|Day Five, Wednesday 10 December|
|We arrived at the town of Perkalongan in the
traditional Muslim bastion of Central Java at 1 a.m., and were quickly transported to the
home of Pak Mustapha who had hosted us earlier that night at his other home in Jakarta. In
our rooms were trays of fresh jasmine flowers to help us with a sweet scented sleep. We
were all fast asleep by 2 a.m., all of us except the film star Ayu Azhari.
Ladies young and old had knocked on her door numerous times that night. Upon inquiring whether it was already time for the dawn prayers, she was told by these ladies that they were her fans and had come from the surrounding villages just to admire their favorite film star. With typical Indonesian affability, the poor girl sacrificed sleep to talk to her fans and sign autographs.
We were awakened at the crack of dawn by the melodious calls to prayer issuing forth from the loudspeakers of numerous mosques in the area, competing with the crowing of the roosters. This is the heartland of traditional Islam, where devout Muslims held fast to the teachings of the Prophet (s.a.w.) during the last 700 years in spite of the onslaught of modernization. We visited two places that day which would astound us with their pure outpouring of the Islamic spirit.
Tasawwuf is very strong in this area where mass conversion to Islam were made peacefully by awliya in the thirteenth and fourteenth century AD. Especially famous were the Nine Awliya of Java, were admired by all Javanese Muslims, who regard them as heroes of Islam and know their individual names and stories.
The process of conversion to Islam had begun in the other Indonesian islands a few centuries earlier. Java was the last stronghold of Buddhism, Hinduism and paganism to peacefully turn to Islam.
The Sufi saints, many of whom came from Arabia, Yemen and Central Asia after the Mongol invasion, were the cause of the final conversion. Mostly descendants of the Prophet (s.a.w.), they penetrated into hostile areas befriended the natives, learned their languages and customs, followed their manners and intermarried with them. Through personal examples, diplomacy and healing practices according to the Sunna of the Prophet (s), they attracted the Javanese to Islam. They even employed the use of traditional Javanese music and songs as well as cultural performances for the purpose of propagating the religion.
I thought then about how the activities of the early Muslim saints had made Indonesia the largest Muslim nation in the world today. I hoped that similar work by the people of tasawwuf, such as Shaykh Nazim Adil, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, Shaykh Hassan Cisse and others now active in the Western world, will reverse the current slide to godlessness in Western society and bring about resurgence in faith in God Almighty.
I was awakened from this reverie by the sound of drums. Looking from the car, I saw a gigantic crowd of thousands of people lining the road as our motorcade made its way slowly to the house of Kiai Ahmad Taufiq Ur Rahman, a 50-year old religious teacher, who ran a large village pesantren in the woods of Perkalongan.
Upon reaching the house, we continued on foot for another 100 yards along a lane that was specially laid with carpets of all kinds. Ahead of us, marched a band of traditional drummers singing praises of the Prophet (s.a.w.). The huge crowd, lining the route at places ten people deep, joined in chanting the praises of the Prophet (s.a.w.). This was followed by the singing of "Tala` al-Badru Alaina", which was sung by the people of Medina to welcome the Prophet (s.a.w.) when he arrived at that city more than 1400 years ago. I was surprised at the exemplary behavior and self-discipline of this huge throng.
Word had apparently reach the villagers that a saintly Muslim scholar from the US and a direct descendant of the Prophet (s.a.w.) was visiting the pesantren that morning. The love for the Prophet (s.a.w.) is very strong here. Villagers stopped whatever they were doing and lined the route spontaneously to catch sight of this man. Many of them reached out their hands to touch Shaykh Hisham. It was a moving sight to observe these people singing in welcome, their voices rolling like waves from one end of the lane to the other. Shaykh Hisham was visibly moved. This is the kind of honor that the people of these regions give to descendants of the Prophet (s.a.w.).
