Santri, Cultural Strategy and the Fate of Civilization
The commemoration of Santri Day, observed annually on October 22, is a significant event that celebrates the birth of the Jihad Resolution Fatwa in 1945. This Fatwa, formulated by Hadratusy-Syaikh Hasyim Asy’ari, was a response to the attempt by the Allies, with the support of NICA, to recolonize Indonesia after the declaration of independence.
Hadratusy-Syaikh Hasyim Asy’ari, the founder of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the manager of Pondok Pesantren Tebuireng Jombang, along with other leaders, developed a tactical strategy to navigate the challenging political landscape at the time. This moment serves as an important reminder of the role that Islamic boarding schools (Pondok Pesantren) and their leaders, known as kiai, play in safeguarding freedom, independence, and building a civilized and humane society. They are at the forefront of addressing religious, global, and humanitarian crises.
In today’s world, we are faced with numerous crises, such as the environmental crisis, humanitarian emergencies, and the ethical dilemmas caused by advancing digital technologies. In light of these challenges, we must ponder on what actions residents of pesantren, or Islamic boarding schools, should take.
To gain insight and inspiration, let me share stories of past kiai who have left us with a profound legacy. Kiai Ahmad Rifai, who lived in the late 18th century, was an intellectual scholar, a writer, and an active participant in social movements. His religious views were deeply connected to the socio-political context of his time. For instance, he advocated for an easy path to convert to Islam, emphasizing the importance of the shahada. His intention was to make the process of embracing Islam more accessible and appealing to the masses. This teaches us that, in our preaching efforts today, we should strive to be approachable, respectful, and engaging, keeping in mind the interests and perspectives of our millennial audience.
Furthermore, Kiai Ahmad Rifai challenged the legitimacy of the Dutch colonialists by asserting that their presence and authority were illegitimate. Legal systems and products established under colonial rule held no power or authority, including marriages arranged through Dutch-appointed guardians. This perspective served as a counter-narrative against the colonialists. Kiai Rifai’s views were not just doctrinal arguments but were shaped by his political and cultural strategy to resist the Dutch colonizers.
Another influential figure, Kiai Muhammad Salih bin Umar al-Samarani al-Jawi, who lived in the early 20th century, played a crucial role in shaping the Islamic movement in Java. He was the teacher of prominent figures such as Kiai Ahmad Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah, and Hadratusy-Syaikh Hasyim Asy’ari, the founder of Nahdlatul Ulama. Kiai Salih Darat devised a cultural strategy to resist the Dutch by labeling anyone who adopted Western attire, such as suits, hats, or ties, as apostates. This cultural resistance aimed to challenge the Dutch hegemony by rejecting their customs and symbols. This strategy exemplifies the resourcefulness of the pesantren scholars in their fight against colonial rule.
These historical examples highlight the importance of contextualizing Islamic teachings and incorporating strategic approaches to address political and social realities. The philosophies passed down by these kiai remind us that interpreting religious texts and guiding principles should not be limited to rational deductions but must also consider the critical and constructive understanding of social and political dynamics.
The principles upheld by these kiai, such as independence, protection of human dignity, and love for the homeland, continue to resonate with the pesantren community today. The challenges we face, both nationally and globally, extend beyond religious concerns. Religious values must be harnessed to address and overcome these challenges. As we reflect on the historical contributions of pesantren scholars, we recognize that concepts like the Hijaz committee, Pancasila, and “Unity in Diversity” (Binneka Tunggal Ika) have shaped the spiritual foundation of our nation.
Furthermore, besides preaching strategies and resistance against colonialism, pesantren scholars have contributed to conceptualizing and providing scientific explanations for various issues. For example, Sheikh Mukhtar al-Bogori, an Indonesian scholar residing and teaching in Haramain, scrutinized the Arab prohibition of eating eel meat in his book Al-Shawaiq al-Mugriqah lilauham al-Kadzibah. This academic discourse challenged the prevailing prejudice against Indonesians who consumed eel meat. Sheikh Mukhtar’s scientific explanation helped dispel misconceptions and led to a change in the Arab perception of eel meat.
In the digital age, where the flow of information and opinions is unrestricted, it is crucial to understand the significance of knowledge, understanding, truth, and wisdom in communication. We should aspire to be rational, provide scientific explanations, and counter conflicting narratives with clarity and evidence-based reasoning.
Given the pivotal role that pesantren and their scholars have played throughout history, it is imperative for the entire pesantren community to actively engage in addressing critical issues, such as territorial disputes, preserving independence, and creating sustainable economic growth. These matters are not merely religious concerns but crucial topics within the global discourse. The teachings and wisdom inherited from our kiai predecessors guide us in navigating these challenges, as we strive to build a more prosperous, tolerant, and just society.