In the heart of Sufism: Wali`s tomb as place of pilgrimage
Nestled in the heart of Islam, Mecca is the center of a pilgrimage obligatory for devout Muslims who are spiritually and economically ready to perform it. But in the global religious context, Muslim people have developed particular religious pilgrimages of their own that unfortunately are often misunderstood.
Stretching as far as North Africa passing Central Asia and arriving at Southern Asia’s shores, the daily prayer and Koranic recital have been gradually enriched by pilgrimages to sacred tombs and the mausoleums of holy figures.
It is a long and winding journey to sacred places from the grave of Pir Muhammad Barkhudar Gilani Qadri, a Pakistani Sufi figure in Sillanwali, to Ulakan Syeikh Burhanuddin Mosque in Pariaman, West Sumatra, Indonesia. In those burial complexes, ordinary people experience the “conversion” of life.
In the landscape of Islamic faith, the tomb-pilgrimage tradition emerges as a central issue. Islamic authorities denounce this practice as heresy for they fear the pilgrims are seduced by the tomb’s power or karomah to grant their worldly prayers rather than worshiping God.
Crossing the whole bias, tomb pilgrimage actually constitutes the continuation of teachings once so close and intimate between guru and disciples.
India, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries have thousands of stories of Sufi over more than 1,000 years. In Indonesia, Wali Songo or Nine Holy Preachers accompanied by their faithful disciples walked from coastal villages and stepped into the Javanese court teaching God’s unity. As centuries passed, the land walked over has been consecrated by faith in God and his Prophet.
Some wali even initiated a revolution by founding religious schools. Text books adopting a Western style were printed and the students, fired by the spirit of the dynamic era, began political mapping that would change the socio-cultural landscape of every region they entered.
By doing so, the primeval wali cemented a preliminary sense of nationalism and religious identity which years to come would help indigenous people fight Western colonialism and inspire Asian nations to break free in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In this context, we see that Sufi figures are not stereotypic wandering men in self-ecstasy. Indonesian people can fairly say that men like pedagogic Ki Hadjar Dewantara who founded Taman Siswa College during the Dutch occupation, freedom fighters Tuanku Imam Bonjol, Prince Diponegoro and other Indonesian heroes and heroines and even non-Muslim independence fighters are Sufi.
They did not hide in solitude but led their people to sovereignty. I assume in their ziyarat or long struggle, while waging guerilla war behind mountainous villages, men like Imam Bonjol or Diponegoro used many religious practices to maintain morale among their followers. They would have recited zikir or religious contemplative chants in circle pattern, performed muraqaba or meditation by using their own cultural musical instruments (sama) to achieve self-peace and self-conviction in their fight against the
In the end, everybody will admit the employment of ziyarat, zikir, muraqaba or sama constitute Sufistic practices, completing the image of Indonesian national heroes and heroines as gurus and their followers as disciples.
Sunan Kalijaga, a Javanese wali, is admired for his tolerant and artful preaching methods by adopting the existing Hindu and Buddhist cultures. He composed a Javanese suluk titled “Ilir-ilir”; a song in praise of God and Islam. Not to mention approbation of his strong syncretistic master pieces in craft arts, wayang (puppet show) and sekatenan (Prophet Birthday celebration).
His genius reached the architectural world where he adapted the Hindu-style city landscape of palace and alun-alun (open square) guarded by two banyan trees, perfected with the combination of Java-Hindu terraced roofed royal mosques instead of Arabian domes.
In Pariaman, West Sumatra, pilgrims have visited their sheikh-committal complex in Ulakan village since the 17th century, where they spend their nights reading the Koran and contemplating. These Minangkabau pilgrims believe the physical visit and homage to the guru’s tomb is essential.
In this context, the inevitable heretic behavior in burial complexes must be strictly understood as sociologic paradigm rather than allegations of faith perversion.
Anthony Reid, an expert on Southeast Asia, writes in his book Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: “The most early Sufi sects in Southeast Asia world seemingly had no strict structure in comparison with the rest of the Muslim world but they possessed a huge respect for the figures and these burial complexes confirm their role in imposing the enormous change in this region”.
Without the presence of wali, Sufi, nameless heroes and heroines, the Islamic Southeast Asian civilization would never have been shaped as it is now.
The writer is indigenous culture researcher with the Bureau of History and Traditional Values Preservation at the West Sumatra office of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Padang.