2.4 Modernisation of the Pesantren

During the 1960s, I often heard a common humiliating phrase directed towards groups of young educated Muslims who spent their time learning in the pesantren. The phrase, santri budug, sounded humiliating even to those educated religiously, but such an insult was an expression of the reality surrounding santri life at that time. Santri budug in Sundanese referred to the unhealthy situation surrounding life in the pesantren which made the santri vulnerable to certain diseases. This referred to the life of the pesantren in the past in Java, which was mostly very humble in comparison to that of modern students studying in a more secular university. The santri in the pesantren did not think about worldly matters, such as health, since such matters were deemed unimportant in comparison to their Islamic study with their kiai.

The santri were usually housed in a dormitory of the pesantren. Until the 1960s, most of the pesantren in Java did not have electricity, being located in villages. The humbleness of the pesantren life was also expressed by the life style of its santri. There were some santri, for example, who came to the pesantren without sufficient money. Their families could not actually afford their education in the pesantren. Their attendance was determined by their eagerness to obtain Islamic knowledge. To support their living costs during their studies in the pesantren these santri worked on the kiai's land (cf. Fox and Dirjosanjoto,  1989)[12] or were employed by the kiai and his family as a khaddam (servant).

Although humbleness dominated the life of traditional pesantren, the education of the santri has not been simple. The lessons taught ranged from basic Arabic and its grammar to Islamic law, sufism, Qur'anic exegesis and theology, which needed much time to understand. In minor pesantren, the kiai would be the single teacher offering such lessons, but in a larger pesantren, such as the Pesantren Attahdhib in the southern part of Jombang, the kiai was assisted by some senior santri. Although the pesantren tradition does not acknowledge payments in regard to teaching activity, the senior santri recruited by their kiai do their best in such teaching. These senior santri also conduct tutorials, which are separate from formal lessons, or offer private tutorials for those who want expertise in a certain field. They therefore have particular students.

This is a picture of salaf (traditional) pesantren. I need to emphasise here that in such a pesantren only Islamic knowledge is taught. Apart from the fact that they changed their system of teaching by classifying it hierarchically so that the santri had to follow certain lessons at certain levels from the lower to the higher, the subjects taught in salaf pesantren  are the same. They focus on teaching Islamic subjects. A good example of this is the Pesantren Attahdhib [13] in southern Jombang. Here, the santri learn the subjects enthusiastically. I stress this enthusiasm since in the development of the pesantren it is becoming quite rare and is found among fewer and fewer santri.

Modern pesantren are different from traditional ones in many respects. The difference lies especially in their system of education. Not only are secular subjects taught in modern pesantren, due to the adoption of a modern system of education, but the aim of education itself also seems to have changed slightly. This change in the pattern of schooling among traditional santri seems to be widespread. It is easy to find examples of pesantren everywhere with this dualistic system. Only a few pesantren still persist in running their traditional system of learning. By traditional I mean those pesantren where only Islamic subjects are taught.

In Jombang almost all large pesantren have a semi-secular system of learning in addition to their traditional system. The Pesantren Tebuireng and the Pesantren Darul Ulum seem to be good examples of how traditional Islamic schooling has changed. Besides the pengajian system (religious instruction or teaching), where the santri learn Islamic topics, most of which are the works of traditional scholars such as Shafi‘i or Ghazali, these pesantren provide modern schooling, ‘Aliyah and SMA [14]. Such schooling is held during the day, while the pengajian is conducted at night.

This tendency has implications not only in terms of the objective of the pesantren as the centre of Islamic learning but also in terms of the motivation of the students coming to the pesantren. The idea of nyantri or mesantren, that is learning at the pesantren, has changed. People used to come to the pesantren to be educated in Islamic subjects. They did not consider whether or not their knowledge would be competitive in the job market. Their principal aim was to obtain the knowledge needed to uphold Islam. Such a motivation is rarely found among contemporary santri. Parents send their children to the pesantren for more pragmatic considerations. Students study at the pesantren because of the wishes of their parents, who hope their children can obtain some Islamic knowledge in addition to secular knowledge, their main objective. The parents prefer their children to be well versed in more secular disciplines, rather than to be knowledgable in Islam. At the same time, they hope the children will be socialised in Islamic norms and values[15] so that they are not too secularised.

This tendency is related to the general process of modernisation occurring in Indonesia. The introduction of modern values into Muslim life has brought about changes in regard to the importance of Islamic knowledge itself. In present day Jombang, people generally give more respect to those who graduate from a secular university and have expertise in a secular field rather than those who graduate from the pesantren, even those who become kiai. This situation has both affected the change in motivation of parents towards sending their children to the pesantren and influenced the internal condition of the pesantren itself. But what is more important in regard to the internal change of the pesantren is the change in motivation of the kiai's own family towards obtaining Islamic knowledge. Few sons of kiai now follow their father's foot steps in terms of their education. Instead, sons go to secular university, mastering secular knowledge. It is not uncommon for the kiai of a pesantren to cry because none of his sons will follow his foot steps in developing Islam through teaching in the pesantren. This situation has, in effect, made it difficult to maintain the continuity of leadership in some modern pesantren. Such a situation does not necessarily mean that there is a shortage of leaders. The possible stock for kiaiship is sufficient. There are a number of kiai candidates in any pesantren who are ready to assume its leadership. The problem is that very often the candidates do not come from the kiai's family. In addition, they are not educated in the pesantren, but in a more modern Islamic institution. I mean by this that the candidates have graduated from an Islamic tertiary education like an IAIN. Such graduates are commonly deemed to have insufficient knowledge of Islam. These different sources of Islamic knowledge also undermine the general kiai leadership.