donderdag 31 augustus 2017

Mutaqabilin: face to face!

I am in correspondance with Jyoti Sahi in Bangalore about Massignon, the significance of Abraham in interreligious contacts, not only between Muslim, Jews and Christians, but also related to Hindus. Jyoti quoted Massignon that satya the truth-word of Gandhi can be compared to al-haq in the Arab mysticism.
We turned to another word of Massignon muttaqâbilîn, sitting face-to-face, in contrast to 'seeing through a mirror'.
Muttaqâbilîn is four times in the Qur'an. It is always in an idyllic situation: paradise, holiday or sometimes like it, people sitting face to face, having meals and conversation, sitting with nicely and richly covered pillows, talking, exchanging ideas.
It is quite different from the sometimes rather boring idea of heaven which looked in moy youth more like a permanent adoration of the host, the visio beata, looking at God. But not the lively exchange of the four verses:
15:47 [talks about an event in a Garden, water springs. We are invited to be there in peace, perfectly secure] We [God] strip away whatevern there is in their bosoms of rancor and jealousy. As people face to faceon couches raised.
What strikes me here is that initially it is not yet perfect: some remnants of conflicts must be removed.
37:44 Sitting on thrones, face to face
44:52-3  Amidst gardens and springs. Dressed in fine silk and sil brocade, seated face to face.
56:16 [Sitting on lined thrones], reclining upon them, facing one another.

As a boy I found the image of heaven, eternel, just looking to the Allmighty, not really attractive. Is that the promise? For this world or/and the hereafter? This image looks definitely more attractive, loving and peaceful!

maandag 28 augustus 2017


Chrstian Lange, Professor of Islam at Utrecht University recently wrote a general article on the status of Islamic Studies in the broader field of religious studies (in NTT, Journal for Theology and the Study of Religion). Lange resented that in the tradition of 'comparative religion' Muslim rituals and practices are generally overlooked. Mircea Eliade, Joachim Wach, barely mention Islam at all. Is the classical tradition of Islam too much to linguistic studies, to the standards texts, to the 'dry monotheism' sometimes connected to Islam?
There is also the other tradition in Islamic Studies, sometimes called Popsipedso: not the normative Islam of shari'a and fiqh, but political science, psychology, pedagogy and sociology, the actual practices of Muslims rather than old writings, philology and history.
Christian Lange does not make a choice between these two possibilities, although his training and many projects are concentrated more on classical texts than on modern practices. Instead, he puts the more important question  of the character of Islam as a religion. For this purpose he refers to the book by Dhahab Ahmad, What is Islam?The Importance of Being islamic (Princeton 2016).  the definition of religion varies from religion to  region and also from time to time. Protestant Christianity has the most narrow definition of a religion, whil in India the term of Hinduism was never properly defined by 'Hindus' but was a 19th century Western invention. There is not an unambigous normative definition of what proper Islam is: 'the notions of ambiguity and contradictoriness as constitutive for Islam (as also for other religion).
Already in the 1980s there was a serious debates among Muslim scholars in Indopnesia about the 'notmative' and real' Islam. Some of my students in this period asked me also why orientalists have so much interest in aliran sempalan or deviations, heresies, strange figures. I wanted to publish my book on 19t5h century Islam in Indonesia under the title: Paderi, penghulu dan penjual jimat. It was forbidden by my Jakarta publisher Bulan Bintang, on suggestion by Professor Rasjidi: th penjual jimat or amulet sellers are not part of 'proper Islam'.
It is quite interesting to see how the Leiden collection of Arabic manuscripts was bought in the 17th century by Levinus Warner in Aleppo, Damascus, Smyrna and Istanbul: not only the 'theological manuscripts', but also biology, history, geography were important for the beginning Leiden University!

