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Posted by : Ham uza Mar 11, 2015
delegation to the Cairo congress.30 The delegation was cancelled
however, when the Cairo congress was postponed.
Arrangements for the second world congress in Mecca proved
to be far more divisive. Whilst traditionalist Muslims feared that
Ibn Saud would restrict Syafi'i rituals and education in the Hijaz
modernists generally welcomed his coming to power.31 At the
1925 Al-Islam Congress in Yogyakarta traditionalist delegates
were angered by the dismissive modernist attitude towards
Wahab's proposal that Ibn Saud be required to guarantee religious
freedom for all Muslims in Mecca. In early January 1926, a
conference of modernist leaders in Cianjur, West Java, proposed
another delegation to Mecca, but invited no traditionalists to
These events convinced many kiai of the necessity for
separate traditionalist initiatives to ensure their religious views
and interests would be represented. In mid-January 1926 Wahab
with the approval of Hasjim Asj'ari, invited leading traditionalist
ulama to endorse the foundation of a committee called Komite
Hijaz (Hijaz Committee) which would dispatch a delegation to
Mecca to represent traditionalist interests. On 31 January 1926,
15 ulama gathered at Wahab's Surabaya house and ratified the
committee's formation. They furthermore decided to establish
immediately a permanent organisation to represent traditionalist
Islam. This new body was called Nahdlatul Ulama (Revival of the
Religious Scholars). Hasjim Asj'ari was chosen as rais akbar
(Supreme President), Achmad Dachlan Kebondalem was
appointed as his deputy, and Wahab filled the third most senior
position of katib (secretary) to the Syuriah (Religious Council).33
The respective roles of Wahab Chasbullah and Hasjim Asj'ari
in NU's formation warrant close examination. There is
considerable evidence indicating that Wahab was the main
driving force behind the establishment of NU. According to
some accounts he had, as early as 1924, proposed that an 'ulama
association' be formed to provide a more coordinated and
sustained response to modernist encroachment.34 It was an
initiative aimed at bringing modernist-style organisational
methods to a community more used to defending the
individuality of ulama and the autonomy of pesantren. Although
favourably received by some kiai the proposal foundered when
Hasjim Asj'ari failed to give his approval.35 His refusal was
probably motivated by a reluctance to sanction any new
organisation which might further divide the umat or distract
ulama from their religious duties.36 Without the support of
Hasjim Asj'ari, the most respected ulama in Java, Wahab stood
little chance of success. As an ulama he did not yet possess
sufficient stature to attract senior kiai and their followers to the
organisation. It would also have been difficult for him to proceed
without the blessing of his own teacher.37 But with the apparent
preparedness of modernists to act unilaterally from late 1925
Hasjim Asj'ari's opposition to a separate traditionalist
organisation lessened and his backing was eventually given to the
initiative.38 The success of the founding meeting of NU in
January 1926 was assured once Hasjim Asj'ari's imprimatur had
been obtained. It is thus apparent both Wahab Chasbullah and
Hasjim Asj'ari played distinct but mutually indispensable roles in
the successful formation of NU. Wahab provided the concept
and organisational skill and Hasjim Asj'ari the religious
By this period, the character and direction of Wahab
Chasbullah's life was clearly defined. He possessed a diversity of
talents and interests ranging from education and business to
politics, international affairs and contemporary social issues. His
gift for organisation and leadership was apparent as also was his
great energy and persistence. Most importantly, he was a
resourceful and determined defender of traditional Islam and the
authority of ulama.
The hostility between the traditionalist and reformist groups
in Indonesian Islam peaked during the late 1920s and early
1930s as organisations representing each stream engaged in an
increasingly acrimonious battle for the allegiance of Muslims.
NU adopted many of the methods of its modernist rivals,
producing its own journals and promotional pamphlets,
sponsoring public meetings and debates, recruiting members and
opening new branches.
Wahab worked indefatigably during this period. He was in
heavy demand as a speaker, and also acted as editor and major
fund-raiser for NU's early publishing endeavours, including the
organisation's first magazine, Swara Nahdlatoel 'Oelama. He
also travelled widely throughout Java recruiting ulama and cadre
to the organisation.39 His endeavours to secure guarantees of
religious freedom for non-Hanbali Muslims in the Hijaz
culminated in 1928 when he led a two-man mission to Mecca.40
In a meeting with Ibn Saud he gained certain assurances of non-
discrimination against traditionalist activities in the Holy City.
