About the Author(s)

Rudy Kurniawan symbol
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Brawijaya, Malang, Indonesia

Darsono Wisadirana symbol
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Brawijaya, Malang, Indonesia

Sanggar Kanto symbol
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Brawijaya, Malang, Indonesia

Siti Kholifah symbol
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Brawijaya, Malang, Indonesia

M. Chairul Basrun Umanailo Email symbol
Department of Agrotechnology, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Iqra Buru, Namlea, Indonesia


Kurniawan, R., Wisadirana, D., Kanto, S., Kholifah, S. & Umanailo, M.C.B., 2022, ‘The ulama of Palembang Sammaniyah order: Survival in the middle of the regime of power in the 20th century’, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 78(1), a7542. https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i1.7542

Original Research

The ulama of Palembang Sammaniyah order: Survival in the middle of the regime of power in the 20th century

Rudy Kurniawan, Darsono Wisadirana, Sanggar Kanto, Siti Kholifah, M. Chairul Basrun Umanailo

Received: 18 Mar. 2022; Accepted: 24 June 2022; Published: 15 Aug. 2022

Copyright: © 2022. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


During the Palembang Sultanate, the Sammaniyah order was the official religion of the Palembang palace. Sammaniyah tariqa scholars were also made officials and advisers to the sultan. This article aims to discuss the power relations of the Palembang Sammaniyah ulama in terms of continuity and change in the regime of power. From the 19th to the 20th centuries, the Sammaniyah tariqa lived and developed under five regimes of power, namely the Sultanate of Palembang Darussalam, the Dutch colonists, the Japanese invaders, the Old Order and New Order. Palembang Sammaniyah tarekat scholars who are considered conservative (kaum tuo) have to deal with modern scholars (kaum mudo) because of the khilafiyah problem. As a result, there was a great shift by the Sammaniyah ulama in maintaining and developing the Sammaniyah order in Palembang. Firstly, the shift occurred in the role and function of the ulama of the tarekat, changing from religious leaders who teach Islamic religious knowledge to multifunctional scholars in dealing with modernism by utilising public space. Secondly, the charismatic nature of the Sammaniyah tarekat ulama formed the authority of the ulama so that the ulama could play a role in sociopolitical affairs in each power regime. Thirdly, contemporary tarekat scholars and Sammaniyah tarekat scholars who are considered conservative scholars could compete with mudo people who were considered religious reformers. Besides, the ongoing Islamisation challenged the Sammaniyah tariqa scholars in maintaining and developing the Sammaniyah tariqa.

Contribution: This research will contribute to determining the relationship between power and the existence of scholars. The question that the article tries to explore is how the identity and existence of the ulama could survive every change of power in Palembang. This article will discuss the changes in power that have occurred in each period that caused a change in mindset and a shift in the identity of the ulama. This study discusses the power relations of the Palembang Sammaniyah ulama in changing regimes of power and finds the fact that power can affect the order.

Keywords: Sammaniyah order; power relations; continuity and change; power regime; Palembang.


The entry of modernity in Indonesia provides an opportunity for scholars to define broader Islam and also to give form to the ulama’s authority (De Azevedo 2019; Van Bruinessen 1994b). In the past, ulama merely participated as religious leaders who only taught spiritual knowledge – especially in traditional areas, namely in rural religious institutions – but now ulama can participate in various societal roles. Especially in the 18th century, the emergence of the Islamic reformist movement through the Wahabiyah movement strongly criticised traditional ulama – in this case, the ulama of the tarekat – who carried out Islamic teachings that were not following the Qur’an and the hadiths and strongly criticised the teachings of the tarekat,1 which were considered to exploit superstitious beliefs that are firmly rooted in ordinary society.

Modernity, which has engulfed the Islamic world with its positive and negative effects, is a challenge that tarekat scholars must face in the midst of its deterioration. Amid various fundamental changes because of the modernisation of the lives of Muslims, tarekat scholars are required to work extra hard to develop all their potential to complete the changes. As a socioreligious elite, scholars not only play the roles of religious figures that include spiritual roles, but scholars also act as educators and agents of change as well as acting as sociocultural figures involved in politics as participants, supporters and actors.

