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Everyday Islam in Eastern Indonesia: The case of Bima, Sumbawa

  September 22nd 2021

Muslim women in Bima wear Rimpu, a sarong folded over the head in a specific way
as to approximate a veil or hijab.

There are many ways of being Muslim in Indonesia, where more people practice Islam than anywhere else in the world. Hence, there is no single picture of Islam in the nation. Muslims from different regions and even different cities have unique religious identities constructed by their ritual, political, and cultural practices. Emerging from diverse contexts, the traditionalist and reformist divide in Indonesian Islam must be understood through the sociopolitical lens of its practitioners—whether royalty, clerics, or laity. Nevertheless, across much of the study on Indonesia during the New Order regime, Islam has often become inseparable from Java, linking the concept of cultural diversity to that of modernity. These links might be explored in local Islamic communities in certain areas in order to understand the history, development, and dynamic of Islam in Indonesia that is reflected within that specific local Islamic community.

Aligned with that, Prof. Muhammad Adlin Sila (lecturer at UIN Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta, and Head of Research and Development Center, Religious Community Guidance and Religious Services Agency for Research and Development and Education and Training at Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs) explores those links and undertakes a rich ethnographic study of Bimanese Muslims of Eastern Indonesia and what constitutes their Islamic identities and agencies. Sila’s analysis of the Muslims in the region of Bima shows that religious practice remains vigorous over such things as prayers, rituals, spirit possession, healings, and life-cycle rituals. Through its exploration of symbols, meanings, material cultures, power relations, the duality of the political setting, this research illuminates a wide range of debates between local politics and everyday Islam and between the traditionalists and the reformists in regards to local rituals. As Bimanese Muslims construct their Islam in response to their surroundings, what it means to be a Muslim is constantly being negotiated. The complexity of religious life has been a result of the duality of socio-political settings in Bima which stems from the early period of the Islamization of Bima to the present. This research by Sila has recently been published in book form by Leiden University Press entitled Being Muslim in Indonesia: Religiosity, Politics and Cultural Diversity in Bima. The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS) were honored to welcome Sila to the 15 September 2021 Wednesday Forum to share his research and a portion of his book as the inaugural presenter for this academic year.

In his presentation, Sila explained that the reason he chose Islam in Bima as the focus of his research is that the study of Islam in Bima is still limited. This research was conducted in 2011-2012 and the data was updated in 2018-2018 with a focus to understand the specificity of local inclusions and exclusions in regard to the everyday experience of being Muslim by investigating Muslim beliefs and practices. Furthermore, Sila explained the history of the coming of Islam in Bima was related to the roles of the Makassar Sultanate of Gowa in today's South Sulawesi and the Malay Islamic propagators in the spread of the Muslim faith in the 17th century. Following a series of military expeditions of the Makassar Sultanate of Gowa in the early 1600s, and the politics of intermarriage between the noblewomen of the Makassar Sultanate of Gowa and the lowly king of Bima, the king of Bima embraced Islam in 1640 and changed his name to Sultan Abdul Kahir. The Gowa Sultanate sent the Malay Islamic propagators Dato Dibandang and Dato Ditiro to further teach Sultan Abdul Kahir basic Islamic principles. Dato Dibandang and Dato Ditiro also introduced the writing of Malay script to the Bima sultanate (locally known as Bo). Sila argues that the process of adaptation/Integration of Islam into the Bima Sultanate was implemented by the coexistence of three assemblies during the reign of Sultan Abdul Khair Sirajuddin (1640-1682). Firstly, by the Majelis Tureli (administrative assembly) which is responsible for administrative affairs. Secondly, by the Majelis Hadat (or adat assembly) which is in charge of local tradition issues, and the third was by the Majelis Agama (religious assembly) which is responsible for mosque services, the Islamic ritual and calendar, and the application of Islamic law concerning marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Therefore to thank the Malays, Sultan Abdul Khair Sirajuddin (Sultan Bima II) granted a portion of land to their descendants (now Kampung Melayu).

