|Day Two: Sunday 7 December, 1997|
|The groups second day in Indonesia
began at 3.30 a.m. when the group performed Tahajjud prayers with about fifty people who
had seemingly turned up from nowhere to pray the night prayers at Pak Firdauss home.
Fajr was followed by a pre-breakfast, the first of five to seven meals a day that will confront the group for the rest of our stay in Indonesia. Trying to keep the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (s.a.w.), to never disappointed his we would partake of at least a little of each meal but avoided eating too much. An average meal contains between six to eighteen dishes. Indonesian hospitality is very hard to beat!
At 6:30 a.m. we departed for the city of Bandung, located in the mountains southeast of Jakarta. The fleet of seven limousines, escorted by a police car which headed the motorcade with lights flashing and sirens blaring, proceeded south along the Jagorawi Expressway ascending into the dramatic Parahyangan Highlands to reach the town of Bogor (50 miles away) in one hour. Bogor, at 1000 feet above sea level, is appreciably cooler than Jakarta. Bogors main attractions are its world-renowned botanical gardens, an excellent zoological museum and library as well as its white presidential summer palace.
The road east from Bogor up to the Puncak Pass climbs steadily, winding its way up through a crowded highlands resort area where we stopped for breakfast at a beautiful village-style restaurant perched on a 2000 feet mountain overlooking a spectacular green valley with blue mountain tops in the distance. The area surrounding the restaurant was dotted with exotic fruit trees and plants such as bananas, coconuts, mangos, chikus, rambutans and pineapples.
Moving our way slowly around narrow country roads, we passed wooden carriages mounted on modern vehicle tires and drawn by ponies, cows or water buffaloes. On the roadsides, hundreds of colorful stalls selling melons, pineapples, greenish yellow Indonesian oranges, carrots, tomatoes and a variety of other fruits and vegetables provide a kaleidoscope of sights sounds and colors as the vendors compete with one another to attract the attention of motorists and passersby.
Everyone seemed attracted to our motorcade as the cars passed by. Policemen on duty at road junctions saluted and let us pass. The village folk, especially the children, stared and smiled at the shaykh, a striking figure in his large white turban and dark blue robe. A solitary water buffalo turned its head slowly and kept on staring even as the motorcade disappeared up the mountain road.
At 10:30 the party arrived at the small township of Cangkorah 15 miles outside Bandung. We stopped at the Al-Bidayah Naqshbandi Pesantren. The pesantren, a traditional Muslim educational institution, is more than just a school. A uniquely Indonesian institution, it not only teaches Islamic subjects but also makes the students practice the Islamic way of life within its compound walls. Usually headed by a shaykh who provides the students with a living example of how Islam should be practiced in their daily lives, thousands of such pesantren exist in Indonesia and many of the local ulama are graduates of these schools. Pesantrens have been in existence in Indonesian for several hundred years.
50-year-old Haji Yayat Rohyat Sirodj, heads the Al-Bidayah Naqshbandi Pesantren, which has 750 students 300 of whom live in the complex. Apart from providing a complete Islamic education which includes fiqh, tawheed, tassawuf, philosophy and the Arabic language, this pesantren also teaches English, mathematics, science and computer studies to prepare the students for work. Thousands of students have graduated from this pesantren since it was founded 50 years ago.
Shaykh Kabbani addressed the assembled students in the mosque of the pesantren, stressing the importance of science and mathematics in addition to Islamic studies.
This was followed by a joint recital of the Quran by two male students. The boys had wonderful dulcet voices that melted the hearts of all the visitors. Our group was so impressed that we requested more renditions, which the boys happily obliging. [photo]
This performance was followed by a recital of nashid (religious songs) by a large choir of young female students, all dressed in white, whom we referred to as "the angels in white". The two lead singers beautiful voices enthralled us that we stood up and listened intently, even following the chorus of salawats (praises to the Prophet s.a.w.).
Soon something very strange happened. Everyone was in awe and overwhelmed by a strong spiritual feeling, which swept through the hall and touched all our hearts. An enormous wave of energy seemed to emanate from the praises of the Prophet (s.a.w.), the greatest servant of Allah.
Many of us were moved to tears and we reverently thanked Allah (s.w.t.) for that feeling, that taste of ecstasy. Later that day Shaykh Kabbani explained this feeling in the context of a hadith which stated that wherever a group of people gather to remember Allah (s.w.t.), angels will encompass them, mercy will descend on them and Allah (s.w.t.) will remember them in His presence.
That indescribable immense angelic presence put all of us that day in a state of peacefulness and relief and completely relaxed from any stress or depression. Each one felt that he was the only one to taste this inexpressible sweetness of love for Allah (s.w.t.) and the Prophet (s.a.w.).
Four boys and two girls from the pesantren were then invited for a trip to the US in August 1998 to attend the 2nd International Islamic Unity Conference in Washington. Those fortunate to attend the forthcoming conference will be treated to a superb performance of Quran recitation and praises of the Prophet (s.a.w.) harmoniously presented by these sincere and devout students.
After lunch at the pesantren, the group proceeded on its journey to Bandung. The highland city of Bandung known as Kota Kembang (City of Flowers), sits on a huge basin, 2300 feet above sea level surrounded on all sides by high cloud piercing mountain peaks. Its cool temperate climate and garden atmosphere makes it a pleasant place to visit. A city of 1.5 million people, it is the capital of West Java province and is its cultural center. Bandungs best known industry is education, with 28 colleges and universities including Indonesias oldest and finest university, The Bandung Institute of Technology. A city abounding with tourist attraction of all types, Bandung is a popular tourist destination.
We ended our journey to Bandung at the house of Hadid Subki who returned to Indonesia recently after studying engineering in the US for five years. After a short rest, we had a discussion with two Bandung intellectuals Dr. Achmad Baiquni, seventy-five year old director of the Nuclear Research Institute of Indonesia and Dr. Jalaluddin Rahmat, a professor at the famous Bandung Institute of Technology. Dr. Baiquni, who headed the Indonesian Atomic Energy Program before his retirement in 1985 to become Indonesias ambassador to Sweden, gave a candid review of his countrys atomic energy development.
Professor Jalaluddin, who is also an expert in public communications, spoke about the Center for Sufism, which he set up in Jakarta. Formerly a follower of the "reformist" Muhammadiyya Movement, Professor Jalaluddin has become a firm believer in traditional Islam. He said "since the 1980s, traditional Islam which was once predominant in the rural areas has now moved to the cities and displaced the modernist Islamic movements. "
Professor Jalaluddin noted that a new breed of intellectuals and professionals are coming back to traditional Islam. He said "they are looking for the Islam of love and peace such as that practiced by the followers of Tassawuf." Professor Jalaluddin states that 30% of the Muslim population in Indonesia belonged to various tariqas, the most prominent among them being the Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya. He also said that the majority of Indonesian Muslims subscribed to belief in tasawwuf, even if they do not belong to any particular tariqa.
This discussion was followed by a lavish dinner, hosted by the Subki family. We then returned to Jakarta traveling by the mountain roads on a dark and rainy night. Most of us slept throughout the journey, the piercing sirens of the escorting police cars not withstanding.