By Usep Abdul Matin
While many people assume that Priest Antonius Richmond Bawengan’s Temanggung case in Central Java tarnishes the quality of Islam, I argue that this assumption actually blemishes the Islamic studies program in Indonesia. The case has happened between Oct. 23, 2010 and Feb. 8, 2011. One of Bawengan’s opinions asserts that a pilgrimage (haj) ritual in Mecca is a symbol of filth.
This idea reminds me of one of the monographs of Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936) on the topic of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (haj) and Islam (de Hadj en de Islam) in his Mekkaansche Feest (1923: 18-20/Meccan Festival).
In this article, I discuss one of the themes of this topic; that is, the role of polytheism in the historical, pre-Islamic background of the pilgrimage.
To prove or attest to this role, Hurgronje “allowed” some controversial traditions of the origin of the sacred objects in the hills of Safa and Marwah speak for themselves.
Snouck discusses six controversial traditions (Hadiths) about this origin.
The first tradition stated that there was a man and woman who fornicated at the Ka‘bah in Mecca. As a punishment from God, they were turned into stone.
To profit from this lesson, the people placed them at Safa and Marwah. After a long time, they forgot this lesson: On the basis of the advice of ‘Amr b. Luhai, the maker of idols, they worshipped them.
Therefore, Qusai ibn Kilab moved them to a space in front of the Ka`bah.
However, the second tradition stated that he moved them to the place where the source of the well of Zamzam in Mecca was dug.
In contrast, the third tradition said that one of the stones first leaned against the Ka‘bah but was then placed in a row with the others, where the people made offerings to them.
They also worshipped it by touching it respectfully just as they did to the black stone during the second circumambulation of the Ka‘bah.
According to the fourth tradition, when they were turned into stone, one leaned against the Ka‘bah, while the other was placed close to the well of Zamzam in order to frighten the infidels.
The clothes of this one were not petrified but remained leaning toward the stone. Gradually, the people worshipped it. The other stone was finally moved close to the well and also worshipped.
The fifth tradition explained that ‘Amr ibn Luhai actually did not advise the people to put both these stones at Safa and Marwah, but to do this to two other idols.
The sixth tradition asserted that the two other idols on both hills were made of copper and called Isaf and Na`ilah.
The infidels usually touched them when they went around the Ka`bah. The seventh tradition, however, said that Isaf and Na`ilah were two idols on a “beach”!
In essence, Snouck concluded that the first to the sixth tradition in essence described that there were two idols worshiped at both hills, though they mention the names differently as well as the materials both were made of.
On the basis of this general analysis, Snouck could say that the seventh tradition, which deviates from the six traditions, was incorrect.
In addition, these six traditions express the sacred things and spiritual ceremonies by which they are worshipped, which are defended by Islam. However, Islam has changed the aim and meaning of these spiritual ceremonies.
Snouck’s student, Arent Jan Wensinck (1882-1939), stated that in principle the traditions in his (Wensinck) Handbook of Muhammedan Tradition can facilitate the reader who follows the scientific treatment of the hadith as seen in the example above.
Therefore, Wensinck firmly averred his work would be appreciated by this type of reader of his Handbook. To facilitate this reader, he arranged the traditions in it according to their topics and themes.
In fact, the arrangement of traditions according to their topics was developed earlier by Ibn al-Asir (544-606) in his Jami` al-Usul and al-Muttaqi (885-975) in his Kanz al-`Ummal.
Nevertheless, these arrangements by both Muslim scholars were not the product of the scientific treatment focused on by Wensinck.
In conclusion, Snouck assesses the role of polytheism in the pre-Islamic background of the haj by comparing different topics of seven different traditions (hadiths).
Wensinck regards this assessment as Snouck’s scientific treatment of Hadith. This treatment inspires Wensinck to help other people, in particular students of Islamic studies, attain the Hadiths to examine different themes that they study.
In Indonesia, this systematic approach to Islamic studies is in line with the recommendation of the Religious Affairs Ministry that Islam be studied in terms of cultural and social sciences.
In connection to this policy, Indonesian Muslims should ideally view Islam in a semiotic and ethnographic way.
This method should encourage them to study how one, like Bawengan, shares his or her idea of Haj. It is inevitable that Muslims in Indonesia will be frustrated with the scientific approach to Islam at some (many?) points in this essay. I would say: Muslims, be merciful!
Otherwise, Indonesian Muslims will be trapped in their self-image with full of particularistic interests (domination, profit and convenience).
They suspect that Bawengan debases Islam; thereby deserving of execution. Do they not think what would happen if they were threatened by the same thing? This self-image has resulted in their violent reactions.
They burnt public facilities, such as some churches in Temanggung, including motorcycles and an official car.
In addition, two Muslim activists have been injured due to the firing of rubber bullets by police.
In fact, this riot damages the Indonesian government’s policy in relation to Islamic studies as well as the image of Indonesian Islam in the international world.
Source: The Jakarta Post