The Reverse Flow of the Nusantara Ulamas

Lately there are indication or phenomena on the tendency of people to admire the 'ulamas or religious scholars whom came from Arabia. However It must be recognized that the Arab lands from time immemorial where there are Mecca and Medina and sources of Islam was derived . But that does not mean other parts of the world are not worth mentioned as a centre of Islamic scholarly development. Admiration to the advent of Arab scholars is still okay, anyway. After all respect to scholars is a good attitude. However , when it is accompanied with the attitude of condescension or less respect the scholars in the archipelago (later we will mention as Nusantara), so the respect is not good , because it is only based on ethnicity alone. For that let us see our reverse flow of Nusantara Ulamas.

Main Flow : Nusantara - Arab - Nusantara

The attitude of taking slightly to the Nusantara ulamas is actually caused by sheer historical blindness (unhistorical). When Muslims in the archipelago were still not so strong in Islamic credentials of science, many clerics and students who come from Nusantara went to Arab (Mecca, Medina,Yemen, etc.) to deepen their Islamic knowledge. Once they learnt, then they developed their knowledge in their homeland , in Nusantara in many ways. This was most important reverse flow the Nusantara Ulamas, and this was the model of the spread and strengthening of Islam in Nusantara since the beginning.

Nusantara Muslim relationhips and the Middle East were connected Since Islam in here. Reverse flow of Nusantara ulamas was based on study from Azyumardi Azra (Jaringan Ulama, 1998), the relationship was political and scientific . Political relationship exists between the number of kingdoms in Nusantara with the Ottomans. Aceh , Banten , Mataram had sent some envoys to the Haramain (Mecca - Medina) since the 17th century. Since the Ottomans secured the pilgrimage path, increasingly many also studied in there in the 14th until the 15th centuries. It emerged Jawi (Javanese) community . The Arabs called it Ashab Al Jawiyin (our brother: the Jawi). this is a strong evidence of the turning point of the Nusantara Ulamas

The names of scholars/Ulamas were such as Sheikh Yusuf Sheikh "Tuanta Salamaka" Almakassary albantany (Makassar) and Sheikh Abdul Rauf al - Sinkili (Singkel ,Aceh ) whom had studied in the Haramain in the 17th century. Sheikh Abdul Shomad Al - Palimbani (Palembang), Shaykh Nafis al - Banjari (Banjar, South Kalimantan), Sheikh Arsyad Al - Banjari (Banjar, South Kalimantan) were Sufi Samanids influenced in the 18th century. We also know the names like Al - Sheikh Nurudin Raniri (Aceh) , Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al- Masry Al Batawi (Jakarta), Syaikhuna Ahmad Khatib Sambas (Borneo) and others. In the 19th century until the early 20th century, Ulamas were even more formidable in Mecca. Because they did not just study, but also being the science centre in Mecca, whom became as teachers and imams (leaders) at the Grand Mosque. So we can say that the reverse flow of Nusantara Ulamas was actually precisely when they had an important roles as scholars that received well in Arab.

Nusantara Ulamas as Mainstream Source

The journey note of our scholars were widely known in the world above their knowledge, seek by exploring the traces of their knowledge in Nusantara (including Malaysia), to various other countries before finally back to the centre, Mecca and Medina. After returning back to the Nusantara, those scholars built new knowledge resources in each area. So it can be said that the boarding house (aka pesantren) up till now have been really sourced from Nusantara Ulamas (cherics/scholars) directly from the centre and tried to grow new sources while maintaining the purity of the original source. The reverse flow of Nusantara Ulamas will always continue and continue from one boarding to another boarding schools (aka pesantren-indonesian language) will be still standing in the Nusantara.