In accordance with this, the traditional ceremony in the Islamic community in Bima is closely related to the history of the entry of Islam to the land of Bima and has become an annual ceremony. The Maulid ceremony (the commemoration o the Prophet Muhammad's birthday) which is conducted on the 12th of Rabi’ul Awal (the third month in the Islamic calendar) is also another target for Islamic reformers. The Maulid ceremony culminates in a procession in which the Qur'an, covered with a bunch of paper flowers, is carried on a large platform 'house' from Kampung Melayu which is located in Northwestern Bima to the Sultan's palace, commemorating the gift of Islamization. The ritual known as Hanta'Ua Pua is a distinct and traditional ceremony carried out in the month of Rabi'ul Awal that coincides with the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's Maulid. In the past, before the traditional ceremony Hanta’Ua Pua was carried on as the culmination of the Maulid ceremony, there were attractions of traditional cultural performance and recitation of Qur’anic verses for seven days and seven nights. Interestingly, Sila also found that Bima Muslims still perform the pre-Islamic practices, for instance, visiting Sando, shaman-herbalists known as mediators between the human and spirit worlds and providers of local remedies for the sick. This is related to the fact that Sumbawa Island was under the Majapahit Kingdom, the ancient Hindu kingdom in the pre-Islamic period. Bima and Sumbawa have Hindu-Javanese origins (Bima is a hero in the Mahabharata epics) and Shamba (the God Shiva) or in Sanskrit, Shambawa. Hence, according to Sila, Islam in Bima is accommodated to and integrated within the local cultural tradition.

Furthermore, regarding the uniqueness of the practice of everyday Islam in Bima, Sila also explores the issue of the veiling of Bimanese women called Rimpu or Rimpi. The Rimpu is a sarong folded over the head in a specific way as to approximate a veil or hijab. This is one of the ways local Muslims show their Islamic identities. Rimpu has become an identity marker of Muslim women in Bima. According to Sila, donning Rimpu for unmarried women is like cadar or Burqah, for married women, hijab. The wearing of Rimpu has begun to grow rapidly since the early periods of the Bima Sultanate in the 1600s in line with the demands of Islamic law implementations to cover the aurat (the genitalia and other parts of the women's body as required by the Islamic teachings). In everyday use, the Rimpu involves wearing two sarong (Bim: dua ndo'o) where one is used to cover the body and the legs from the feet up to the navel, while the other is to cover the upper body (from navel to head). In Bima today, particularly in the rural area and quite rarely found in urban areas, women must wear Rimpu sarong when going out of the house and it is a disgrace to the family if she leaves the house without Rimpu. In the past Rimpu sarong consists of two types: the first one is Rimpu Cili or Mpida, usually worn by young women who are still girls and unmarried to cover the entire body leaving only the eyes visible. Cili means stealthy, and only the eyelids are visible. The second one is Rimpu Colo or Enge, usually worn by a woman who has married and the whole face remains visible. The mothers shopping at markets and older women usually wear Rimpu Colo by dressing their hair in pigtails while the men wear katente (folding sarong at the waist).

Finally, Sila argues that Rimpu is a socially constructed Islamic Identity. The wearing of Rimpu has become a feature of Bima's identity. Sila quotes Geertz (1973: 142) who said that we can understand the social processes by looking at how symbols operate in a particular way. In the past, for the girls, the wearing of Rimpu offers advice to girls to protect themselves by dressing properly and neatly, symbolized in seven layers of cloth. When they reach puberty, they are advised to don Rimpu. Traditionally, every Bima woman must wear Rimpu sarong when she goes out of the house and it is a disgrace to the family if she leaves the house without it as mentioned above. But, this was only the case in the Sultanate era. Nowadays, more and more women do not care about this custom. In contemporary Bima, particularly in urban areas, the hijab (the tight veil made from cotton) and veil (an Arabic style of headscarf where only the eyes are exposed) are becoming more popular for Muslim women. Nonetheless, the Rimpu is still popular in the countryside, in places like Wawo, Monta, Parado, Sila. Nowadays, political elites have increasingly introduced Rimpu as Bima's traditional attire (pakaian adat) and are worn during special events like in the Bima anniversary celebration marking the time when Islam first came to Bima in the 17th century. Wearing Rimpu is seen as a rite of passage and as an important symbol for Bimanese Muslims because they provide one of the most immediately recognizable symbolic systems of identity that manifests itself particularly in different forms of material culture, which are regarded as the hallmarks of the Muslim kingdom of Bima. Wearing Rimpu is not that strict in its implementation as Sila met a number of girls choosing not to wear it until they were already married or had given birth to their first child. Circumcision is not only a 'ticket' for the children to submit themselves to ritual prayer but also becomes a justification for the parents to start training their children to undergo ritual prayer on a daily basis in participating in congregational prayers in a mosque. As for the circumcised girls, in particular, they start to learn how to protect their nakedness by wearing Rimpu and are obligated to wear Rimpu once they enter puberty.

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