At the hall of the pesantren, Shaykh Hisham gave an inspiring talk, translated into Indonesian by Pak Mustapha. He touched on the love for the Prophet (s.a.w.) and the role of scholars in spreading the Nur - light of Allah (s.w.t.) and His Prophet (s.a.w.). He said "from what I witnessed this day, Islam is safe in Indonesia. Allah (s.w.t.) has granted the Indonesian people an intensity of religious fervor that is lacking in many other Muslim countries. Indonesia is justified in being proud of this gift of love for Allah (s.w.t.) and for the Prophet (s.a.w.). Such love is like a precious diamond that would be the envy of all." He urged his listeners to keep their aqidah strong.
The now huge group proceeded to recite the most powerful dhikr I had ever attended in my life. The effect of thousands of voices reciting this dhikr together has to be experienced to be appreciated.
The quiet, soft-spoken Pak Taufiq then took us on a guided tour of this very traditional village pesantren. Most of the buildings had wooden floors, bamboo walls and thatched roofs. They were built in a rough circle around the central courtyard. Behind the buildings, tall fruit trees completely surrounded the pesantren giving the area a permanent cool shade. Within the central courtyard, were the graves of two Arab missionaries who died hundreds of years ago. We made supplications and read the Fatiha at both graves.
In memory of our visit, we were asked to plant a mango tree and a star fruit plant in the pesantren grounds.
When we returned to Perkalongan for lunch and a short rest at Pak Mustaphas home, most of us were very quiet as we were overcome by the strong spiritual outpouring we had witnessed that morning. We were not aware that another powerful spiritual encounter awaited us that afternoon.Dalail Khairat
The benefits of requesting blessings upon the Prophet (s.a.w.) had been explained in the Quran and many Hadith. It is said that anyone who requests Allah (s.w.t.) to bless our Prophet (s.a.w.), Allah (s.w.t.) will bless him tenfold and whoever asked Allah (s.w.t.) to grant peace to the Prophet (s.a.w.), Allah (s.w.t.) will also grant him peace tenfold and the angels will ask Allahs blessing on that person.
The most comprehensive book containing such requests for blessings (salawat) on the Prophet (s.a.w.) is the Dalail al-Khairat, a compact collection divided into eight parts, one part to be read each day. Like most things religious, the Dalail al-Khairat is all but forgotten by Muslims whose religious fervor has been dimmed by worldly pursuits. In some countries authorities that cannot appreciate the love for the Prophet (s.a.w.) have even banned the Dalail al-Khairat.
Nonetheless, the Dalail al-Khairat is read today by the devout throughout most of the Muslim world. In Indonesia it is widely read and is easily available in Muslim bookshops.
We had been told of a mosque in Perkalongan where the Dalail al-Khairat has been read in unison by more than a thousand people after Asr prayers every single day without interruption for the last 150 years. Even during the Second World War, when the Japanese Imperial Army occupied the island of Java, the practice did not cease.
When the group arrived at Masjid ul-Rahman, the reading of the Dalail al-Khairat had already begun. As we came out of our cars we could hear the voices reading in unison like a flock of well-disciplined birds. It was read, very fast and very loudly with a passion and fervor that one must witness to appreciate. When we walked into the mosque, these courteous but devout Indonesians stood up, greeted us, and made way for us to pass without pausing from their continuous recitation. This amazing daily practice in this mosque was initiated 150 years ago by Shaykh Taher Abdul Fattah, known as a waliullah.
The very air seemed to be charged with spiritual energy. For a few minutes, I was in a daze as I watched the beaming faces of people completely absorbed in their reading. We picked up copies of Dalail al-Khairat and joined in.
The reading ended and we were led to a lecture hall. There Shaykh Hisham was requested to address the congregation. As he walked, a band of drummers suddenly appeared beating their drums while the crowd sang "Tala` Badru `Alayna", a repeat of the mornings performance by a completely different group of people.
The talk on the importance and blessing of reading Dalail al-Khayrat lasted until evening prayers - Maghrib, after which the mosque committee hosted us to the ubiquitious lovely Indonesian dinner.