The advancement of modern science, followed by the development of modern technology and the use of print and electronic media, has made a real contribution to the emergence of public space. The public sphere gives everyone the freedom to speak and express their opinions in public. However, the emergence of public space gives rise to fragmentation of religious authority in Islam, where the ulama are only one group among many Muslims who can talk about Islam; as a result, the role of the ulama as the sole experts in contemporary Islam has ended (Esposito, Sonn & Voll 2016). The privatisation of religion as a product of capitalism makes individuals live the teachings of religion following their intellectual authority (El-Sharif 2022), because individuals are no longer interested in the frozen doctrines issued by religious institutions. The changes that occur because of modernisation and capitalism do not necessarily stop the ulama from fighting for Islam; they continue to fight and participate by using methods adopted and adapted from the modern world.

Geertz (2014), in his study of the religion of Javanese society, revealed that the tarekat (taught by the tarekat teachers) were only mystical societies that tended to be secret and were followed by elderly people. The atmosphere was overwhelmed by immunity, strength-testing and prolonged fasting, and the culprit was accustomed to turning his prayer beads for hours. This tarekat group, although not completely destroyed, has decreased in numbers since the rise of the modernisation stream, which has challenged it violently. Since Muslim countries accepted the influence of modernisation, the tarekat has declined since then (Priya 2021). Even in the middle of the 20th century, the tarekat had been paralysed because of constant attacks from the modern Muslim elite. This constellation of factors is also reinforced by the assumption that the spirituality at the core of Sufism and the tarekat does not fit with modernity, which continues to increase its momentum in almost all Muslim countries.

In contrast, DeWeese and Gross (2008) and Al-Kassimi (2021) explained that the tarekat is getting stronger in most of the Muslim world, as well as in the Muslim community where they have become a minority. At the end of the 20th century, Sufi tariqa traditions had special powers in situations containing a high degree of plurality of religious thought. Van Bruinessen (1994a) also agrees with this statement that although tarekat is a religious phenomenon that flourishes in rural areas, it persists and even spreads to cities.

The Sayyed Hossein Nasr survey conducted in 1990 concerning the development of tarekat in several countries revealed that in the last few decades, there was a significant increase in interest in the tarekat, especially among the educated people. The congregation experienced a revival in Muslim Syria, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and countries in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia. The awakening was related to the increase in the activities of the tarekat taught by Sufi scholars (Khokhlova 2022).

This article will examine the relationship of power between scholars of the Sammaniyah order and the power regime. Assuming that there is a difference in the discourse of each regime’s period of knowledge, the question is: does the power-playing in the discourse demand that scholars find various ways and efforts to confront and respond to the symptoms of modernisation? How is the relationship that the clerics built to face the discourse built by the knowledge regime on social, economic and political change?

Foucault’s concept of power has a different meaning from the concepts of power that characterise political perspectives from a Marxian or Weberian point of view. Power for Foucault is not understood in a relationship of ownership as property, acquisition or privilege that can be held by a small group of people and which can be threatened with extinction. Power is also not understood to ‘operate negatively through repressive actions or power’ (Lewis et al. 2022). Power is not a function of the domination of a class based on economic control or ideological manipulation (Marx), nor is it possessed by a charisma (Weber). Power is not viewed negatively but positively and productively. Power is not an institution or structure, not a power that can be possessed, but ‘power’ is a term used to describe complex strategic situations in a society. Power, according to Foucault, must be seen as diverse and scattered relations such as networks, which have a strategic scope.

In Indonesia, the foundation of Islamisation was the growing relations and consolidation between the power of the ulama, trade and power. The relationship process produced institutions such as palace institutions, markets and mosques. Although social institutions were in the hands of the aristocracy, this was to ensure political continuity and was not used as political hegemony. Relations between political groups, whether rulers, ulama or traders, were roles that could not be easily separated explicitly. Even Walisongo such as Sunan Kudus, Sunan Giri and Sunan Gunung Jati, in addition to playing the roles of ulama, were also big traders. The political process shows the descending nature of power rather than the ascending nature of power. That is, the political process in the descending of power only received the approval of the ulama and not the people. The main factor was that people viewed the ulama as their representatives in conveying their voices. Therefore, this political process only included the ruling group and the ulama. Meanwhile, groups of traders and farmers preferred to rely on scholars (Turner 2012).