vrijdag 25 augustus 2017

Sexual liberty? Margareth Mead on Samoa and LWC van den Berg on Aceh and Serpong

In 1928 the young anthropologist Margareth Mead defended her PhD dissertation on Growing up in Samoa, telling about free sexual relations before marriage among Samoa youngsters. This was still in the time of Victorian restrictions in Western countries. The book tells about lack of inhibition, absence of guilt related to sex. Only in 1983 it was proven that Margareth Mead was absolutely wrong in her belief of strong and spicy stories by Samoa youngsters and that the island, like all human cultures knows rules about sexual behaviour, also in that period and that they were generally followed by the younger generation.
I remembered this case while reading the article of 1883 written by colonial consultant on Islamic Affairs, Lodewijk (L.W.C.) van den Berg, writing on the Naqshbandi sessions in Aceh (and elsewhere in the archipelago). Van den Berg describes first a session he attended himself in 1881 in Lambaru, in 'Great Aceh', capital of 22 mukim, where the Dutch official, controleur, had invited a group of people to sing zikr accompanied by two young boys who from time to time as sedati were performing dances amidst a larger group of chanting men who sung sections from the Qur'an and short lines like la ilaha illah Allah, while vehemently moving with the upper parts of their body. Van den Berg made comparisons to Javanese dancers, women, who performed the dances 'more elegant' than their Acehnese male counterparts. Van den Berg describes it as partly religious in content, but partly entertainment. He does not elaborate the idea that religion can be entertaining at the same time! In fact, many religious talks by  Javanese popular preachers contain jokes, popular songs and in this way preachers can entertain large audiences for two hours or even longer. Pak A.R. Fachruddin, the Muhammadiyah leader, was famous in this double role. Even the Dutch born Jesuit priest Tom Jacobs was known for his entertaining sections during sermons in the church of Kota Baru, Yogyakarta.

The session, described by Van den Berg, started at 19.00 and at 23.00 the controleur (who had given drinks, lemonade, during the hefty performance) ordered that it shoud stop 'because they can go on chanting and dancing until sunrise'.
Van den Berg suggest that the sedati boys offer sexual services, but this is not elaborated in his article in the Journal of the Batavia Society of Science and Arts (TBG). He mentions also that respected religious leaders are outspoken opponents of this popular religious practice.
At the end of his article he moves to Serpong, near Batavia, where he heard from an esteemed landlord that the sessions of the Naqshbandi brotherhood are also held in his region with a mixed group of men and women in a mosque and here the lights are put off during the zikir, with people sitting not in rows but in a square formation 'while all touching the pudenda (kemaluan, sexual parts) of their neighbour'. Van den Berg asserts that the standing of his informant assured him that this was the truth. He added that we find here 'how the Polynesian phallus-cult continues appearing in the midst of Muslim practices. You may chase nature away with a pitch-fork, but it will always return!' [hoe de Polynesische phallus-dienst telkens tusschen de vormen van den Islām voor den dag komt. Naturam furca expellas, tamen usque recurret.]
Van den Berg is an early supporter of Islam Nusantara, of a local appearance of Islam, but he always likes to give foreign labels to local traditions: either Chinese, Hindu or even Polynesian. Or is this originating from a naive or even a dirty mind of a landlord without personal connections to the Muslim practice?
Martin Van Bruinessen, Tarekat Naqsyabandiyah di Indonesia, Bandung, Mizan: 1992,32-3 has already some comments on this remarks by Lodewijk van den berg

dinsdag 22 augustus 2017

Prof. Dr. Yunan Yusuf and family in Utrecht

Yunan Yusuf was among the first group of students at the Islamic Academy IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah (now UIN, Islamic State University) in Jakarta, 1982-3. He studied the Dutch language with my wife and followed the course I gave that year in the sources for the history of Indonesian Islam, especially 19th century (I have now plans to rewrite the book in English. It was my first book written in Indonesian: the original title I gave was Paderi, Penghulu dan Penjual Jimat: Muslims in 19th century Indonesia, but the publisher did not like the amulet sellers and the book received the rather dull title Beberapa Aspek Islam di Indonesia, abad ke-19. It was mostly advisor Prof Rasjidi of Bulan Bintang Publishers who rejected the inclusion of the popular religion in Islam).
Notwithstanding his study of Dutch, Yunan Yusuf did not make it to Leiden and the Netherlands. He received his Ph.D. in Jakarta on a dissertation about the Qur'an interpretation by Hamka.
Three children of Yunan Yusuf study abroad. One in Australia, two in Germany. Therefore he managed to be accepted as a researcher in Berlin for three months, on the impact of Indonesian Muslim in Germany on the dakwa in Germany. But he came also to Utrecht.

