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Recognize The Culture Of Islam In Java Island: A Unique Character

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In Indonesia, particularly in Java, Islam was spread in  very unique, interesting and dynamic manner. Islam was able to become the majority in this country  because of its high quality teachings. The way Islamic teachings were conveyed to  the masses was also a major factor why this religion can be accepted by the people peacefully. The spread of Islam in Java didn’t happen overnight. It was a long  history and peaceful process of acculturation and assimilation between Islam and local Javanese culture. The prominent figures who spread Islam in Java are known a the Walisongo. Nowadays the Javanese culture with Islamic nuances are still strong in Javanese people’s heart. We are going to try to recognize the culture of Islam in Java island: a unique character in this article.


Every time when there is a misfortune or  if when something good happen, such as marriage, illness, harvesting rice, planting rice; the Javanese people always hold feast ceremonies in order to ask for salvation, in case of misfortunes, or to show gratitude when good events happen.  Before Islam become popular in Java, the implementation of the feasts usually began with recitation of mantras, but after Islam entered Java, the ceremony was combined with Islamic characteristics, the mantras are replaced by prayer which is directed to Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala

Characteristic of Javanese Islamic Culture

Another factor why Islamic culture can be assimilated with Javanese culture is the fact that both cultures have similar characteristics. There are a lot of Javanese philosophies which agree with Islamic teachings and the combination of both philosophy create a unique mix of the culture of Islam in Java Island which is very distinctive from the Middle East Islamic culture. We can recognize the culture of Islam in Java island: a unique character from this list:

  1. Believe in the One True God, with all His attributes, powers and greatness.
  2. Believe in something immaterial and supernatural or ghaib and tends to be mystical.
  3. Love is more important as the cornerstone of human relationships.
  4. Believe in destiny
  5. Universal and open.
  6. Tends to use symbolism.
  7. Tendency for cooperation, harmony, tolerance and peace.
  8. Tends not to be fanatical
  9. Flexible and not materialistic.

The Javanese tradition with Islamic nuances

There are many traditions which are celebrated by people of Java which have Islamic nuances. As long as the original tradition does not change the essence of the Islamic teachings, celebrating such cultural activities are considered to be normal among Javanese Muslims.

1. Tahlilan

Tahlilan is a ceremony which are done together in a community with the purpose of praying to Allah by reading the Surah Yasin and some other  verses, then it is followed by the tahlil, which has the purpose of to affirm that we do not believe any gods other than Allah SWT (laa ilaaha illallah). It is continued with tahmid (alhamdulillah), with the purpose to show our gratitude to Allah’s limitless blessings. Then finally tasbih (subhanallah), with the purpose of praising the Holiness of Allah SWT. It is usually held as a thank-you to Allah Almighty and pray for the deceased on the 3rd, 7th, 40th, 100th, 1000th day and khaul (yearly).

This tradition is based on the Hindu and Buddhist ceremony. In Islam, this tradition could not be justified because it contained idolatry, and it is a great sin against Allah. In the course of the ceremony, they did try to bless the ceremonial food, almost like prayer in Islam. Then one of prominent Javanese Islamic scholars called Sunan Kalijaga modified this ceremony so that it does not stray from the essence of Islam. His intention was so that the newly converts should not be surprised and not worried about them losing their tradition.

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2. Sekaten

Sekaten is a tradition of playing gamelan music belonging to the Yogyakarta Palace.  This tradition was started by Sunan Bonang, one of the Nine Wise Men, as a mean to spread Islam. Back then, every time Sunan Bonang played the gamelan accompanied with songs which contain the teaching of Islam, a lot of people whould be interested in the music and then also touched by the Islamic messages which were being sung. Every time when the rhythm of the gamelan was changed, in between the changes,  there is a reading of the Shahada. The word skaten itself is derived from the world Shahadatain, a vow that Allah is one and Mohammad is prophet. 

Sekaten also usually coincides with the Grebek Maulid procession, which is the celebration of the Prophet Mohammad, Peace Be Upon Him, birthday at 12th Rabi’ al-awwal of Islamic calendar. The highlight of the sekaten event is the parade of a pair of Gunungan from the Great Mosque after being blessedd by palace clerics, praying to Allah for bountiful harvests. 

3. Nyadran

The term nyadran comes from the word sadran in Javanese which means pilgrimage or nyekar to the graves. In the ancient Kawi language, the word is originated from the word sraddha which means a memorial service for someone’s day of death. Nyadran is a Javanese tradition that aims to respect death family members, parents, or ancestors, by making a pilgrimage and praying for their spirits for forgiveness to Allah SWT. In other areas of Java, nyadran is defined as cleaning the graves of the ancestors and sedulur (siblings), then cleansing the village which is carried out from morning until near dzuhur.

This tradition is influenced by Islamic value because as Muslims, we have to realize that life is fleeting, and by remembering and visitng dead family member grave, we can remember the lesson. Remembering death will also make us feel closer to Allah and we would pray more diligently because after all of our action in the world will be judged in the after life.

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Islam is a religion that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad as the last prophet and apostle to be the guide of lives for all humans until the end of time. Understanding Islam literally means peace, safety, submission, and cleanliness. The word Islam is formed from three letters, namely Sin (س), Lam (ل), Mim (م) which means the basis of “salvation” (Salama). The understanding of Islam from the word is sufficient to contain the message that Muslims should love peace, surrender to the provisions of Allah SWT, clean and pure from contempt, and guaranteed a safe world-hereafter if carrying out the message of Islam.

Meanawhile, Javanese culture is a very noble culture, a legacy from the previous ancestors of Javanese people, which is the identity and personality of the Javanese. The culture of a region is the characteristic of that region, so too is Javanese culture a characteristic of the Javanese people. Therefore Javanese people must maintain their own culture and must continue to preserve it as long as it does not conflicts with the teaching of Islam. The four Javanese tradition with Islamic nuances which are being highlighted in this article can set an example that Islam can be compatible with any culture in the world if the people keep open mind and spread Islam peacefully just like how the Wali Songo did it in the land of Java.

It can be concluded to recognize the culture of Islam in Java Island, we must understand its unique characters and both Islam and Javanese culture can asimilate well since both value a lot of similar teachings and philosopies. Culture which are not against Islam such as the Islamic Javanese culture must be preserved in hope that more people can relate easily and feel the blessing from Allah. Amen.

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Kategori : History