Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi in Indonesia


Ibnarabisociety’s Newsletter, 2001.
An article highlighting Ibn ‘Arabi both in an historical context and in Indonesia today. The editor of Ibnarabisociety Newsletter wishes to thank author for their extensive and interesting contributions. The first, an historical overview of the development of Ibn ‘Arabi’s teaching in Indonesia, was researched by Tri Wibowo BS 

Historical overview of Ibn ‘Arabi’s influence in Indonesia: Sufism first came to the Indonesian archipelago along with the spread of Islam brought to the region by Moslem traders. Sufism played a big role in spreading Islam among common Indonesians, who were and still are very fond of mysticism. The rulers of the Samudra Pasai and Perlak Kingdom in northern Sumatra (Aceh) started to embrace Islam and made the first Islamic kingdoms in Indonesia in the 13th century. Having their position on the gate of the Strait of Malacca, which was a busy trade route, the kingdoms had no difficulties in the further introduction of Islam and Sufism to the region and beyond to Java and Eastern Indonesia.

Tasawuf, which was developed in the early phase, could be categorized as a mysticism of infinity, and identical with wahdat al wujud as we are familiar with from Ibn ‘Arabi. According to one scholar, works of Sufis which became the most important were Insan al-Kamil (Al-Jilli), Futuhat al Makiyyah and Fusus al Hikam (Ibn ‘Arabi), and al-Tuhfa al-Mursala ila Ruh al-Nabi (Muhammad Ibn Fadlullah al Burhanpuri). In the middle of the 16th century the most prominent Sufis who taught the doctrine of wujuddiyyah were Sheikh Hamzah al Fansuri and his disciple, Shamsuddin Pasai. Sheikh Hamzah al-Fansuri, who was a leader of the Qadiriyyah brotherhood, played an important role in the spiritual life of the Aceh Kingdom until the end of the reign of Sultan Ala’uddin Ri’ayat Shah Sayyid al-Mukammil (1590-1604), whereas Shamsuddin Pasai began to gain influence in the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda. With the help of Sultan Iskandar Muda, the teaching of these two mystics spread beyond the island of Sumatra.

Sheikh Hamzah al-Fansuri was directly influenced by Bayazid, Al-Hallaj, Attar, Junayd al-Baghdadi, Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi, Shabistari, Iraqi and Jami’. He wrote many books and poems, but a large part of them have been lost. Among his works are Asrar Al-Arifin, Al Muntahi, Sharah Al-Asyiqin or Zinat al-Wahidin, etc. The Zinat al-Wahidin is the summary of the doctrine of wahdat al wujud from works of Ibn ‘Arabi, and also from Sadruddin al-Qunawy, Fakhrudin al-Iraqi and Abdul Karim al-Jilli. Hamzah Fansuri explained the ontology of wujudiyyah in his Zinat Al-

Wahidin. He also presented this doctrine in Malayan poems or sha’ir which, however, were difficult to understand without proper commentary. He very often quoted from Ibn ‘Arabi and Fakhrudin Iraqi, especially from the Fusus and ‘Divine Flash’ (Lama’at).

According to him, the first epiphany, ta’ayyun awwal, includes four aspects, namely: ‘ilm, wujud, shuhud and nur. Ta’ayyun awwal is like an ocean without shore, and when it reveals itself, it is called the wave – that is when God sees Himself as “the known,” and this is the second epiphany, ta’ayyun tsani, which is ma’lum, the object of knowledge, and called a’yan thabithah, or suwar al-‘ilmiyyah or haqiqat al-asyya or ruh idhafi. The third epiphany, ta’ayyun tsalist, is ruh, the spirit in man and creature. The forth and fifth epiphany, ta’ayyun khamis and rabi’, are the creation of the physics of the universe. All of this is inseparable from ‘ilm, wujud, shuhud and nur since without these God cannot reveal Himself. The Essence is reflected in the world and therefore the world is not other than He (la ghayruhu). But he immediately said that God alone is Real, and the world is illusory or non-existent (‘adam) since “verily all that exists is annihilated except His Face (wajhahu).” (Sura 28:88)

