Contextualizing Muslims’ Political Language (Part 1)

Written By Dinda Revolusi on Sabtu, 19 Februari 2011 | 18.59

Here, let me begin with the Sejarah Melayu. Although classified as belonging to a historical literature genre (Winstedt 1969: 158-62), this text is of great significance to the Islamic discourses of the precolonial archipelago. Considering both the period of its composition—at the time when Islam was already established as a social and political phenomenon (Braginsky 1993: 7-10) —and the nature of its contents which reveal a strong familiarity with Islamic terms, the Sejarah Melayu presents a clear account of the translation of Islam into the Malay society and culture. This text was deeply-seated in and significantly meaningful for the increasingly Islamized Malay circumstance (Errington 1975: 53; Day 1983: 141). Here, the Sejarah Melayu is therefore taken as the first Malay classical text to discuss.

“… Not from the breed of genies (jin) or fairies are we. We are descended from Raja Iskandar Dzulkarnaen” (Winstedt 1938: 56). This is a phrase from the Sejarah Melayu that deals with the genealogy of Malay rulers. It claims that they are descendants from Iskandar Dzulkarnaen, a famous Muslim ruler whom the text describes with great significance in the history of the world. He held political power from the West to the East; he conducted his rule on the basis of Islamic principles; he also made great contributions to the Islamization of each area in the world that he conquered. Iskandar’s story is narrated in Sejarah Melayu with such detail and significance that the first part of the text is regarded as the “Iskandar episode” (Ras 1968: 129).

The Sejarah Melayu is not the only text with the story of Iskandar. Almost all Malay classical texts, especially those belonging to the genre of court literature, report that the genealogy of Malay rulers goes back to Iskandar Dzulkarnaen.6 There even exists the specific story of Hikayat Iskandar Zulkarnaen (Winstedt 1969: 92-5).7 Here, what is of importance is that the Sejarah Melayu incorporates the story of Iskandar in an effort to provide the Malay rulers with a religion-based political legitimacy. In the Malay political tradition, genealogy is preserved as regalia of the rulers (Milner 1982: 83). The story of Iskandar enabled the rulers to build a heroic image, which was needed as a means of establishing the raja-centred political power within Islamized society. The story of Iskandar emphasizes the supernatural characteristics of the ruler. Therefore, the story functioned to invest the royal figure with religious authority (Renard 1993: 261-4).

In pre-colonial archipelago, the heroic image like the story of Iskandar in fact grew to be an important feature in the political and literary tradition (Winstedt 1969: 92-134). To mention but a few examples, the Hikayat Amir Hamzah and the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiyah emerged as counterparts of the story of Iskandar (Brakel 1975a). Both of these texts present the Muslim heroes with attributes that parallel those of Iskandar. Amir Hamzah is depicted as a wandering warrior long before the time of the Prophet Muhammad (Winstedt 1969: 96). The same is also true with the Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiyah. This story magnifies the martyrdom of Hasan and usain, the sons of the Caliph ‘Alī, in the battle of Karbala against the Umayyad Dynasty, in this case the ruler Yazīd ibn Abī Sufyān (Brakel 1975a: 1-6). In other words, the heroic story of Iskandar and those contained in the two texts mentioned provided the Malay rulers with a strong foundation for the establishment of Malay royalty and ultimately for political power.

Similar claims to royal ancestry were also established in Java. The Babad Tanah Jawi, one of the most important Javanese literature texts, set genealogy of the Javanese rulers to be the first part of its content. It begins with the Prophet Adam and his two sons, Sis and Sultan Kanyumarat. Sis succeeds his father as prophet, inheriting the prophethood of Adam, while Sultan Kanyumarat becomes the ruler of the realm of Kusniya Malebari, thus inheriting Adam’s kingship. The genealogy is then divided into two branches: the first one representing the prophetic line—mentioning the Prophet Muhammad, Fātima, and Husain as ancestors—and the second one representing the pre-Islamic Javanese royal line from the Hindu-Buddhist kings. These two lines then joined through the royal members of the Mataram kingdom.

In addition to the claim to genealogy, the raja-oriented politics was also expressed in a certain concept of politics that denotes the religion-based political authority of the ruler. The concept of daulat is a good example. Derived from the Arabic language, d-w-l, with the root meaning “to turn, to alternate”, the term daulat has evolved as an Islamic political concept to signify the power of a dynasty and ultimately a state (Lewis 1988: 35-36). In the Malay political tradition, the term daulat has also been employed to denote the power of the state, attaching local elements to the use of the term. Defined basically as “the divine elements in kingship” (Wilkinson 1932a: II, 261), daulat refers to the elements of politics which are supernatural in character. In consequence, daulat is associated with the sacred sovereignty of the ruler.

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