Related to the power relations of the ulama with the power elite in Palembang, in addition to maintaining the status quo of the ulama, it was also a tool to facilitate the Islamisation brought by the ulama. The relationship between the authority of the ulama and the power elite in Palembang was considered a relationship that must be carried out. The two powers needed each other. The authority of the ulama aimed to develop and maintain Islamic teachings so that they were carried out in the midst of the ruling regime. The closeness of the ulama to the authority of the ruling regime would make it easier for the ulama to fight for Islam as an Indonesian identity. The scholars also tried to oppose the forms of rituals practised in society that were not in accordance with Islamic teachings, because they were considered heretical. Meanwhile, the ruling elite needed the ulama to support the policies issued by the kingdom through the religious fatwas of the ulama.

The occurrence of the power relations of the Sammaniyah ulama with the power elite in Palembang is associated with the differences in discourses that occurred in each period of knowledge regime in the 20th century. This situation required the ulama to make various ways and efforts to deal with and respond to any discourse that developed at that time to defend the teachings of Islam and the teachings of its tarekat.

The research design used to examine the power relations between the ulama and the power elite in Palembang included qualitative methods with a genealogical approach. Genealogy is a research design intended to examine not who has the power, but rather how the pattern of power takes place through discourse interactions (Abdullah 2021). According to William, the purpose of the genealogy method is to see how power becomes a regular construction of individuals through discourse and to try to examine the history of individuals today (Verdesio 2022).

Colonial politics towards the Sammaniyah

In 1821, the Dutch defeated the Sultanate of Palembang through a major expedition under Major General H.M. de Kock. This expedition was carried out because the Sultanate of Palembang had fought against Western imperialism since 1811. The battle continued for two weeks and was won by the Dutch. The Dutch succeeded in capturing the palace of Palembang and took Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin and other sultans as prisoners to Batavia. Badaruddin was called Keraton by Dutch troops in 1821, which not only had a political impact but also had substantial implications for the culture of the palace of Palembang. After the Dutch removed the Sultanate in 1824, it was replaced with a modern system of governance. The elimination of the Sultanate of Palembang was also impacted by Dutch policy on Islam in Palembang.

The Dutch government’s policy on dealing with Islam in Palembang is often referred to as political Islam. This term was used as the political strategy of the Dutch government conducted in three areas, namely (1) a strategy in the field of religion (worship), (2) a strategy in the field of politics and (3) a strategy in the field of the social community (Abdullah 2021). In the field of worship, the community was given the freedom to conduct its religion as long as it did not interfere with the government. In the social community, the government utilised customary measures that applied by encouraging the people to approach the Netherlands; and in the political field, governments were to prevent any effort that would bring the people to fanaticism and Pan-Islamism.

The development of the Sammaniyah in the 19th century could not be removed from the role of the pilgrims who had returned from Makkah and Medina and introduced new orders. They also brought the spirit of the mystical membership of the Sheikh or Mursyid. Through them, the organisation of the order became more developed into almost all corners of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula. Like the pilgrims, a significant increase in the order’s membership in this century is one of the characteristics of religious revival in Indonesia, especially in Palembang.

The resistance carried out by the Sanusiyah order of French colonialism was one form of fear of the Dutch government, which would be the rise of the movement of religious orders in Palembang. The spirit of Pan-Islamism that emerged and flourished in Palembang added concerns to the Dutch government’s movement of religious orders. The neutral stance carried out by the Dutch government in religious matters remained, but the leading religious practices that disrupted political stability could not be allowed. Kiayi and Hajj, who had positions as the leaders of the order, became a threat to the Dutch. The order was able to create excessive fanaticism in its members because it could increase the hatred of people against the pagan government in Dutch.

