IBADAT: AN AMBIGUOUS CONCEPT OF RITUAL IN ISLAM

To some writers, Islam provides a clear enunciation of ritual. They simply equate ritual (in Islam) with ‘ibadat, and ‘ibadat with the five pillars. The Arabic word ‘ibadat (sing. ‘ibada) which literally means to enslave oneself (to God), when it is used as a religious term, refers to the ordinances of divine worship.[9] For example, Bousquet prefers to define ‘ibadat as:

submissive obedience to a master, and therefore, religious practice, corresponds, together with its synonyms ta'a, in the works of fikh, approximately to the ritual of Muslim law …, as opposed to the mu'amala[10]

Bousquet's definition of ‘ibadat to denote ritual in Islam is strongly ‘fiqh’ (Islamic jurisprudence) orientated. He even warns us not to translate ‘ibadat as ‘cult’ if we are to follow credible theoretical understanding. He urges:

If we translate ‘ibadat with ‘cult’ we are committing something of theoretical error … for it has quite correctly been said that, strictly speaking, Islam knows no more of a cult, properly speaking, than … it does of law; nor, we should add, of ethics. Fikh is, in fact, a deontology (the statement of the whole corpus of duties, of acts whether obligatory, forbidden or recommended, etc.) which is imposed upon man.[11]

At the point at which the fiqh is concerned, it is clear indeed, as all Muslims unanimously agree that the enactment of the five pillars is undeniably and undoubtedly ‘ibadat. Nevertheless, Islam cannot be reduced to fiqh and thus, ibadat is more than the enactment of the five pillars. There are many other activities which  are not set down in fiqh. The equation of ritual in Islam with ‘ibadat and then ‘ibadat with the five pillars to some extent is warranted but should not be overemphasised because seen in a different context it could be misleading. As far as Islam is concerned the concept of ‘ibadat entails some different connotations. I would argue that, with special reference to Cirebon, ‘ibadat is an ambiguous concept. Therefore, especially in dealing with the ritual practice of traditional Islam, a strict equation of ‘ibadat with the five pillars deserves further scrutiny.

Owing to Bousquet's definition it is not surprising that Rippin (1990) asserts that ritual in Islam centres on the five pillars. Rippin considers the notion of the five pillars represents the epitome of the revealed law as enacted through ritual activity. The five actions embedded in the five pillars —the witness to faith (syahadat), prayer (salat), charity (zakat), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage (hajj)— being an integral part of the belief system and a part of the explication of theological statements of belief, are duties for which each individual is responsible, separate from general ethics and rules of interpersonal relationship.[12] At this stage Rippin implies that what he meant with his statement that ritual in Islam ‘centres’ on the five pillars refers to what is found in the treatises of fiqh. In fiqh books ‘ibadat is discussed separately from other subjects such as mu'amalat (rules of economic contract), munakahat (rules of marriage), jinayat (rules of expiation), hudud (rules of punishment), faraidl (rules of inheritance) and jihad (rules of warfare).

Another writer also adopts a similar perspective. Denny (1985:69) points out that the most ‘basic’ term for ritual in Islam is ‘ibadat, meaning worship or service of inferiors toward their superior, their Lord. Denny clearly uses the term ‘ibadat to refer to the same activities noted by Rippin. Denny says that all of the official duties of Islam are subsumed under ‘ibadat, the five Pillars. Ibadat, Denny claims,  constitutes the ‘main’ categories of Islamic ritual and ‘lesser’ activities are arranged under the five pillars in orderly fashion. Examples given by Denny for Islamic ritual under the ‘lesser’ category of the five pillars are such activities as ‘Id of Sacrifice (‘Id al-adha) which is inextricably rooted in Hajj, the festival of fast-breaking (‘Id al-fitr) which serves to punctuate the ending of Ramadan fast, and the special Salat for earth-quake or eclipse which are ‘variations’ of the standard form, as is the Salat at the graveside.[13]

Actually, Rippin and Denny are not unaware of Bosquet's over-statement on the issue. Rippin's words that ibadat is the ‘centre’ and Denny's use of the word ‘basic’ or ‘main’ in referring to ibadat, in the context of ritual in Islam, indicate their awareness of the existence of other ibadat which do not belong to this ‘central’, ‘basic’ or ‘main’ category. Rippin's position becomes clearer when he also states that to the extent to which Muslim identity is expressed, ritual is not limited to the five pillars although the prominence of the grouping is obviously high. He notes that the mawlid festival celebrating the birth of the prophet Muhammad, various informal du'a prayer (invocations), and visits to tombs are ‘additional’ ritual-type activities which are considered by many Muslims to be significant for the expression of their faith.[14] It is true that many Muslims deny that these ‘additional’ practices which go beyond the enactment of the five pillars belong to ‘ibadat or Islamic ritual.[15] They even denounce these activities as sinful innovations and condemn their observants for committing sin.

There are many others, including most people in Cirebon, who think otherwise and justify these ‘additional’ activities as essentially ‘ibadat. Pak Soleh (44 years), a thoughtful trader said:

It is true that such work as reciting the Qur'an, tahlil, tahmid, visits to tombs and the like are not ibadat in the narrower sense, but from the broader perspectives of Islam it is essentially ibadat, depending on our intention, whether we do it for Allah, for others or only for fun.[16]

It is clear that the Cirebonese see ‘ibadat from two different perspectives, specific (khusus) or narrow and general (umum) or broad, and thus bring the concept of ibadat into ambiguity. The Cirebonese, however, have a complex enunciation of how this ambiguity is clarified and understood, at least for themselves.




[9] See: ‘Ibadat’ in Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam. Further use of the word ‘ibadat’ represents its use in Cirebon which refers to either singular or plural forms.

[10] See: ‘Ibadat’ in Encyclopedia of Islam, new edition.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Rippin, A. (1990), Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Vol.1, London: Rutledge.

[13] Denny, F.M. (1985), ‘Islamic Ritual: Perspectives and Theories’ in Martin, R.C., ed (1985), Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies, Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.

[14] Rippin, A. (1990), p.98.

[15] Throughout his work, Rippin uses only the term ‘ritual’, but it is quite clear that what he means with ritual refers to ‘ibadat, which specifically refers to the enactment of the five pillars.

[16] Indepth interview, 3-5-1992. Its original Javanese expression is: “Pancen bener yen pegawean kaya done maca Qur'an, tahlil, tahmid, ziarah kubur karo sejen-sejene iku dudu ibadah munggu pengertian kang khusus. Tapi munggu pengertian Agama Islam kang umum, kabeh iku ya ibadah, tergantung niyate apa krana Allah apa mung kanggo plangguran bae, atawa krana sejene.”