Kejawen and Islam
Why Islam in Java often contains traditional Javanese beliefs (kejawen)?
Let's me try to explain first what kejawen actually is. Kejawen or kejawaan
can be roughly translated as "Javaneseness" or "Javanism"
and is "a descriptive label for those elements of Javanese culture
that are considered to be essentially Javanese" (Mulder 1996:16).
These elements are believed to derive from the Hindu-Buddhist period of
Javanese history, which started in the VIII century and reached its splendor
with the Majapahit Kingdom in the XIII-XIV century (Abdullah 1975:33;
Koentjaraningrat 1994:312). In their totality these cultural values form
a system of thought which provides the Javanese community with a base
for conduct in daily life until these days. Although kejawen is not a
religious category, it addresses ethical and spiritual values as inspired
by the Javanese tradition.
As a complete system, kejawen also influences the doctrine of the guru
and perguruan, which developed in Java. According to Javanese views the
pencak silat elders (sesepuh , pendekar and guru are part of the social
group that preserve the cultural heritage since they have mastered the
secrets of kejawen. Without looking out for personal gains, they share
the ilmu (knowledge, both in scientific and mystical terms) that they
have attained to their students.
To be exact, even before somebody start to study pencak silat, he/she
has already tasted kejawen, since in Javanese society people behavior
and thoughts are shaped by kejawen during their entire life cycle, or
in a more popular expression from "the womb until the tomb"
(Amin Yitno 1986:53). However, in the perguruan, students can deepen their
kejawen knowledge and access its many mystical secrets. Following the
instructions of their guru, the pesilat try to attain Javanese ideals
of humanity and become wise (wicaksana), psychic (waskita) and perfect
(sempurna). The pesilat must control his passions, fleeing from earthly
riches and comforts, so that they can one day become enlightened and unite
with the spirit of the universe.
Before they become pesilat a slametan is held. Such slametan are held
on all occasions of lifecrises or of communal cyclical events in order
to ensure prosperity and peace for the community. They are also held on
all sorts of occasions when well being and equilibrium have been disturbed
to restore them, such as in the case of disease. In theory all participants
enjoy the same ritual status, each person contributing equally to the
spiritual power of the event. The slametan therefore serve to shape a
harmonious community (rukun) which is the prerequisite to effectively
invoke the blessing of gods, spirits and ancestors (Geertz 1960:11-5,
In traditional silat we always hold slematan offering flowers or food
(sesajen) for the spirits of the ancestors (leluhur). In some cases, during
the opening the guru together with the students read "basmallah"
from Al Qur'an and then mix it with Javanese prayers directed at the older
guru or the founder pencak silat, before closing with "Surat Alfateha"
from Al Qur'an. This is a clear example of how Islam has become part of
Javanese culture (kejawen). Besides in social activities, acculturation
has also found place in the various ilmu. One popular example in the Javanese
pencak silat community is the Ilmu Aji Braja, which is used to attain
extraordinary strength to break stones with the hands and such.
This is the Ilmu Braja Musti:
Bismil Laahir Rahmaanir Rahiim (from Al Qur'an)
Sun matek aji-ajiku brajamusti, terap-terap, awe-awe, kuru-kuru griya
gunting drijiku, watu iteming tanganku, sun tak antem (from Kejawen)
Laa Ilaahail Lallaah Muhhamadur Rasuulluulah".(from Al Qur'an)
Although a part of the Moslem community does not approve of this syncretic
character of Islam in Java and aims at purifying it from its local elements,
as you can see, pencak silat in Java still prospers in the shadow of kejawen.
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