As the order was deemed to shake the Dutch authorities, the Dutch government did not hesitate and did not tolerate the movement of the order and the spirit of Pan-Islamism that interfered with the wheel of government. This fear became a threat to the Dutch government because the movement of the order led by Kiayi or Hajj could turn their followers into rebels. The Dutch government’s fear of the activities of the order movement could be seen when the Dutch faced a rebellion in Cianjur in 1885, the uprising in Cilegon in 1888 and the uprising in Garut in 1919.2 After the genesis of 1888 in Banten, the pilgrims and the congregants were brought up and exiled.3

The same also happened in Palembang. Previously, the Dutch government did not see Islam in Palembang as a threat, but after 1881, the capital of Palembang was regarded as the nest of crime, ‘hajj bigots’ and ‘Arabs’. Because of the city’s ‘fanatical spirit’, the colonial government regarded Palembang as a centre of resistance to the colonial state. This image change was mainly reflected in the attitude change to the Hadramaut community in Palembang. The arrest of Syarif Adbullah Assegaf was regarded as a testament to Alawiyin’s involvement in Pan-Islamist propaganda. Not all sayyids intervened. However, the idea of a secret network of Turks and Arabs involved in a holy war was embedded in the heads of the Dutch government (Miller 2022).

The Palembang community’s spirit of fanaticism impacted the policy issued by the Dutch government against Islam, which was then considered political Islam which could threaten its power. The policies issued by the Dutch rulers were based on information compiled from various sources. Unfortunately, these sources are not objective. The report on practice of worship was sometimes given based on verbal reports only. Sometimes, reports were also given to be saved for a specific purpose.

The Dutch colonial view of the order turned out differently, in Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje’s opinion. Snouck Hurgronje had defended his order, according to him, a pantheistic tariqa, because he did not see any orders as a political danger. Snouck Hurgronje further argued that the order did not smell political, even though the teachers of the order and its followers were removed from all worldly matters to not harm the government (Hurgronje 1994a). As long as the religious practice of the order did not lead to rebellion, the policy of the Dutch ruler on the order was equal to the policy on religion. The Dutch government did not intervene in the practice of the order as it developed, but it could also not release or leave the order without supervision.

To narrow the space of the political Islam movement, after the destruction of the Sultanate of Palembang, the Dutch colonial regime also removed the concept of Islamic-Malay politics in Palembang. This elimination aimed to banish Islam from public space. The Dutch rejected Islam as a religious system that could awaken the traditional system’s politics (Abbas & Ahmad 2021). This was the beginning of political secularisation, because the role of religious politics led by scholars was interrupted (Auer 2020).

Palembang in politics of Japan: Uncertainty for the scholars of tarekat Sammaniyah

Officially, Japan had governed Indonesia since 08 March 1942, when the supreme commander of the Dutch East Indies government surrendered unconditionally in Kalijati, Bandung. Previously, the Japanese army had entered the South Sumatra area on 14 February 1942 by passing the umbrella troops, amounting to 600–700 personnel, which resulted in the outbreak of war for two days, with a victory on the Japanese side after the Dutch surrendered. Starting from 16 February 1942, the official southern Sumatran people were under the rule of Japan (Bonnell 2020). Japan succeeded in occupying the Dutch East Indies to master natural resources, especially petroleum, in order to support the Japanese potential for war and to support its industry. Java was used as the centre. Japan, without meeting much resistance, successfully occupied Indonesia. The Indonesian people welcomed the arrival of the Japanese army with a feeling of delight and joy to think that Japan had freed the Indonesian nation from the bondage of Dutch colonial rule.

During the Dutch colonial government, the Dutch disliked the Muslims in the colony’s land. This situation was utilised by the Japanese when taking over the archipelago from the Dutch. Thus, from the beginning, the Japanese rulers had been more interested in approaching Islamic leaders than recruiting among traditional elites or nationalists. Japan considered that Kiayi, leading pesantren as a village community educator, could cooperate, and they hoped to make him their most effective propagandist; in return, Japan would provide a variety of facilities (Van Bruinessen 1994b).

To approach the leaders of the Islamic Movement in 1942 after landing in Indonesia, Japan formed the Shumubu (Office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs) at Ibukot. Then in August 1944, Japan opened its branches in all parts of Indonesia, called Shumuka – during the Dutch East Indies era known as the Office for Native Affairs – who executed the duties of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Justice and the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs (Dennison & Draege 2021). Japan aimed to gain Muslim sympathy in order to support it in the war against Western countries. To that end, Japan revived the Islamic Council of A’la Indonesia (MIAI), a federation of Islamic nongovernmental organisations established by KH. Mas Mansyur and colleagues in 1937 in Surabaya.