So the Keluarga Besar Yunan Yusuf (now at the age of 69) is here standing in our garden after dinner and in between talks about the development of Islamic Studies in the last 40 years. Yunan's youngest daughter studies in Mainz, MA in international economic affairs (most right). his son, left, studies in technology in Berlin, for a PhD degree. It was already predicted by Ben Boland and Mukti Ali in the late 1960s and early 1970s: pesantren leaders send their children to the IAIN, the State Academies of Islamic Studies. The professors of IAIN send their children to secular universities abroad.

donderdag 10 augustus 2017

A 'Fatwa' on/against Muslim Mysticism by L.W.C. van den Berg

I am still working on writings of Lodewijk van den Berg (1845-1927)  the first academic Dutch scholar who did field work about Islam in Indonesia and wrote quite many books and articles, still before Snouck Hurgronje (only 11 years younger) arrived in the field. Snouck did not like Van den Berg, wrote in a strong way against him, more or less as a 'charlatan' and therefore Van den Berg is not really well known in the academic world.
Van den Berg was in the Indies between 1869-1887, leaving the colony two years before Snouck arrived. He was legal advisor on things Arab and Islamic. He translated a major fiqh book and was a consultant for the way how to deal as the ruler of the country with Muslim citizens who enjoyed freedom of religion and were allowed to apply several sections of shari'a law.
Perhaps his best known work is the monography on the Arabs of Hadramaut and the migrants from that region to the Malay Archipelago (where they were business people, active in money lending, small trade and sometimes also in religious business).

Arab people usually do not like the mystical brotherhoods, tariqa, but the more pious Indonesians are fond of the societies.  In 1886 another Arab in Batavia, Sayyid Uthman published a panphlet against tariqa and it caused some debate. The Resident of Bandung even wanted to ban the pamphlet because it could cause unrest. After the advice of L.W. C. van den Berg, there was some kind of a religious decision or fatwa: 'We must agree that Sayyid Uthman attacks the brotherhoods in his pamphlet, but this council does not join the opinion that it is a writing that creates unrest and hatred. Just the opposite: this writing must be taken as a useful publication, because it forbids practices which are not in line with the Qur'an. Also many other scholars forbid these practices as dangerous'.  (Here quoted after my introduction to the translation of the Hadramaut book by Van den Berg in the series of INIS Publications.

woensdag 2 augustus 2017

More 'deviations' as selected by L.W.C.

L.W.C. van den Berg has a series of writings on 'deviations of Indonesian Muslims from standard Islamic Law'. One interesting piece is his article on the Muhammedan Rulers and their neglect of the good Muslim shari'a rules. See his ‘De Mohammedaansche vorsten in Nederlandsch-Indië’, BKI, Bijdragen tot de taal-, land-, en volkenkunde 53 (1901), 1-80.

According to Shari'a the ruler is a common human being but in Javanese culture he is superhuman. His clothes are considered as sacred and used as ammulet, he may do with his people what he want 'like a puppet player or dalang with his puppets'.  He wears yellow dress, not the green colour of true Muslims but yellow probably after the imperial traditions of China. Seven Sultans are of Arabic descent and they use Arab titles, but the Javanese have other names like panembahan, susuhunan. There is no line of inheritance in proper Muslim law, but most rulers in Indonesia  follow the lines of offspring. There are many female rulers in Indonesian Islamic states, most of all in South Celebes.
The ruler of Surakarta, Pakubuwana X
The  real Muslim ruler, according to shari'a and L.W.C. van den Berg, has absolute power: no patih or governor who have power of their own and even a line of succession. There is only shura, only advisors.  The pusaka or sword, clothes and other royal objects have magic power, which is also contradictory to Islam.
It is now really funny to read how severe Van den Berg is about 'his' Indonesian Muslims: as if he works and writes as a Majelis Ulama who condems many heretical deviations in the country. But Van den Berg was a good traditional Christian, member of parliament for conservative Christians later in Delft. His position as 'advisor in Arab and Muslim Affairs' made him somewhat schizophrenic!
To conclude a funny picture I found on the internet from the same period, but not related to the topic of today! But it is all about mixture of cultre: Buddhist, of course, western and Javanese dress a modern umbrella and the traditional yellow payung.