Hamzah Fansuri’s disciple Shamsuddin Pasai developed his work a little different from that of his master, since although he was influenced by Ibn ‘Arabi, he also took inspiration from works such as Tuhfah al Mursalah ila Ruhi an-Nabi by Ibn Fadhilah al Burhanpuri of India. The core of this teaching is that the universe, including man, was brought into existence by tajalli or the emanation of God: ahadiyyah, wahdah, wahidiyah, alam arwah, alam mitsal, alam ajsam and alam insan. Indeed, this teaching– which is called maratabat tujuh – is included in the ‘School of Unicity’, but its development is a little different and there is modification and influences from India because some Sufis in India, such as Sultan Akbar and Dara Sikuh, sought reconciliation with the Hindu doctrine and the Vedanta.

In the beginning of the 17th century a severe controversy arose in Aceh, provoked by Nurudin ar-Raniri, an ulema from Gujarat (India). It was between adepts of orthodox mysticism and those of the School of Unicity, who were following the teaching of Hamzah Fansuri and Shamsuddin Pasai. It was known as a controversy of a’yan thabithah, and was discussed by Ar-Raniri in his Bustan al-Salatin. The latter, in his book Hujjatul Shiddiq li Daf’i al-Zindiq, declared that the School of Unicity was aberrant (bid’ah) and he condemned its followers and declared them to be infidels (kafir). Since Ar-Raniri was supported by Sultan Iskandar Sani (1637-1641) – the successor of Sultan Iskandar Muda – the adepts of Hamzah Fansuri and Shamsuddin Pasai who refused to relinquish their beliefs of wujuddiyyah were arrested and sentenced to death. Many of Hamzah Fansuri’s and Shamsuddin Pasai’s works vanished, for their books were considered sources of aberration and burned in front of the Great Mosque ‘Banda Aceh’, Bait ar-Rahman. However, according to some scholars, this controversy actually was caused by Ar-Raniri’s political ambition to obtain great influence in the inner circle of the Kingdom and to defeat the ulemas who were his political enemy.

About 5 years later an accomplished ulema and Sufi, Abdurrauf Singkel, a leader of the Qaddariyyah and Shatariyah brotherhood, who was in charge of religious affairs as a kadi under the reign of Sultan Safiyatuddin (1645-1675) – the successor of Sultan Iskandar Sani – wrote some treatises as reaction against the above mentioned controversy with the aim of moderating its consequences. According to Schimmel, he was a veritable genius in his interpretation of tasawuf, especially as regards his explanation of the most difficult aspect of Sufism, namely the doctrine of wahdat al wujud. In his Tanbih al Masyi, the universe represents the emanation (fayd) of the Unique Being, but it differs from God Himself: the relation between the two is like that of an object with its shadow. An object is almost inseparable from its shadow, and yet they differ from each other. In this way, Abdurrauf maintains simultaneously both the principle of divine immanence (tashbih) and of transcendence (tanzih). He also did not agree with the views of Ar-Raniri, and did not condemn the adepts of Hamzah Fansuri or the School of Unicity.

Yusuf al Taj al Makasari, a friend of Abdurrauf Singkel, who had studied with him under the guidance of Ahmad Qushashi and Ibrahim al-Kurani, was another great Sufi in the archipelago who was also influenced by Ibn ‘Arabi. He was born in Makasar Sulawesi (eastern archipelago) in 1626, and at the age of 18 left for the Middle East via Banten and Aceh, in search of knowledge. Back in the archipelago, he settled down in the Kingdom of Banten, West Java, spread the tarekat qadiriyah and khalwatiyah and then became a very influential mufti under the rule of Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa. Sheikh Yusuf also supported the Sultan in the war against the Dutch colonial powers. Banten however was defeated and Sheikh Yusuf then was exiled to South Africa, where he is to this day regarded as the main founder of the South African Muslim Community.

In Banten he wrote some treatises and books in the field of Sufism in Arabic and Javanese. Some of his treatises explain and summarise the main teachings in the field of mysticism: the relationship between the Creator and the creature, the concept of insan kamil, invocations, etc. He explained the doctrine of a’yan thabitah in his risalah Gayat al-Ikhtisar wa Nihayat al-Intizar, and summarized the doctrine of wahdat al wujud in the Zubdat al-Asrar. The latter also contains explanations from one chapter of the Futuhat al-Makiyyah.

