Addressing Sainthood in Balinese Muslim Traditions

Friday, March 7th, 2014, 14:58 WIB

wedforumThe most dominant religious identification of Bali is Hinduism. Therefore, Islam in Bali got less attention (Geertz  1963; 1980; 1983; Howe 2005). However, the presence of Muslims in Bali can be historically traced to the establishment of the Hindu kingdom of Ge`lge`l in 1380. In fact, Muslims are a minority religious group today, namely over 10% (about  324,000), in contrast to Balinese Hindus that totally about 87% (2.7 million) of Balinese population (Badan Pusat Statistik Provinsi Bali 2010: 120). There is spreading of Muslim  communities  throughout Bali, most of them live in the northern coast, Singaraja, Denpasar,  Buleleng,  in  the western parts of Jembrana,  and Karangasem.

Interestingly, Balinese Muslims today have developed invisions of sainthood  by ‘inventing’  the tombs of seven Balinese Muslim saints, called Wali Pitu. There is inventive process including the establishing of historical stories, ideas of holiness, and  sacred messages (ha¯tif). In this sense, there is certain believes that God sends ‘the products of invention’ to Balinese Muslims.  Furthermore, it is argued that the inventive process involves ha¯tif as the  most influential element. There is important actor behind the construction of the Balinese Muslim saint  cult, namely Toyib Zaen Arifin (1925– 2000), who had  been the sole recipient of ha¯tif.

Syaifudin Zuhri, presented this interesting topic on ICRS-CRCS Wednesday Forum on 26 February 2014. Zuhri obtained his BA in Sociology of Religion from Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University (2005) and MA in Islamic Studies from Leiden University (2009). His research interests include minority Muslim, Indonesian Islam, and Muslim saints. He have several recent publications, including “MajlisTafsir al-Qur’an and its Struggle for Islamic Reformism,” in Islam in Indonesia: Contrasting Images and Interpretations, edited by Kees van Dijk and JajatBurhanuddin, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013 and “Inventing Balinese Muslim Sainthood,” Indonesia and the Malay World,Volume 40, Issue 119, 2013.

Zuhri convincingly presented the topic by addressing the ritual of Haul (annual commemoration of the dead) of seven Balinese Muslim saints (WaliPitu). Furthermore, he discussed Muslim discourses in contemporary Bali, such as the creation and institutionalisation of a cult of saints  based  on the ideas of sainthood (wali) and keramat (miracles). Moreover, he emphasizes that there is a scholarship need to pay serious attention to unique characters of Balinese Islam. Such characters in certain extents different from other Indonesian Islam due to the localisation of Balinese Muslim concepts of sainthood.

Zuhri presented some preliminary findings taken from the research field based on his observation of Balinese Muslim rituals. He further explained that sainthood in Muslim world is a pivotal religious tradition. In this sense, sainthood contains respects on principal religious figures of the past and chains of religious knowledge connecting them with the Prophet Muhammad. Saints are revered not only as pious predecessors, but also as holy men God has blessed with esoteric power  and baraka. This explanation unveils kinds of readings and practices associated with the saint veneration developed by minority Muslim living in the context of dominant Hindu civilization. The extent that the ritual reflects the nature of religious relationship in the island is of important question discussed throughout the discussion.

In addition, Zuhri concludes that the invention  of the Balinese  Wali Pitu can be understood  as an effort  of minority Muslims in the heartland of Hindu civilisation in Indonesia to maintain this tradition. Minority  status of Balinese Muslims have con-structed  images of sainthood connecting them to the larger Southeast Asian Muslim community. Balinese Muslims invented certain forms of  sainthood affected by social conditions  and cultural settings, just like their Javanese Muslim counterparts. Therefore, the facts of Balinese Muslims imply their complex connection with Javanese Muslim’s images of Wali  Songo (nine saints). (admin,che)