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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, 30-85)

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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