Hajj and Local Indonesian Pilgrimage

What is the social and religious importance of the hajj in Indonesia?

What are some of the distinctive characteristics of local forms of Muslim pilgrimage in Southeast Asia?

What is the social, political, and economic significance of these pilgrimages?

Participation in the hajj is ideally a universal Islamic experience. However, because of the enormous numbers of pilgrims coming from every corner of the globe, there is great diversity even within the unity of this religious ritual. Students will examine the Javanese Muslim participation in the hajj, as well as compare and contrast the hajj with the local Indonesian pilgrimage to Tembayat, in Java, identifying religious, social, political, and economic impact of the pilgrim experiences.

Students will be able to:

  • Identify the reasons for, and impact of religious pilgrimage on a local and global level, including religious, social, political, and economic elements.
  • Identify the key elements of the hajj, as a universal and personal experience of Muslim faith.
  • Identify the key elements of a local pilgrim experience in Southeast Asia, and compare these to the hajj.

Two to three class periods

The following supplemental reading on the hajj should be used along with the background essays, especially Religious Practices and Cultural Expression by Michael Laffan.

The hajj is the Fifth Pillar of Islam and therefore a requirement for all Muslims who are physically and financially able to undertake the journey. In addition to bringing together Muslims from around the world to participate and interact with each other, the hajj is also an occasion in which the great internal diversity is apparent among pilgrims. Nevertheless, all pilgrims perform
a prescribed set of rituals or devotions as part of the pilgrimage:

“The pilgrim enters the sanctuary of the Ka‘bah in Mecca in a state of ritual purity (ihram) clad in two plain white pieces of cloth, indicating the equality of all believers before Allah. The unity and universality of the community is reflected in the pilgrims’ gathering together from every corner of the globe. Over several days a number of acts are performed as part of the pilgrimage, most having been incorporated from similar pre-Islamic practices. These include the circumambulation
of the Ka‘bah, the sacred house originally built by the patriarch Abraham; the procession between the hills of Safa and Marwa, commemorating Hajar’s desperate search for water for her son; the stoning of three pillars where Ibrahim (Abraham) is said to have been tempted by the devil not to sacrifice his son; and a visit to the plain of Arafat, where the pilgrims stand in repentance before the spot where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have preached his farewell message of peace and harmony to all people. The pilgrimage concludes with the second of the major Muslim celebrations, the feast of the sacrifice (‘id al-adha), or the Great Feast. The sacrifice
of animals and the distribution of the meat to the poor are performed not only in Mecca but throughout the world wherever Muslims celebrate away from the holy city itself. The traditions are replete with details of the way the Prophet performed the rites at the various stages of the pilgrimage, details replicated in the compendia of legal rules of the different schools of law.”

From David Waines, An Introduction to Islam. Second Edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 92.

Muslims on the hajj come together from a wide variety of geographical locales. There have been revitalized awareness and interest in the hajj on the part of Indonesians over recent decades. Aside from the hajj, there also exist local traditions of pilgrimage such as the pilgrimage to Tembayat, a favorite practice for many Javanese Muslims. These practices have grown out of local traditions and out of local understandings of Islam. In the modern period, a number of Muslim reformists have launched strident critiques of such practices, which they deem to be un-Islamic.

Additional reading by R. Michael Feener, National University of Singapore

  1. Document Package, including: (one per student)
  1. Pilgrimage Response Grid (one per student)

  1. Begin by explaining to students the concept of pilgrimage as an experience common to many religious traditions, combining a quest for a blessing or some grace and involving a journey that could be physically, spiritually, and economically demanding. Pilgrimages may also be made to fulfill a promise, to plead for a favor such as a cure, or to seek a place imbued with the sacred. Ask students for examples of pilgrimages in their lives. Note literary connections such as the pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, historical connections to the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, or religious pilgrimages to locations associated with various world religions.
  2. Break students into groups of four to six. Present each student with a Document Packet and Pilgrimage Response Grid. Members of the group should work together to complete the Grid.
  3. As a class, have students share their responses. Consider the following questions:
  • What experiences are universal to all Muslims on a pilgrimage?
  • How does the experience of the hajj unite Muslims worldwide?
  • What kinds of experiences will likely be unique to an Indonesian Muslim at the annual hajj? What particular challenges did the cartoons suggest?
  • Why might an Indonesian Muslim choose to go on the pilgrimage to Tembayat?
  • What benefits and challenges would such a pilgrimage share with the experience of the hajj?

Students will be assessed on responses to the Pilgrimage Response Grids, participation in small group work, and the class discussion as they reflect on the goals and objectives of the lesson.

Contents of the learning packet may be amended for the class, or a group, as ability dictates. Using heterogeneous groupings will support English language learners and students with special needs.

Have students generate a Guide to a Muslim Pilgrimage, offering them the choice of focusing on
the hajj experience, or the ziarah to Tembayat. The booklet should contain a map, illustrations
or pictures, an explanation of the purpose of the pilgrimage, the major events that would take place, and the benefits of making such a pilgrimage.

  • Ask students to write an essay examining the way in which the Indonesian hajj and the Javanese pilgrimage to Tembayat involve religious, social, economic, and political aspects.
  • Research written narratives of other pilgrims’ hajj experiences and prepare a report.
  • Research and create a presentation describing the variations of female pilgrims’ hajj attire and their roots in diverse local traditions of Muslim societies. As a starting point, use this account by the Indonesian author A. A. Navis, from his Letters and Memories from the Hajj (Surat dan Kenangan Haji. Jakarta: Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 1996, pp. 40-41). (This selection was translated by Michael Feener and Anna Gade and was published in their
    Patterns of Islamization in Indonesia: A Curriculum Unit for Post-Secondary Level Educators. Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 1999, p. 49. Reprinted by permission of Cornell University Southeast Asia Program):

    “Looking at the women from various countries here on the hajj, one sees that each nation has its own style of dress. In general, they cover almost their entire body except for their faces. When they don their special pilgrim’s garb, the women cover their entire bodies except for their faces and the palms of their hands. However, even in this they do not
    all look the same. Some wear socks, and some do not. City girls, especially those from the chic Jakarta set, really pay attention to their looks. Their clothes are always something special, even when they are dressed as “humble” pilgrims. They wear special gloves that cover their wrists, while the palms of their hands are bare, and these gloves can be lacy.
    Young women from other countries, even Arabs, just wear simple clothes, which are not lacy or fancily decorated. Turkish or Iranian women wear creamcolored blouses with long sleeves, and they also wear a triangular scarf as a form-fitting head covering so that no hair can become exposed. Women from central Africa tend to wear colorful clothing.”

Photos illustrating the overwhelming throng of humanity in Mecca during the hajj available at several places on the internet:

UCLA’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies

The Guardian newspaper