The Islamic Council of A’la Indonesia continued to evolve into a place of intellectual exchange and awareness-building for the people, so as not to get stuck in the Japanese policy trap solely to win the Greater East Asia War. In May 1943, MIAI succeeded in forming the Youth Assembly, chaired by Ir Sofwan, and also formed the Keputrian assembly, led by Siti Nurjanah. In 1943, MIAI was even allowed to publish its magazine, Soeara MIAI. The Islamic Council of A’la Indonesia also gained tremendous sympathy from Muslims. A critical activity of MIAI during this period was the effort to organise the temple to share zakat and charity (Van Bruinessen 1994b).

Seeing this, Japan became wary of the development of MIAI. The funds raised in the Baitulmal were channelled to the people rather than being handed over to Japan. The Islamic figures in the area had been supervised, and Japan had to hold training for the kyai for one month. From the proceeds of the training, the Japanese government concluded that the kyai did not harm Japan’s position in Indonesia. However, MIAI did not contribute to the Japanese War. The Islamic Council of A’la Indonesia was eventually dissolved in November 1943 and replaced by the Indonesian Muslim Syuro Assembly (Masyumi). Its main objective was ‘to strengthen the unity of all Muslim organisations’ and ‘to assist Dai Nippon in the interest of East Asia’ (Van Bruinessen 1994b).

The Old Order regime: A fresh breeze for scholars of Sammaniyah

The involvement of scholars in actual politics was another way of asserting their existence in postcolonial Indonesia. This political involvement in turn gave new possibilities to the Sammaniyah scholars to play a role beyond their traditional role as the leadership of pesantren or Nahdhatul Ulama (NU) in Palembang. Especially since the Dutch had removed the Sultanate of Palembang in 1824, Islam was no longer the official religion of the palace, and the scholars were removed from political life in Palembang. So it could be said that the journey made by the scholars of Tarekat Sammaniyah in maintaining its tarekah existence was not without severe consequences. This prolonged bitter experience was then to emerge in the early 20th century as colonial politics became open and with the prohibition against holding a gathering for a political trial following the opening of the Volksraad.4 In the Volksraad, there was an opportunity to discuss the problems of the state government (Gatarin 2021).

The merger of the Sammaniyah scholars with the Masjoemi Islamic Party was an attempt to establish a power relationship with the power elite that existed at that time. The victory of the Islamic Party on the results of the House of Palembang Parliament on 14 August 1946 by obtaining 13 seats (Gazdar, Grassa & Hassan 2021) was a success for the scholars of the Sammaniyah to defend their position in Palembang and Nusantara in general. The Masjoemi Islamic Party stood after the announcement of Government Information No. X on 02 November 1945 by Vice President Mohammad Hatta about establishing the party, as much as to welcome the elections to the members of the representatives’ bodies to be held in January 1946.5 The fresh winds given by the Old Order government to political Islam made the scholars participate in the politics of Indonesia.

New Order regime: Dutch colonial new politics

The threat to scholars who were considered a disturbance to power was not only made by the Dutch alone. During the 20th century, scholars were still considered a threat to the government in Indonesia. Political pressures that the Dutch colonial government had carried out were still applied. The clerical space of the scholars in conducting social, political and economic changes was driven in opposition to policies made by the legitimate government, so as to disrupt the stability of its government. The inclusion of scholars in politics was a step to fight for Islamic religious teachings by establishing a relationship of power through politics.

With the government of the New Order, Islamic politics exercised by scholars and Islamic figures was marginalised to neutralise the influence of Islam in the political realm. Islamic cultural influences were restrained, and the autonomy of the religious variants of the Abangan was increased as a political balancer. Consequently, the use of Islamic symbols in the state environment was eliminated. Political and cultural Javanese neo-classical and Sanskrit language use was being touted to replace Islamic symbols’ influence. The orientation of the Abangan was developed by the New Order leader, who recognised the spirituality as a religion of its own. To anticipate the extreme Islamic movements, the New Order government restricted Islamic political movements, as did the Dutch colonial government influenced by Snouck Hurgronje (Hurgronje (1994b). Snouck Hurgronje’s thoughts were adopted by the New Order government to support Islam in Gama fully but to muzzle Islam as a political doctrine to its roots. The situation that occurred since the time of the Sultanate of Palembang continued into the colonial period to date, requiring the clerics to perform power relations with the power elite in maintaining the export of Tariqa Sammaniyah in Palembang.