The apparent success of the delegation not only bolstered
Wahab's standing in the traditionalist umat but also pointed to
the benefits of having effective organisation.41 Most of the
funds for the journey had been raised within NU and the
delegation's credibility was enhanced by the fact that it
represented a Permanent grouping of eminent Javanese
Apart from his activities within NU, Wahab remained busy in
other fields as well. Upon the death of his father in 1926 he had
assumed leadership of the family pesantren at Tambakberas but
continued to spend most of his time in Surabaya.42 His business
activities, particularly as a hajj agent and sugar and rice trader
grew in size and prosperity. By the early 1930s he had also
become increasingly involved in legal matters working as a
pokrol bambu (bush lawyer) and advokat (barrister).43
Combining his debating prowess with a self-taught knowledge of
Dutch civil law, he soon gained a reputation in East Java's
Muslim community as a highly effective legal adviser and
His colourful personal life also won him a certain celebrity
Wahab had married at least nine times by the early 1930s.
resulting in six children and much gossip in political and
pesantren circles about his ever-changing marital
circumstances.45 He was one of the few Muslims ill Surabaya to
own a large American car and later attracted further attention
when he purchased a powerful Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He
became a familiar but nonetheless striking sight riding his
motorbike at high speed around the countryside dressed in his
customary sarong, jacket and white turban.46 In the world of
traditional ulama where idiosyncrasy was often seen as a virtue
Wahab had much to recommend him.
Relations between modernist and traditionalist Muslims began
to improve from the mid-1930s. This was partly in response to
articles in the Christian press and colonial government
legislation which were seen as anti-Islamic, as well as a growing
realisation within the umat of the deleterious effects of
This new spirit of reconciliation was reflected in Wahab's
own endeavours. In September 1937 he played a central role in
the formation of MIAI (Majlis Islam A'laa Indonesia or Supreme
Council of Indonesian Muslims), a federal body intended to
improve cooperation between Muslim organisations. The initial
meeting which led to MIAI's founding was held in Wahab's
Surabaya house, and was attended by his NU colleague Achmad
Dachlan of Kebondalem (not Mohammad Dachlan, as stated in
some books), Mas Mansoer representing Muhammadiyah, and
W. Wondoamiseno from SI.47 Both Wahab and Dachlan took up
positions on the MIAI Secretariat, though from 1941 Wahid
Hasjim and Machfoezh Shiddiq were NU's chief representatives.
During Japanese Occupation of the Netherlands Indies,
Wahab, like many ulama, accepted positions within the
government. He was appointed to the Shu Sangi Kai or Regional
Advisory Council in Surabaya in 1943 and in the same year was
also involved in negotiations over the creation of the Japanese-
sponsored Islamic organisation, Masyumi, to which he was made
a special adviser.48 When Hasjim Asj'ari, Machfoezh Siddiq and
several other NU leaders were jailed for defying Japanese
instructions, Wahab led the successful campaign to win their
release.49 Upon the death of Machfoezh Siddiq in June 1944 he
30 Noer, pp. 222-3; and Abdurrahman Wahid, p. 24. The other members of
the delegation were Haji Fachroeddin from Muhammadiyah and
Surjopranoto representing Sarekat Islam.
31 Noer, pp. 222-3; and Abdurrahman Wahid, p. 24. The Wahabbis adhered
to the Hanbali legal code, regarded by the Syafi'ite Indonesians as the most puritanical of the four Sunni law schools. Indonesian
traditionalists had been alarmed by reports that Ibn Saud had closed
some non-Hanbali classes and allowed the desecration of saints' grave sites which had been popular places of prayer for Syafi'i Muslims.
32 H.O.S. Tjokroaminoto from SI and Mas Mansoer from Muhammadiyah
were appointed as delegates. This delegation was then affirmed at the Al-Islam Congress at Bandung in February 1926. The traditionalist demands for religious freedom were also rejected by the Bandung congress. Wahab was unable to attend due to the death of his father. Anam, p. 52; and Noer, p. 223.