The doctrine of wahdat al wujud, which was developed by Hamzah Fansuri and Shamsuddin Pasai, was also absorbed into Javanese mysticism, such as Serat Centhini Serat Tuhfah, Wirid Hidayat Jati etc. It predominated in Java until the 19th century, because many rulers of the kingdom supported it. Later some Javanese mystical literature – but not all, of course –tended to pantheism, and the doctrine of Unicity as formulated by Hamzah Fansuri and Ibn ‘Arabi became modified and aberrant from its original sources

In Kalimantan island, the cosmology doctrine and wahdat al wujud of Ibn ‘Arabi adapted to local culture, and still survives until today. There are some Sufis who teach it, and the most popular book that explains wahdat al wujud is al-Durr al-Nafis by M. Nafis al-Banjari.

Even still in our times there are many theologians and scholars in Nusantara (Indonesia), who consider Ibn ‘Arabi’s teaching to be dangerous, and deviating from orthodox doctrine. They portray the sheikh as a dangerous heretic bent on undermining aqidah (the foundations of Islamic beliefs) and Islamic Society. For example, Buya Hamka, the great Indonesian ulema of

the 1970s and 1980s, said that Ibn ‘Arabi’s teaching was similar to pantheism. Other scholars, for example Ahmad Daudi, Simuh, and Harun Nasution, were suspicious of the monistic or pantheistic tendencies of his metaphysical teaching, and other scholars even said that Ibn ‘Arabi was not a “Muhyiddin” but a “Mahiyuddin” – the destroyer of the faith (Islam) since they fail to see the lack of contradiction between Ibn ‘Arabi’s wahdat al wujud and the teaching of the Qur’an and the Hadiths.

Nevertheless, all this is not surprising since a number of 13th – 16th century opponents of Ibn ‘Arabi, such as Ibn Taimiyyah, also have a strong influence in Indonesia. Unfortunately there are only a few studies of Ibn ‘Arabi made by Indonesians, and there are very few translations of his works and no translation into the Indonesian language of the most pre-eminent works of Ibn ‘Arabi, the Fusus and Futuhat.

However, there are also Ibn ‘Arabi’s advocates who praise him as the greatest saint, these being mainly Muslim traditionalist and members of Sufi brotherhoods and also some Indonesian scholars. Translation of books about and by Ibn ‘Arabi have been emerging in recent years, for example Sufis of Andalusia, and Mishkat al-anwar. The first book available in the Indonesian language which discusses and explains Ibn ‘Arabi’s doctrine in detail – and I would add that this is very useful and valuable – is Ibn ‘Arabi: Wahdataul Wujud dalam Perdebatan (Ibn ‘Arabi: The controversy of Wahdat al Wujud), by Kautzar Azahari Noer (the Society was given a copy of this book), published in 1995. The most recent publication is Michel Chodkiewicz’s Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the doctrine of Ibn ‘Arabi, which appeared in 1999. All of these pave the way for a better understanding of the works of the Sheikh al Akbar and his followers. In addition, I think, future research will be helped considerably if we can provide translation of books about and by Ibn ‘Arabi in the Indonesian language. So to translate his works as well as that of his followers constitutes the urgent task in this present time and I am confident that as progress is made along these lines, the studies of the Sheikh al Akbar’s works will flourish.

  • Tri Wibowo BS is an editor, translator, and writer. He is also a disciple of a Sufi Order in Indonesia. He translated Stephen Hirstenstein’s book, The Unlimited Mercifier: The Spiritual Life and Thought of Ibn ‘Arabi (1999), into Bahasa Indonesia (Dari Keragaman ke Kesatuan Wujud: Ajaran & Kehidupan Spiritual Syaikh al-Akbar  Ibn ‘Arabi, 2001). He has wrote books on Sufism, Gunung Makrifat (a novel) and Akulah Debu di Jalan al-Musthofa : Jejak-jejak Awliya Allah (book on sufism) |  — twitter @embahnyutz

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