Chapter 2. Kiai and the Pesantren

Table of Contents

Concept and Variation of Kiaiship
The Pesantren Tradition
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)
Modernisation of the Pesantren
The Main Pesantren Observed
The Pesantren Darul Ulum
The Pesantren Tebuireng
The Pesantren Bahrul Ulum

This chapter is mainly descriptive. In it I will describe the nature of pesantren life, and briefly trace the history of three pesantren in Jombang. The pesantren has been the main institution through which a large number of Islamic society in Jombang have been educated. The significance of the pesantren lies not only in the fact that they have implanted a system of Islamic values which has created at least the appearance of a more religious society in Jombang, but also that the kiai who lead the pesantren are often involved in politics. The kiai thus represent a means through which Muslim society can pursue its political interests. Some pesantren kiai are political leaders with a national reputation. The fact that the fragmentation of the Islamic society in Jombang is related to the presence of so many kiai running pesantren, each having his own independence, authority and power in relation to the others (this matter will be discussed in Chapter IV), shows that the role of the pesantren in shaping the society is evident.

The description of the pesantren in this chapter shows how they have directly contributed to the development of Muslim society in Jombang. All of these pesantren are modernised, and their kiai are heavily involved in politics. The Pesantren Tebuireng, which is located in the district of Diwek in southern Jombang is led by Hajj Yusuf Hasyim, a national Islamic figure and politician. The two other pesantren are the Pesantren Darul Ulum and the Pesantren Bahrul Ulum. The Pesantren Darul Ulum is centred in the village of Rejoso in the district of Peterongan, which is situated in the eastern part of Jombang, while the Pesantren Bahrul Ulum is located in a region to the north of Jombang, though still administratively in the district of Jombang city. The Pesantren Darul Ulum has been used as the centre of one order of Qadiriyah Wa Naqsyabandiyah and is led by Kiai As‘ad Umar, a member of parliament at the provincial level. The Pesantren Bahrul Ulum was formerly led by Kiai Wahab Chasbullah, a national politician and a co-founder of the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia, NU.

The necessity to describe these pesantren became apparent from a survey that I conducted in four nearby villages. As the people's attachment to the kiai is great, the influence of the pesantren on the society I was surveying was evident. Hence, the change in the attitude of the Islamic society in Jombang in regard to politics or leadership in general, which I will discuss in the following chapters, is related to the change in the pesantren world.

2.1 Concept and Variation of Kiaiship

It is a common practice (throughout the Islamic world) for a well known ‘ulama to run a religious educational institution. In Saudi Arabia, as well as in Iran, the madrasa (lit. school) constitutes such an institution. In Indonesia, this institution is traditionally called a pesantren. The pesantren is a system of learning in which the students, called santri, gain Islamic knowledge from a single kiai, who usually has some specialist knowledge which he teaches. Before describing the pesantren, I need first to present the concept of kiaiship in general, since the main focus of this thesis is on the kiai. The pesantren need to be discussed because they represent an influential Islamic institution in regard to Muslim social development and also because they are important institutions through which the kiai exercise their power. Not all kiai operate pesantren, however, so those who do are more influential.

In various regions of Indonesia the use of the term kiai differs from that of ‘ulama. Horikoshi (1976) and Mansurnoor (1990) distinguish the kiai from ‘ulama in terms of their role and influence in society. ‘Ulama is a more general term that refers to a knowledgable Muslim. The ‘ulama as a group “had clearly defined functions and social roles as the literate guardian of the tradition which was held to be the very ground of individuals’ and whole societies’ primordial identities” (Gilsenen, 1973). In other words, “the most significant function of the ‘ulama has been their orthodox and traditional roles as upholders of the faith itself, by teaching religious doctrines, and ensuring orthodox religious practices among Muslim followers” (Horikoshi, 1976:232). The term ‘ulama is widely used in the Islamic world. In Indonesia, some local terms are nonetheless applied to denote various levels of ‘ulamaship. The term kiai, on the other hand, is used only in certain regions like Central and East Java. But it is common practice that at the national level the kiai is also used to refer to a higher ‘ulama.

