslem, in the teaching of Walis.

In the context of one sided understanding that Islam is identical with violence and terrorism, it is time for us to regain and try to find the essence of legacy teachings of the Wali’s; for us to find our own unique history of religiosity and spread this to the world, Islam as a blessing to the entire universe. []

0 comments On Finding Self-Reflection on The Teachings of Wali Songo

  • Champa (Campa) is a kingdom from several centuries ago that occupied much of what is now South Vietnam, not Cambodia.

    You can find info about it in a historical atlas or wikipedia.

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