Indonesia's Female Ulama Want Public Recognition for Their Contributions

By Rahlina, Ina | Islamic Horizons, March/April 2018 | Go to article overview

Indonesia's Female Ulama Want Public Recognition for Their Contributions


Rahlina, Ina, Islamic Horizons


THE EXISTENCE OF INDONESIA'S female clerics is nothing new; however, their contributions are rarely mentioned when discussing the history of Islam's development in the country. Therefore, the Congress of Indonesian Women Ulama (Kongres Ulama Perempuan Indonesia; KUPI), held at Pesantren Kebon Jambu Al Islami Cirebon, West Java, during 2017 is considered a milestone in the national rise of female Muslim scholars and feminism.

Female clerics in Indonesia have existed along their male counterparts for several centuries. Traditionally, female scholars and preachers generally chose to speak in closed study rooms, where they would conduct da'wah sessions and recite the Quran, and teach the Quran in villages. But now they are going public and working to publicize their universal message and engender more interest in social issues, such as sexual violence, child marriage, education and environmental destruction.

Women are quite close to the problems of the ummah and are confronted daily by contextual issues such as sexual harassment, early marriage, poverty, drugs and other phenomena. Dr. Majdah M. Zain, Head of Nahdatul Ulama (NU) Muslimat Area South Sulawesi, Indonesia, revealed that female clerics and preachers are always at the forefront of these issues and thus make great efforts to remain up-to-date on what's going on in the social and other spheres.

As the country's largest Islamic organization (2016: 96 million members), NU allows both male and female clerics and preachers to instill the values of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah (Aswaja) in society. "The NU Muslimah is given a specific role so that she can help enlighten the lower levels, especially through the majlis taklim," said Majdah, who also served as Makassar Islamic University's rector and chairman of the Board of Trustees for South Sulawesi's Forum of Study and Love of the Quran. [Editor's Note: Literally "the place of teaching" for people who want to deepen their understanding of Islam so they can teach it to others. These unofficial and voluntary groups consist of small-scale neighborhood, community units and other local groupings interested in spreading Islam and increasing their members' knowledge of the Quran and other Islamic subjects.]

The NU has around 3,030 majlis taklims throughout the countryside of South Sulawesi. Every year Muslimat NU holds training and refresher seminars for dai'a cadres so that their awareness of the issues is always current.

Although the NU Regional Authority in South Sulawesi has given Muslimat NU a specific sphere in which they can practice, the existence of female clerics and preachers has not been very popular in the community, as can be seen in the mosques' refusal to invite them to conduct services during Ramadan. In South Sulawesi, the Great Mosque of Makassar (Masjid Raya) is recognized as being the first mosque to accept clerics and women preachers. Masjid Al Markas Al Islami Makassar followed its lead. According to Majdah, this is "perhaps because of the lack of information about preachers and female clerics."

LACK OF INFORMATION AND PUBLICATIONS

Dr. Firdaus Muhammad, a lecturer at Alauddin State Islamic University Makassar and chairman of the Da'wah Council of Indonesian Ulema Council of South Sulawesi, stated that the existence and role of these female clerics is not widely known due to the lack of documentation and publication about their role. "The clerical congress becomes the proof of the presence of female clerics," he remarked.

The Commision of Da'wah of the Indonesian Ulama Council South Sulawesi gave the same space to the female ulema and scholars in both South and West Sulawesi in its book "Anregurutta: Literasi Ulama Sulselbar." In the second volume, Firdaus identified several female scholars, among them Dra Hj Sitti Aminah, Prof. Rasydianah, Hj Marliyah Ahsan and Syarifah Mar'ah. He launched the first volume during the halaqah akbar and the declaration of students of East Indonesia in November 2017. …

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