When the scholars of Tariqa Sammaniyah joined the NU by forming a Palembang branch in 1934, the scholars began to join the politics. The involvement of scholars in the political world was another way to assert their postcolonial existence. In turn, this political involvement could provide new possibilities to the scholars of the order to act as leaders in their traditional roles. Some scholars were given positions in the Islamic courts or in offices under the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, which held a position in the Department of Religion, had important implications, whereby the Ministry of Religious Affairs was a great source of patronage for the division of administrative offices, such as teachers, mosque officers and religious judges, who then made the minister appear as a protector for his constituents. The religious department was very strategic in promoting traditional Islam to Indonesian Muslims (Jannah 2019).

The discourse and practice of the Islamic community in Indonesia was strongly influenced by the scholars on how to interpret religion. The people of Muslim Indonesia considered the ulama (or kyai) as a person who had intelligence in the religious sciences, so the ulama was considered the most authoritative in interpreting religious areas. For the people of Palembang, scholars were a reference in religious matters and the social life of the community, including political issues. This was because the cleric or the kyai owned the charisma.

With their charisma, scholars had high spiritual qualities; they were mature intellectuals with strong moral integrity, and they devoted themselves to the interests of religion and society, so the clerics would serve the ordinary people in their offices without discriminating between social status and office. The charismatic authority possessed by the scholars had always been the focus of local and national political elites. Moreover, local politicians who wanted to earn a position in the Restu area of a kyai had become such a necessity that they never left. The military officials assigned in Palembang, either the commander of the Kodim, Commander Korem or Pangdam, always went first to Sowan to the scholars of the tariqa to ask for Restu. Among the universities, there was also high respect for the achievements of charismatic scholars, where the leading universities widely described the works of scholars in South Sumatera (Iswahyudi 2021).


The struggle for the national movement and the process of change that took place in Indonesia involved all components of Indonesian society, including the scholars of the Sammaniyah order. As religious elites, the ulama were also responsible for the struggle of the Indonesian national movement as proof that they loved their homeland and carried out religious orders in defending their country. The games of power used by the scholars of the Sammaniyah order were a strategy to create and build power relations with the power elites who were in the knowledge regime in the 20th century. Several previous studies have shown that the terror that haunted ulama, especially in Indonesia, in developing tarekat teachings was when the invaders entered and exercised control over the government of the Islamic kingdom. The Dutch colonial control was not only confined to the territory, but also to efforts to abolish the authority of the ulama in the kingdom. Seeing the political situation played by the Dutch, the tarekat ulama also fought against Dutch colonialism. The involvement of the Tarekat Sammaniyah in expelling the colonists was also revealed by Arifin, Asari and Drajat (2017), Jannah (2017), Ubaedillah (2017) and Ravico (2018), who noted that the involvement of the Tarekat Sammaniyah clerics in fighting the Dutch colonialists in Palembang indicated the political role played by the Tarekat Sammaniyah. Through the teachings of jihad fi sabilillah taught by Shaykh Abdul Shamad al-Palimbani, the Sammaniyah order had a great influence and an important role in the political efforts against the Dutch colonists.