33 Aboebakar, pp.471-72; Anam, pp.51 and 54; and Noer, p.223.
34 This proposal apparently followed the success of special courses
organised by Wahab at Nahdlatul Wathan in 1924 called 'Masail
Diniah' (Religious Problems), which were intended to train senior
santri and ulama to defend traditional Sunni practices and rebut the
attacks of the modernists. Some 65 santri and ulama are said to have
completed the course. See Abdul Halim, section Vt (Perjalanan Kaki);
and Anam, p. 29.
35 Anam, p. 30.
36 An indication of Hasjim Asj'ari's thinking can be found in
Abdurrahman Wahid, p. 26.
37 According to one source, Wahab and several colleagues continued
quietly to develop the idea of an ulama organisation despite Hasjim
Asj'ari's attitude, even to the point of drawing up a draft constitution and rules. This eventually became the framework for the first NU constitution. Anam, p.69.
38 Despite this, Hasjim Asj'ari still seemed a reluctant patron. According to both Aziz Masyhuri (pp.131-32) and Abdurrahman Wahid (p.27). Hasjim Asj'ari was not initially present at the 31 January meeting and could only be persuaded to attend after Wahab dispatched Bisri Syansuri to Jombang to escort him to Surabaya. No other source
39 Saifuddin Zuhri, Abdulwahab, p.37; and Anam, p.78.
40 This was the Komite's second attempt to send a delegation to the
Middle-East. The first delegation led by KH R. Asnawi (Kudus) failed to depart, so telegrams were sent instead. The lack of a reply to these led to the second delegation. Wahab was accompanied on the mission by a Surabaya-based Egyptian teacher, Syekh Abdullah Ghanaim al-Amir. Anam, pp.71_74; and Noer, p.224.
41 According to the NU journal, Swara Nahdlateol 'Oelama, some 3000
people attended the meeting at the Ampel Mosque in Surabaya at which
Wahab announced the results of his delegation to Mecca. See Anam,
p.74, n.89. The success and even necessity for the mission is a matter of debate. Ibn Saud's assurances to Wahab carried the qualification that only practices in keeping with the scriptures would be allowed. (The delegation's letter to Ibn Saud and his written response are reprinted in Anam, lampiran 1-7). Many modernists also believed that lbn Saud had already promised not to interfere in most traditionalist activities so there was little to be gained from sending a delegation. See also Noer, pp.223-24.
42 Wahab would usually visit Tambakberas for several days each month to
attend to pesantren affairs. He seldom taught there but frequently
Supervised pencak silat contests amongst the santri. Interviews with
KH Djalil, Balu, Jombang, 28 June 1992, and Zaini and Ridlwan
Dachlan, Jombang, 7 December 1994.
43 A pokrol bambu provided advice about secular law to poorer pribumis
(native Indonesians) and often served as a mediator in disputes between Dutch authorities and Indonesians. An advokat would represent client in civil court cases. It was not unusual for lower and middle-clasi Muslims to retain lay barristers tie. those with legal expertise but no formal qualifications) to handle their cases.
44 Interviews with Muhammad Madchan and Zaini Dachlan, Jombang.
8 December 1994
45 In keeping with Islamic law, Wahab never had more than four wives at
any given time. Although it was not unusual for well-to-do Muslim men to have several wives, Wahab practised serial polygyny on a scale that had few rivals. No-one, including his own family, seems certain of the total number of times he married, though some well- informed sources believe it could have been in excess of twenty. As was common for kiai many of these marriages would seem to have been strategic. Four of his first ten wives were the daughters of other kiai, several of whom possessed considerable wealth. At least two of his other wives were members of prosperous Muslim trading families in East Java. A list of his first thirteen wives is provided in Aboebakar, pp. 125-6.
46 Interviews with Hasyim Latief. Sepanjang, 23 October 1991; Hasib
Wahab, Jombang, 28 October 1991; and Muhammad Madchan, Jombang
8 December 1994.
47 Boekoe Peringatan MIAI, 1937-1941, Secretariaat MIAI, Surabaya,
1941, pp. 2-3; and Noer, p. 242.
48 Parlaungan, p. 215; and Harry J. Benda, The Crescent and the Rising
Sun, KITLV Leiden, 1983, pp. 262-3, n. 6.
49 Saifuddin Zuhri, Abdulwahab, p. 46.
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