Intriguing insights into the similarities between the intellectual and spiritual traditions of Indonesia and Malabar.

Islam is a universal religion. It has defined set of articles of faith and practice. There are broadly accepted forms of devotional practices and worship. However, Islam is also a local phenomenon. It has built subcultures wherever it has arrived. And Indonesia is no exception.

We have the Arabian Islam, the South Asian Islam, African and Western Islam. And by these prefixes, I mean the subcultures that Islam has nurtured among this people. Talking about Islamic subcultures around the world, we may even find striking similarities between some of them. Let us have a look at the subcultures Islam has produced in the islands of Java and Malabar.

I happened to visit certain Islands of Indonesia as part of the Cambridge Muslim College Java Heritage tour 2019 led by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad. During these travels I got an opportunity to discover lot many similarities between those in Malabar and in the places I visited in Java.

And when I later spoke to Dr. Bahauddeen Muhammed Nadwi, the vice chancellor of Darul Huda Islamic university (based in Kerala), he shared very interesting insights. The relationship between Javanese Islam and Malabar Islam extended to political, social and even family ties. Dr. bahauddin says that one of the wives of Mampuram Sayyid Alavi Mawladdaweela (the sufi saint and anti-colonial freedom activist) hailed from Timor region in Indonesia. He also says the Dars system (Masjid-based boarding Islamic seminary) which was widely prevalent till recently in Kerala is still popular in Java. moreover, both communities still follow the Shafi madhab (School of Jurisprudence).

You may have heard of Ponnani, the coastal city historically called Minor Makkah (located in the Malappuram district of Kerala) where traditional Islamic learning was it its zenith. One of the books of Sheikh Zainuddin Makhdum, the central icon of Ponnani’s intellectual legacy, is called Fathul Mueen, which was translated into Javanese language by one of his students from Indonesia.

Dr. Bahauddeen Muhammed Nadwi

There may be lot many similarities in dress and food between the two cultures. One of the most striking similarities I found out during the heritage tour was the Bedug musical instrument. This is aa barrel shaped drum which is suspended from the top and this is hit by the beater just before the adhan (to inform the worshippers). Dr Bahauddin says a very similar instrument was widely used across the Malabar called Nagaara. The (dars) students would compete with one another for beating the nagaara with the pair of beaters, called Nagaara-Kol.

‘Because of the competitive spirit to beat the Nagaara for the next adhaan, some of the students would hide a pair so that no one else could get an opportunity.’

It maybe difficult to a complete picture of the historic relationship between Bedug and Nagaara. however, we may safely assume that both these communities had their spiritual founding fathers coming from Hadramaut. The Ahl Bait saints, who traced their lineage back to the Holy Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam), exerted immense influence in the communities of Java and Malabar. And they continue to do so. If we were to give some extra attention to this comparative study between Java and Malabar, perhaps, we may discover even more interesting facts beyond the Bedug and Nagaara.

Thank you for watching.