The discourse that took place throughout the 20th century in Palembang made the scholars of the Sammaniyah tarekat make various efforts to maintain and preserve the Islamic traditions they taught. The charismatic authority possessed by the ulama brought them into the new elite in the power bureaucracy in Palembang.6 The closeness of the Kaum Tuo, in this case the tarekat clerics who became bureaucratic scholars, was actually one of the efforts made by the tarekat clerics in maintaining the teachings and traditions of Islam and the Sammaniyah order in Palembang. The appointment of tarekat clerics as government officials, namely as Hoofd Penghulu, khatib, religious landsraad and religious ministry officials, was one of the ways used by the ulama to gain legitimacy of power, religious authority and the status quo of their scholars through the power relations of the ulama with the power elite. The closeness of the ulama of the Sammaniyah tarekat to the authority of the regime of power would make it easier for the ulama to fight for their identity (Oktaviani, Maryuni & Putra 2022). The support given by the ulama to the policies issued by the regime of power was very much needed through the religious fatwas of the ulama. The authority of the ulama, who were supported by the authority of the regime of power, made the authority of the ulama more recognised and trusted by the public (Gumiandari & Nafi’a 2020). However, fatwa issued by the bureaucratic clerics or the clerics at the top was able to determine right from wrong, and fatwas issued by them were authoritative, free from practical political interests, so that they deserved to be followed or did not give rise to authoritarianism. Coercion to include religious authority into the frame of political authority could make religion a political shield for power on the one hand, because it made religion legitimise authoritarian actions on the other hand (Muvid & Kholis 2020).

The entry and development of reformist-modernist Islam brought by the Mudo was a threat to the traditional Islam developed by the Tuo. However, this threat urged traditional Islamic scholars to participate in reforms in the fields of education, economics and politics that were developing at that time. As an influential and dominant religious elite in Palembang, the tarekat ulama had an important role as ulama who had influence on the city’s Muslim community. The Islamic educational institution founded by the Tuo not only aimed to educate the Palembang Muslim community but also aimed to serve as a means to preserve their religious ideology based on ahl as-sunnah wa al-jamaah. The madrasas and Islamic schools founded by the Kaum Tuo were also a form of resistance to the presence of understanding brought and developed by the Kaum Mudo in the community through their reform movement.

The onslaught of Christianisation and secularisation brought in by the Dutch and Japanese colonists through the world of education in Palembang also did not escape the attention of the Palembang tarekat clerics, namely by establishing Islamic schools or madrasas and reforming the Islamic education system in Palembang. The presence of Islamic educational institutions established by traditional-reformist tarekat clerics was to stem the negative impact of the domination of Western educational systems and institutions that could affect their religion and the conversion of Muslims to Christianity through education. Through the reform of Islamic education developed by the Palembang scholars, it was part of the tarekat ulama’s efforts to defend the teachings of the Islamic tradition from the onslaught of Christianity and secularisation.

The political upheaval that occurred in Palembang also triggered traditional Islamic clerics to join the national movement with other national figures. Various efforts had been made by the ulama to fight for and defend the Indonesian nation through the authority they had by building their power relations with the power elite in each power regime, such as joining the NU organisation, the Council for Islamic Igama Considerations (MPII), the Sarekat Islam Party of Indonesia, Masyumi (which was included in the House of Representatives [DPR]) and the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly. Even the Sammaniyah clerics joined the Laskar Hezbollah, which participated in the struggle for Indonesian independence.

Tarekat clerics had an important role in strengthening the position of Islam in the state and society, as well as in the development of the wider community. Some of these roles included (1) as a forming factor and mode of state function, (2) as a guide for several ways of life for the community and economic development and (3) as a bulwark against European colonialism. Referring to this statement, it can be seen that the role of the tarekat ulama was more prominent in the field of politics. According to Sartono, although at first the tarekat was a religious revival movement, it gradually became a religious political force, and it even became the most effective tool for organising religious movements and indoctrinating the ideals of revival. They tried to protect the religiocultural identity of the Muslims in the face of the regime of power.

Therefore, the demands of modernity that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century made the tarekat ulama involved, and they attempted to revive the Islamic tradition and formulate it in accordance with the developments and demands of modernity. The formulation of traditional Islam by traditional ulama, at that time, could not be seen simply as a spontaneous reaction because it was not comprehensive to the development of reformist Islam. The efforts of the traditional ulama to revive the classical Islamic tradition in the midst of modernisation require the ulama to redefine Islam for Indonesian Muslims.


Each regime of power certainly has a different political situation. In that situation, the position of the scholars was at stake. A political arena is often an event for activities that are identical to gaining power alone – and often, the power is not shared with the people. When the clerics engage in politics and power, then not only is the image of a particular person or class of people enhanced, but also the image of religion (Islam). Ulama and kyai were at the forefront of the famous sightings in the community. The existence performed by the scholars of Sammaniyah Tariqa was an attempt by scholars to maintain Sammaniyah orders in Palembang. The availability of public spaces as a result of modernism was also a factor in the shifting roles and functioning of Islamic scholars from religious figures who teach the science of Islam to multifunctional scholars in the face of modernity. Through their charismatic authority, Sammaniyah scholars could play a role in sociopolitical affairs of every regime of power. Although still regarded as conservative scholars, Sammaniyah scholars can compete with reformers who are considered religious.


Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced them in writing this article.

Authors’ contributions

R.K. was responsible for planning and developing methods in studies and research entitled ‘Community structure and social actions in action of land conversion’. D.W. was responsible for collecting the data and conducting the interviews. S. Kanto contributed to the drafting of the article until the submission process. S. Kholifah contributed towards analysing the findings and drafting the article. M.C.B.U. provided input and participated in compiling and improving the article. All authors contributed and approved the final version of the article to be published.

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards for research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

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1. Tarekat or tariqat means road (way, path). The word ‘tariqat’ can also mean a language method, which is a special way to achieve goals. In terminology, the term ‘tariqat’ means the path that must be taken by a Sufi in getting closer to Allah SWT (Dhofier 1985:140). It is also used to refer to a method of moral psychology to guide someone to know God; see Aliade (1987).

2. To prevent the development of the Naqsadandiyah order more rapidly, after the event of Cianjur 1885, the decisive step taken by the Dutch government was to prevent and prohibit the population from entering the order. The Cilegon Uprising of 1888 was the most bloody event that occurred in the history of Islam in Indonesia, leading to the disposal of teachers and Muslims outside Java, conducted by the Dutch government. The practice of dhikr conducted by the teachers and followers of the Naqsabandiyah order in Garut in 1919 also became part of the fear of the Dutch diamond industry regarding the order movement (Suminto 1985).

3. Before the uprising in 1888, a Dutch government official named Holle had attempted to stem the order’s growth. For the help of Muhammad Musa and the abridged writings of Sayheed Usman, Holle criticised the order of Naqsabandiyah in the Priyangan region at that time (1885), which was growing rapidly and involving several indigenous officials. Holle feared that the existence of the order could interfere with the government, remembering those who participated in it demonstrated extraordinary fanaticism to a sheik (refer to Kartodirjo 1984).

4. The Volksraad was a kind of Indonesian parliament formed by the Dutch colonial government on 18 May 1918 through Governor-General Limburg Stirum in Jakarta.

5. This government information was not wasted by the Islamic ummah. Through an Islamic Ummah Congress on 07 November 1945 in Yogyakarta, an Islamic party with the name Masyumi was formed. The Masyumi that stood after independence was different from the Japanese era because it was founded by Ummat Islam himself.

6. The process of religious bureaucratisation that occurred in Palembang has divided Palembang clerics into two categories, namely the penghulu ulama or bureaucratic cleric and free cleric. Bureaucratic clerics are the holders of religious authority based on appointment by the power system, while ulema are free to gain religious authority because of public recognition. The scholars of the Sammaniyah order fall into these two categories of scholars. The differences in the schools of thought adopted by Palembang scholars, whom the Kaum Mudo called modernists or reformers and the Kaum Tuo called traditionalists or conservatives, have given birth to three models of thought adopted by Palembang scholars, namely traditional-cultural Islamic thought, modern reformist Islamic thought and Islamic thought. The three models of Islamic thought followed by the Palembang clerics were born as actions and reactions to social, economic and political developments and changes in Palembang. Traditional-cultural Islam pretends to transform Islam into different schools of thought, especially the Shafi’i school. Modern reformer Islam, apart from social, economic and political changes, is also because of a reaction to traditional-cultural Islamic movements, which purport to remove many Islamic practices that smell of heresy and superstition so that Muslims are not creative and obstinate. Meanwhile, traditional and reformist Islam was born as a reaction to the modern reformist Islamic movement (Van Bruinessen 1994a).


Crossref Citations

1. The impact of the Palembang war and Dutch colonial domination on socio-economic changes in Palembang in the XIX-XX century
Endang Rochmiatun, Maryam Maryam, Nispa Gusela
Cogent Arts & Humanities  vol: 10  issue: 1  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1080/23311983.2023.2188775