The essays in this series deal with transregional linkages between the Middle East and Asia. As a whole, the series explores the "vectors" of religious transmission and the consequences of or implications of such interactions. More ...
The past decade has witnessed a steady increase in the numbers of Indonesians embarking on pilgrimage (ziyara) to the Hadramawt valley of the former South Yemen. Despite the considerable presence of the Hadrami diaspora in Indonesia, the idea of a pilgrimage to Hadramawt did not really exist among Indonesian Muslims of non-Hadrami descent until rather recently. Muslims with physical and financial means are obliged to embark on the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina at least once in their lifetime. Many pilgrims from the Indonesian archipelago have traditionally prolonged their stay in the two holy cities to acquire knowledge from eminent scholars in residence. In the early twentieth century, Cairo emerged as another destination for pious visitation, primarily for those continuing their education at the prestigious Islamic university of Al-Azhar, founded in the tenth century. Unlike these destinations, Hadramawt had never enticed Indonesian Muslims in spite of the considerable influence of Hadrami scholars (ulama) in Indonesia.
Pilgrimage to Hadramawt mainly revolves around the tombs of Ba Alawi saints and scholars scattered around the valley. The Ba Alawi, a group of Hadramis acknowledged as the direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (sayyid/sada), had long migrated to various places around the Indian Ocean where they disseminated their own Sufi tradition, the tariqa alawiyya. Central to this tariqa is the veneration of the Ba Alawi pious ancestors. For the Ba Alawi living abroad, travel to Hadramawt constitutes a diasporic return. Ba Alawi scholars, however, have also produced textual representations that frame such return journeys as a pilgrimage (ziyara). This framing allowed the repositioning of Hadramawt from being “a pure point of sayyidly origin to a diverse one of many families with different histories and other beginnings.” It opens up Hadramawt as a meaningful travel destination to those without blood relation, incorporating them into “a shared horizon of territory and time.”
In recent years, Hadramawt has become a rising pilgrimage destination not only for Indonesian Muslims, but also for other Muslims from regions where the Ba Alawi had played an important role in the transmission of Islamic knowledge, including substantial parts of Southeast Asia, the western coast of India, East Africa, and the Arabian Gulf. More recently, pilgrims from the United States, Australia, and Western Europe have begun to visit Hadramawt, albeit in much smaller numbers. In what follows, I will describe several developments in both Indonesia and Yemen that led to the recent rise and popularity of Indonesian pilgrimage to Hadramawt.
The Revival of Sufism in Post-unification Yemen
The unification of North and South Yemen in 1990 resulted in a relatively free political atmosphere in which different Islamic groups sought to secure an ideological niche for themselves amidst intense public contestations over the country’s future and religio-political identity. Despite the unification, people in most parts of the former South Yemen remained resentful of northerners. The political leaders of South Yemen continued to accuse the north-dominated government of pursuing a systematic economic marginalization of the south. Such grievances led to the civil war in 1994 between the northern and the southern armies, which ended with the victory of the north and the exile of the leading members of the South Yemeni—mostly Hadrami—leadership. Since then, the Yemeni state has remained suspicious of what it perceived as the secessionist tendency of Hadramawt, especially due to the fact that the region had historically established strong transnational links to the Indian Ocean world.
Prior to the unification, the government of North Yemen was actively supporting Salafi groups in their attempt to destabilize the socialist South. Ideologically and financially indebted to Saudi Arabia, many of these groups presented themselves as the bearer of pristine Islam and launched virulent diatribes against “traditionalist” scholars with Sufi orientations, including the Ba Alawi of Hadramawt. Following the unification, the Yemeni government began supporting Sufi religious establishments in order to balance out the Salafis. The government spent money rebuilding Sufi shrines and institutions in South Yemen that had been suppressed under the socialist regime. This led to the re-flowering of Sufism in the wadi (valley) Hadramawt. Within this context, a young Ba Alawi scholar, Habib Umar bin Hafidh (b. 1962) emerged as a fiery orator, defending the Ba Alawi as the bearer of authentic Islam, while reviving Sufism and Sufi shrines in Hadramawt.
In 1993, Habib Umar visited Indonesia to rekindle diasporic and intellectual connections between Ba Alawi living in Indonesia and their ancestral homeland. After spending a month in Indonesia he returned to Hadramawt with 40 young Indonesians (of both Hadrami and non-Hadrami descent) who were to be educated under his personal care. The 40 Indonesian students became the embryo of Habib Umar’s Dar al-Mustafa Academy, founded in 1996. Gradually, students from Yemen and other Arab countries, followed by Muslim converts from Western countries, began to flock to Dar al-Mustafa. More and more Indonesians studied at the academy, and in 1999 Habib Umar’s wife opened an adjoining school for women named Dar al-Zahra. After spending three to four years in Hadramawt, the Indonesian students would return to their homeland with a renewed proselytizing zeal. They began establishing majelis taklim (Islamic study groups), transmitting what they had learned to the wider public and paving the way for the revival of the Ba Alawi tradition in Indonesia. These students became the primary agents in reintroducing Hadramawt as a spiritually significant place for Indonesian Muslims.
Islamic Revival in Indonesia
Throughout Suharto’s New Order regime (1965-1998), organized political Islam was subjected to Indonesian state control designed to obstruct it from becoming an opposition to the regime. At the same time, the regime supported what it saw as more culturally and spiritually oriented forms of Islam. Such a stance induced a re-channeling of Muslim aspirations to different sectors of society. In the 1970s, Muslim youth and intellectuals began forming active groups among university students, calling fellow students to project Islamic cultural and educational activism. By the early 1990s, there emerged a more liberated atmosphere in which Indonesians began to feel more comfortable with public expressions of Islam.
