“Pangeran, Sembahyang, and Langgar”: Language as Symbol System for “Cultural Diplomacy” among Islam and Javanese Society

Author: Mochammad Arief Wicaksono (Department of Anthropology, University of Indonesia)
Speaker: Mochammad Arief Wicaksono
Topic: General sociolinguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Islamic diaspora throughout the world has its own characteristics depends on cultural context characteristic in each region. Characteristics of the entry process and the rise of Islam in Java, Indonesia can be seen from the linguistic perspective. By focusing on the narratives of how Islam was constructed in Java by kiai, we will be able to understand that the pattern of the entry process and the rise of Islam in Java is through “language diplomacy”. There are various symbols which later became the symbol system in the Islamic languages that was contextualized to the Javanese language and knowledge system. In other words, I see that language in this context is a symbol system. These symbols are a strategy of how Islam is “planted” and developed in Java. I will compare the symbol system of the language in the Quran as the Great Tradition of Islam with a symbol system on the narratives that a kiai expressed in Javanese society as the Little Tradition: for example is a symbol system contained in the expression that spreading Islam in Java as “Planting crops in a distant land” or “Menanam di negeri yang jauh” which proves to have relevance with one verse in the Qur’an that also includes “crops” as a symbol system. Furthermore, the use of the word Pangeran, Sembahyang, and Langgar to replace God, Worship, and Mosque is a strategy of “invested Islam” in the context Javanese society that strongly influenced by Hinduism. By taking some cases and narratives that the kiai gave to the East Java muslim society, this paper argues that the linguistic aspect in some narratives (pengajian) which has the symbolic system of the language has an important role in planting and rising Islam in Java. This paper is based on ethnographic research-participant observation among Nahdlatul Ulama muslim society in Jombang, East Java, Indonesia and reviewing the Islamic narratives in society as an important unit of analysis.

Keywords: context, Great Tradition and Little Tradition, Javanese Islam, language as a symbol system, narratives