RISING Women Ulama: Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir’s FULL SPEECH

16 March 2018 | By Zain Luke Ali

RISING Women Ulama: Women Leadership for Peace, Prosperity and Pluralism welcomes Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir – Founder of the Fahmina Foundation for gender, democracy and pluralism and General Secretary of the Alimat equality movement.

“My name is Faqih. I was born and raised in the pesantren tradition of Indonesia, which a traditional Islamic boarding school. From the age of seven, my studies were carried out in two systems of education: general education in the morning and religious education in the afternoon up till evening. From the age of thirteen to nineteen, I followed the pesantren education 24 hours a day in a very simple boarding school. Later, I was taught by a Muslim Sufi, Shaikh Ahmad Kaftaro, in a boarding school and, for my higher education, by an expert of Islamic jurisprudence, Shaikh Ramadan al-Buthy, at the University of Damascus in Syria.

My master’s degree was obtained at the International Islamic University Malaysia. Upon return to Indonesia, with my mentor at the pesantren, KH Husein Muhammad, who is known as Indonesia’s Feminist Ulama, I became engaged in Islamic activism for community empowerment and the promotion of tolerance, peace and, mainly, gender justice in the Muslim communities of Indonesia.

My personal and social life, faith, knowledge, behaviors and choices have been largely defined by the pesantren education system of Indonesia, Sufism and Fiqh of Syria, the thinking developed at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. They were further developed by my experiences of social activism within the lived realities of the community with my colleagues in the pesantren. According to the 2016 data from our Ministry of Religion, there are 29,200 pesantrens in Indonesia, educating 4,290,000 santris (students of pesantren). All pesantrens are private and many have not been recorded by the Ministry.

The pesantren is the oldest system of education in Indonesia. It existed before the western education system arrived in our country. People of the pesantren not only took part in the anti-colonial movement for independence, they have also been part of the shaping of our nation-state based on Pancasila, the shared values that brings us together across diverse religions, ethnicities, and languages in Indonesia. Of course, there has also been dynamics and resistance among the pesantren community which challenged the idea of our nation throughout the history of modern Indonesia. However, today, the pesantrens are the principal foundation of moderate Islam in Indonesia, an Islam that respects difference and promotes peace and tolerance.

As they are autonomous and private, the systems and curricula found in pesantrens are very diverse. In general, however, in all pesantrens, the students study the Qur’an, Hadits, Fiqh, Tafsir, Tasawuf, the Arab language, English, values of the nation, and life skills. These santris learn about self-reliance, equality, living frugally and simply. Particularly for the pesantrens affiliated with the Nahdlatul Ulama – the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia – they are very friendly and receptive of local cultures from the various ethnicities of Indonesia.

Because of such close ties with culture, the values of Islam, nation and gender justice are also found in some pesantrens, in the practices of social interaction and also in the form of songs. We use literature and the arts, such as poetry, music and song, to teach the values of Islam, to share the noble examples of the Prophet, and to engage with the ideals of our nation and humanity. For example, there is a song Hubbul Wathon about love of our motherland, and the Sholawat Musawah about gender justice. Among the pesantrens, there are also competitions, such as one on reading the Qur’an and Islamic teachings, and debates, including those conducted in English and Arabic, on the Constitution and current issues. The santris also have a football league.

The early 80s was the moment when the pesantren community began to become connected and engaged with civil society groups fighting against the hegemony of the Soeharto regime. Through these encounters, the pesantren community learned about social analysis, including gender analysis, and community empowerment. They became directly involved in community empowerment initiatives. Although the pesantrens are not free from patriarchal values and cultures, many from the pesantren community became the backbone of the women’s empowerment movement in Indonesia, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the activists. The pesantrens not only accepted women as santri, they also opened access for them to sit as managers, board members and teachers. Some women have even rose to become the main leader of the pesantren, taking responsibility over the whole education community and its participants, male and female.

On the basis of such values and culture, the Congress of Indonesian Women Ulama (or KUPI) was born and commenced at a pesantren in Cirebon, West Java, that is led by a woman ulama. This is the Pesantren Kebon Jambu Al-Islamy under the leadership of Nyai Hj. Masriyah Amva. This pesantren, with its 1200 santri – male and female – has opened its doors to diverse religious groups, activists, and even international visitors, and invited them to stay overnight with its santris. Cirebon was chosen as the site for the first KUPI because of its openness to diversity, on the one hand, and, on the other, because of the prevalence within the pesantren community there – among both female and male ulamas – who have worked tirelessly for women’s empowerment. It is in Cirebon that the Fahmina Foundation, in which the phenomenal feminst ulama KH Husein Muhammad is based, has carried out its work in this respect for 17-long years.

Nyai Masriyah Amva, as she herself defines it in her book, is a preacher of moderate Islam, pluralism and women’s empowerment. Currently, Pesantren Kebon Jambu has just opened a formal institute of higher education which receives support from the Government. There, women ulama will learn about gender justice and the principle of reciprocity in the relations between men and women. This promises to transform the hegemonic and authoritarian nature of relations to that based on partnership and collaboration.

This does not mean that Indonesia and its pesantrens are free of patriarchy. They are also not untouched by radicalism and intolerance. With the globalization of technology and information, and the free movement of people across nations, the pesantren community is also vulnerable to the infiltration of radicalist and terrorist ideologies. Sidney Jones has documented 40 pesantren which are connected to extremist networks, and about 200 that disseminate radical wahabi ideologies. The numbers are disheartening and may grow further if not addressed through state policy and through the cultural work of the community at large.

In general, however, there are still thousands of pesantrens that instill Islamic values and local cultures which challenge extremism, radicalism and terrorism. Indonesia’s Islam, with the strength of local cultures, has been integral to the success of development, democracy and social justice in the country. KUPI’s gathering in the pesantren has created a particular cultural and social momentum in this long journey of transformation towards peace and gender justice based on Islam. This momentum builds confidence that the transformation is both possible and inevitable. In full consciousness and true to my Muslim faith, I consider myself an integral part of this inevitable journey towards an Islam that enhances peace, tolerance, unity and social justice, particularly in the relation between men and women.”

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