The turning point Nusantara Ulama for instance that we know was Sheikh Yusuf Al Makasary, his trip showed that before he learned in Mecca, he had to first gain a lot of knowledge, for example in Cikoang (Sulawesi), Banten, Aceh, Gujarat, Turkey and Yemen. (2) The journey of science showed how many supplies were brought before finally studied hard and diligently in Mecca. Similarly to Sheikh Abdul Rauf Al Sinkli, he studied in Qatar, Lahore, India and Aceh, of course. Amazingly he performed 11 tarekah (ways of Sufism). (3)

The reverse flow of Nusantara Ulamas was also be evident when Sheikh Abdul Shomad Al Palimbani was examples of scholars who cared deeply for the struggle against Dutch colonialism in Nusantara, although he had become part of the Arab community. He always encouraged the princes of Mataram Sultanate to continue the struggle against the Dutch. (4) While Sheikh Arsyad Al Banjari had been educated in the Islamic sciences in Banjar kingdom. Similarly, he had a lot of teachers and also strong scholarly sanaad. Upon his return from Mecca, he opened boarding house (aka pesantren) on Banjar and wrote many books. One of the famous book and studied throughout the Nusantara, including Brunei is Sabilul Muhtadin book.(5) These scholars then multiplied their knowledge and made cadres to other scholars whom later became leaders in their respective areas. And so with Sheikh Ahmad Khatib Sambas, also re cadre to the calibre scholars, his famous one was Sheikh Imam Nawawi Al Bantani . ( 6 )

The next wave flow during 19-20th century was such as Sheikh Imam Nawai Al Bantani , Sheikh Ahmad Khatib Al Minangkabawi and Sheikh Mahudh At Tarmasi . They were examples of the Nusantara ulamas who brought literatures of Islam in the world. The reverse flow of Nusantara Ulama period was strongly indicated as a starting point for Indonesian independence .

The reserve flow of Nusantara Ulamas in next period would see as the following: Sheikh Nawawi came from Tanara, Banten was humble,very pious ulama, and also prolific author of books. Sheikh Ahmad Khatib came from Minangkabau was religious that encouraged reformism in Minangkabau. Ahmad Khatib even be the leader in Masjidil Haram. Shaykh Mahfudh was from Tremas, Pacitan, highly scholar whom was very respected by all scholars in Java. His favorite student, The grand scholar Hasyim Asyari was founder of NU who brought tradition which taught by Sheikh Mahfudh to Indonesia .

So the outlook of how scholarly resources could be spread throughout the country and took it directly from the fountain from the centre at its heart. The Nusantara Ulamas were also major source in Arab, references of scholars from different parts of the world. This was what we call as Reverse Flow of Nusantara Ulamas.

Reverse Flow : Arabic Centrist

Now we are having any trouble for disconnected history of flowing of knowledge of these Nusantara ulamas. Nationwide ulamas who developed and born in this Nusantara from boarding houses/schools (aka pesantren) seem lack of proper recognition when compared to the scholars who come from foreign countries (especially Saudi Arabia). Besides, these flow has been occurred since several centuries ago, they became sources of knowledge in saudi Arabia. Similarly, boarding schools/houses (aka pesantren) or centres of science in this Nusantara are parts of the inheritance or part of the Ulamas. In other words, Ulamas produced by pesantern in Nusantara are the products of the first Ulamas who became the source of mainstream Islam in here. They are no less greater in Islamic knowledge than ulamas from other countries, because they absorb the path of science (sanaad) which are still occurred and continued, and also derived from the source .

What happens in the next is our students are nowadays competing in the path of education by studying in the Middle East (Arab), while Islamic knowledge in here is considered inadequate and unworthy. This is such a manifestation of unhistorical attitude to forget the earlier Ulamas in Nusantara. They are not trying to build a interconnectedness pathway of knowledge in the country that has such a clear path since the 17th century as it has been described previously. they are not familiar with reverse flow of Nusantara Ulamas whom occurred since centuries ago.


It’s simply noted, the former scholars studied from our Ulamas whom stayed in Nusantara or in Arab. But it's been happening nowadays, where they immediately flocked to Arab instantly, leaving our Ulamas’ teachings. This is what I refer to as the reverse flow of Nusantara Ulamas today. More concern is now to emerge presence of pride to Arab centric, where we judge that whoever graduates from Arabic (Middle East) is more pious and capable as ulama than those who graduates from boarding schools/houses (aka pesantren) in this country.

Thus…is it supposed to be? Or.. do we forget our own history? Or is there any other reason more than that ? And..Wa Allaah ' Alamu Bishshowab… only Allah Knows…

Footnotes :

1), “Dulu Ulama Kita Hebat-Hebat di Mekkah”, Senin 31 Desember 2012. 2) 3) 4) 5) 6)

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