An Islamic Journey – Part 4
Madura Island, Indonesia – We crossed from the mainland over to Madura Island on a cable stayed bridge where the cables formed the shape of a sail. Opened in June 2009, the 5.4 kilometer bridge is the longest in Indonesia, spanning the Straits of Madura and connecting the island to the mainland.
The purpose of the bridge is to encourage development on this island where temperatures are higher than anywhere else in Indonesia. The land is hard scrabble with very little soil. Madura lacks a volcano whose ash usually provides a rich layering for growing crops.
Most of the people in Madura emigrate and are found on sailing ships and in ports all over the world. Those who have remained raise cattle on the sparse grasses, try to grow maize and some fishing. The island is one of the poorest in east Java. The major highlight is the cow races which occur in August and September.
As one travels eastward one notices the beaches are out croppings, rocky with very little sand. There are salt deposits where the sea water has been allowed to enter and then evaporate providing sea salt for export.
A large mosque looms on the horizon of a Mediterranean-like landscape. The Mosque is in honor of Shaykh Kholil in the small village of Bangkalan. His crypt is located in a cemetery adjacent to the Mosque. People line up in long rows of two, ladies dressed in telekong, the white prayer dress. Two lines wait and while two lines are brought forward to the crypt and verses of the Koran are recited. When the first group finishes, the next two lines move forward.
Shaykh Kholil was born in Madura in 1820 to a religious family. He attended Islamic boarding schools learning the Koran, and by 30 became a Hafiz, a person who has completely memorized the Koran. He went to Mecca at the age of 24 where he continued his studies. To earn funds, he worked as a copyist, hand writing religious books for students and scholars.
Shaykh Kholil returned to Madura where he established his own boarding school. He accepted students of the peasant class, unusual in those times as most came from the upper classes. He was arrested by the Dutch colonial government but was freed after a storm of protests. He built many more Islamic boarding schools throughout the archipelago.
The Wali promoted Islam throughout Indonesia in defiance of the colonial Christian Dutch, whose missionaries were trying to change the people to their religion. He is credited with skirmishing with the Dutch for independence about 75 years before the revolution.
Shaykh Kholi used all his mystical powers to fight the occupying forces. In one battle he arranged for thousands of bees to attack the heavily armed Dutch, dispersing the attack. Here, he claimed that using simple tools like bees, and throwing gravel, would defeat the Dutch who had superior modern weapons.
One of his abilities was to be in two places at the same time. Once, while he was teaching a class, his clothes suddenly became wet and dripping with water. He calmly left the classroom and changed his clothes. Later it was learned that he had saved a fisherman whose boat had broken in the middle in the Java Sea and at the same time was teaching a class.
Another story has a person with his wife leaving in a ship for the Pilgrimage to Mecca. His wife asked him to go ashore and purchase some grapes. It takes him a long time to find the fruit seller. When he finally does, he purchases the grapes but upon returning to the dock he finds the ship has sailed without him. Despondent, a person asks him what’s wrong and he informs them of his tragic circumstances.
The good Samaritan sends him to Shaykh Kholil who tells him the problem is not his and that he should go to the harbor master for a “catch up” boat. The harbor master tells him there are none available and to go home. He returns three times to the Shaykh and finally he informs the distraught gentlemen that he can tell no one of his actions until after the Shaykh dies. The man suddenly finds himself standing on the ship next to his wife.
The stories of most religions combine both mysticism to tell a fable about how one should behave or the greatness of an individual. This helps people to understand their beliefs from their point of view, storytelling.
…Life is good. . . . .
Travelers Advisory: Madura is home to fanatical and radical extremists. Extra care must be taken by Westerners traveling to the area especially when visiting mosques or other religious places. Make sure you wear appropriate clothing that includes covering the legs for both sexes. A loose fitting blouse that does not show shape and a head covering is required for the women. Violence against westerners (mainly because very few go there) is rare; but fighting has occurred between the two different sects of Moslems living on the island resulting in loss of life. BE CAREFUL.