In Jombang such variation in usage does not exist as explicitly as in Madura (cf. Mansoornur, 1990). An ‘ulama from the highest to the lowest level are called kiai. So the term kiai in Jombang does not necessarily refer to those running pesantren; it can also be applied to the guru ngaji (religious instruction teacher) or to the imam (leader) of a mosque who has more Islamic knowledge than other citizens. Moreover, the hierarchy of the ‘ulamaship in Jombang is different from that, say, in Madura. It is not attached to any formal structure but is located more in social recognition, with the result that it is fairly difficult to recognise the level of an individual's kiaiship. Only those kiai running pesantren are easily recognised. They are recognised as higher kiai.

The pattern of hierarchical ‘ulamaship in general is sustained and institutionalised by the fact that ‘ulamaship, especially kiaiship, is ascriptive in nature. This pattern is more prominent in Madura, since at the highest level, that is that of kiai, the ‘ulamaship is inherited geneologically. However, although the basis underpinning one's ‘ulamaship is in fact geneological, it is the recognition of the society which determines it. An educated or erudite Muslim who would like to run a pesantren but does not come from a kiai family will have a problem obtaining the recognition of society, though it is not unusual for many prominent kiai not to come from a kiai family. So, the problem of ascription of kiaiship might need to be distinguished at various levels. At the higher level, kiaiship in Jombang is mostly inherited, especially among those who run a pesantren. The inherited pattern of kiaiship seems to be due to the larger role and wider responsibility of this kiai level and also to the extensive background in Islamic knowledge required. Most well known Javanese kiai in the past, for example, have studied in Mecca for a couple of years before they reached their kiaiship. In addition, as a kiaiship is almost always provided with the centre of learning represented by the pesantren, which is built with the kiai’s own money, it requires considerable capital.

Compared to that in Madura, the ‘ulamaship in Java, including West Java, seems to be more open, in the sense that it is established in a more achievement oriented pattern. Although some well known kiai in these areas come from a kiai family, the ‘ulamaship is not inherent in the existing social structure. The promotion of a kiai in these areas is based on social recognition. As long as a candidate is equipped with higher Islamic knowledge, social members will easily recognise him as an ‘ulama. So, a santri who does not have kin relations of kiaiship, also can obtain kiaiship. It is not rare to find that a well-educated santri is married to a daughter of a kiai just to continue the latter's leadership of his pesantren when it is thought that there is no member of his family to succeed him. In addition, it can happen that a santri married to a daughter of a wealthy farmer is asked to establish a pesantren. Another difference between ‘ulamaship in Madura and Java is evidenced by the fact that in the latter the existing structures of ‘ulamaship are in no sense hierarchical. An imam (a person who leads a mosque) for example, is not always higher than an ustadh (lit. teacher). Moreover, a member of MUI (Indonesian Ulama Council) at the regency level is not automatically paid higher respect than an ustadh in a village if the latter is more knowledgable of the content of Islam than the former.

Of the various levels of ‘ulamaship in Java, only a higher ‘ulama, that is a kiai, has a supra-village influence. An ustadh usually has limited local influence, not only because his Islamic knowledge is not as great as a kiai but also because he does not have a pesantren as a training centre. A pesantren is an important institution attached to one's kiaiship [1]. It is through pesantren that a kiai builds a pattern of patronage which relates him to his santri, and to the society outside his own village or town. This pattern of patronage can easily be established, since most, if not all,  pesantren are privately owned by the kiai. This can tie the parents of the santri to the kiai because the former psychologically feel indebted as their children's education in the pesantren is free. Furthermore, the wider influence and supra-village pattern of leadership of the kiai enables him access to private and government agencies. The kiai sometimes play a brokerage role in transmitting the government messages of development to the society, and the society can more easily accept any government's program when they are presented by the kiai.[2]

The kiai in Jombang can be categorised into pesantren kiai, tarekat kiai, political kiai and stage kiai (kiai panggung) according to their special activities in regard to Islamic development. Nevertheless, a kiai in practice can be subsumed under more than one category. Kiai Khoerul Anwar, for example, is a famous stage kiai. But he is also a tarekat kiai, since involvement in the tarekat (sufi orders) is also a major concern of his. In addition, he is a political kiai, since he has represented NU in the local parliament. From these four categories, we can divide the kiaiship into two broader categories in terms of their followers. The first is the kiai who have larger followings and a wider influence than the second category. The influence of the former is spread throughout regions other than Jombang because some of their followers come from other cities or even other provinces. This first category comprises the pesantren kiai and the tarekat kiai.