One significant development was the resurgence of Sufism. There are three practical consequences of this development relevant to our present purpose. First is the proliferation of Sufi-oriented movements and study groups (majelis taklim). Among the elites in Jakarta, many flocked to the courses organized by Paramadina and the Tazkiya Sejati, two foundations offering a range of intensive classes on Sufism. Both groups targeted the wealthy elite of Jakarta, emphasizing the intellectual and ethical elements of Sufism. Another form of new Sufism was the Daarut Tauhid boarding school (pesantren) in Bandung, West Java, founded in 1987 by Abdullah Gymnastiar (Aa Gym). Addressing ethical and psychological problems, Gymnastiar drew his ideas from the classical Sufi texts as well as from the global genre of contemporary “self-help” and “successful management” books. The new forms of Sufism enjoyed unprecedented popularity across society, mediated especially by Islamic programs on television. Communal dhikr (ritual chanting) associated with Sufism became popular throughout Indonesia. The participation in these rituals of prominent businesspeople as well as celebrities increased steadily. Such gatherings were also held to support political events linked to the regime. It was precisely within this context that the Indonesian students who had been educated in Hadramawt propitiously returned to Indonesia. They thus assumed an active role in the revival of Sufism by creating new study groups in which they introduced the spiritual significance of Hadramawt to the Indonesian public.
The second development took place outside the urban context, where pilgrimage to saintly graves rose considerably. Annual pilgrimage to the tombs of the wali songo—the nine saints of Java believed to be the earliest Muslim missionaries in Java—increased from less than 500,000 to more than 3,500,000 between 1988 and 2005. The government created the material infrastructure for the rise of pilgrimage’s popularity, including enlarging and paving the roads while refurbishing pilgrimage sites. The rising popularity of pilgrimage even compelled the Ministry of Tourism to develop a new brand of tourism: wisata religi (religious tourism). The ministry led the restructuring of the pilgrimage economy, instructing site caretakers on how to properly manage infrastructure and finances and how to devise pilgrimage tour packages. The phenomenon of Indonesian pilgrimage to Hadramawt therefore should be regarded as an extension of the growing domestic pilgrimage to saintly shrines.
The third consequence of this development is the popularity of new Islamic media. Following the end of the New Order regime, the government reviewed the press regulations under which the Ministry of Information could revoke a publication’s permit (SIUPP). The streamlining of the SIUPP generated numerous new publications. During the first six months of President Habibie’s government alone, 500 new permits were issued. Several Islamic magazines emerged, most notably Sabili, a Salafi-oriented publication with a circulation of around 100,000. This new trend drove the Ba Alawi entrepreneur Harun Musawa to found the al-Kisah magazine in 2003. Al-Kisah became a popular magazine, catering especially to Indonesian Muslims with a Sufi orientation. The magazine focuses on profiles of Ba Alawi saints and scholars both from Indonesia and Hadramawt, on reports and agendas of study groups run by the Indonesian graduates of Hadramawt, and on spiritual, legal, dream, and theological consultations. Refraining from political issues, al-Kisah’s priority is on the Ba Alawi and their Sufi tradition. Al-Kisah’s circulation ranges from 60,000-90,000 per edition. Together with the influx of returning students from Hadramawt and the growth of domestic pilgrimage practice, magazines like al-Kisah have played an important role in reintroducing Hadramawt as a spiritually significant place for Indonesian Muslims.
The popularity of the Indonesian pilgrimage trip to Hadramawt intersected with two industries that experienced a considerable boom in 1990s Indonesia: pilgrimage to Mecca and domestic workers’ migration to the Middle East, both of which generated unprecedented movement of people between Indonesia and Arabia. Following President Suharto’s hajj in 1991, Indonesian pilgrims to Mecca reached record numbers, with around 200,000 pilgrims annually during the hajj season, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all overseas pilgrims. Aside from the hajj, the performance of ‘umra—or minor pilgrimage that can be undertaken any time of the year—became increasingly popular among middle and upper class Indonesian Muslims. As a result, several Arabian airline companies including Emirates and Yemenia Airways began opening up direct routes between Jakarta and their respective capitals in the hope of seizing this lucrative market. By offering trips to Jeddah by way of Dubai or Sana, these airlines were able to provide considerably cheaper fares compared to the direct Jakarta-Jeddah flights managed by Saudia and Garuda Indonesia Airlines. Such larger developments provided Indonesian travel bureaus with the initial opportunity to assemble a pilgrimage package to Hadramawt. Using Yemenia Airways as their preferred carriers, the travel bureaus are able to offer a full pilgrimage package to the Hejaz and Hadramawt at a reasonable price.
Genealogy connects Indonesians of Hadrami descent to their ancestors in Hadramawt. Such a connection constitutes Hadramawt as a destination for diasporic returns, including those interpretively framed as pilgrimage. For Indonesians of non-Hadrami descent, however, such a connection is missing. Scholars and teachers—especially those who graduated from the seminaries of Hadramawt—who teach in informal study groups (majelis taklim) scattered around Indonesia constitute the linkages that mediate intellectual and spiritual connections between Indonesian Muslims and the Ba Alawi saintly ancestors buried in Hadramawt. Their role in introducing Hadramawt as a spiritually significant pilgrimage destination for Indonesian Muslims has been aided by the development of Islamic media, the growth of domestic pilgrimage, and the proliferation of travel bureaus organizing hajj and pilgrimage to Hadramawt. All of these developments led to the rise of Indonesian pilgrimage to Hadramawt, which in turn reproduces the exceptional status of the Ba Alawi and their Sufi tradition in contemporary Indonesia.
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 Ho, The Graves of Tarim, 222.
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 Knysh, “The Tariqa on a Landcruiser,” 399-414.
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 Robert B. Bianchi, Guests of God: Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 176.