The pesantren kiai focuses his attention on teaching at his pesantren, improving society through education. The relationship between the  santri and the kiai in the pesantren has resulted in the family of the santri indirectly following their kiai. As the parents send their children to this kiai, they indirectly acknowledge that the kiai is the right person to follow and an appropriate teacher to develop knowledge of Islam. The santri are another source of support for the pesantren kiai. The santri are not only important for the existence of the pesantren but could also be the source that guarantees its very future. In addition, the santri are the source of the network that relates one pesantren to another. Those who finish their studies in the same pesantren and become kiai establish a network which connects them to their former kiai (their teacher) or his successor who continues the leadership of the pesantren.

The tarekat kiai focus their activities on building the batin (inner world) of Muslim society. As the tarekat is a formal institution, the followers of the tarekat kiai are formal members of the tarekat. The number of these followers could be higher than that of the pesantren kiai, since through its branches in various cities in Indonesia members of the tarekat would automatically be followers of the tarekat kiai. It so happens that the murshid (spiritual teacher) of two large tarekat movements, that is the Tarekat Qadiriyah Wa Naqsyabandiyah coordinated by the Jam‘iyah Ahli Thoriqoh Al-Mu‘tabaroh Indonesia and another Qadiriyah Wa Naqsyabandiyah order coordinated by the Jam‘iyah Ahli Thoriqoh Al-Mu‘tabaroh An-Nahdliyah, live in Jombang. It should be stressed, however, that what I have mentioned here concerns the tarekat kiai who are murshid. Other tarekat kiai, such as the khalifa (murshid assistants), have fewer followers, since their authority in leading tarekat rituals is limited to a certain region. Followers from other regions might not know them. In accordance with the influence of the murshid himself, we should consider the extent of his influence in relation to his formal leadership. There exists a variation in the degree of a murshid's influence among those followers directly led by the murshid, such as those who live in the same city as the murshid or in neighbouring cities, and those who live far away from the murshid. So, the network laid down by the tarekat kiai is formal in the sense that communication between them is chanelled through a formal network (tarekat organisation).

The second category of kiai consists of the stage kiai and the political kiai. The stage kiai are preachers. They spread and develop Islam through da‘wa (preaching) activities. The followers of the stage kiai may spread throughout the regency. A stage kiai can also have followers from other regencies. Such a case, however, is very rare, since only a very popular stage kiai is usually invited to give a sermon in another regency. Most of the stage kiai are very local, in the sense of being known by Muslims in their own regency only. The political kiai is a more mixed category. It refers to those kiai whose concern is to develop NU politically. The development of NU has for a long time been administered by this category of kiai, who do not have followers as other types of kiai do.

As there are a great number of pesantren in Jombang, there are more pesantren kiai than other types of kiai. According to the report of the Jombang regency office, there are around 46 pesantren in Jombang. As a pesantren is not always managed by a single kiai, the number of pesantren kiai would exceed the number of pesantren which they manage. It is, however, hard to count other types of kiai. The tarekat kiai usually occupy a rather formal position in the institutional structure of the tarekat itself. They constitute the khalifa, whose duty is to assist the murshid in performing the religious rituals of the tarekat. The number of tarekat kiai in Jombang is less than the pesantren kiai. On the other hand, the number of stage kiai could be less than tarekat kiai. There might be many stage kiai in Jombang, since the duty of da‘wa is the obligation of all Muslim, not only kiai. But there are only a few stage kiai who become popular at the level of the regency.