The Rituals of Khataman Al Qur’an in Indonesia


[This is the seventeenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on approaching the Qur’an and Sunnah held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference later and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Session 17. Moderator: Aisha Musa
Paper Presentation by Ahmed Rafiq
“The Rituals of Khataman Al Qur’an in Indonesia”

I wanted to show the history of the cultural reception of the Qur’an. Qur’an is the primary guidance and the question is how to use it. Traditionally, we turn analysis of the text and grammar, which results in much commentary. An alternative is a practical, non-theoretical analysis, which may or may not correspond to the literal meaning of the text. The tradition of khataman al Qur’an in Indonesia reflects the fact that most Indonesians are not Arabic speakers.

I have three questions: The first is how do they perform the khataman in Indonesia? The second I borrow from Richard Bulliet in distinguishing the edge (like Indonesia) form the center (Mecca and Medina). Concepts are appropriated from the center and adapted to the edge, preserving the local culture. Third, how are the modes of perception in Indonesia affected by the Qur’an? I also consider the reception of the hadith as it affects the reception of the Qur’an.

Khataman al Qur’an means completion of the recitation of reading of the Qur’an. Children begin by reading what we call “the small Qur’an.” It is a tradition that when a man and woman get married they have to recite part of the Qur’an the night before the wedding. Tadarûsan is another version in which members of small groups teach each other proper recitation, doing two juz’ per night. The final night is the khataman and many people, even those not commonly attending masjid, will attend to observe and the women provide refreshments, traditional and non-traditional. Nonparticipating men sit in a circle around the participants, women in a corner, and children are everywhere. All recite the last three surahs together, followed by Fatiha, the first five verses of Surat-al-Baqarah and the verse of the throne, and some other recitations, concluding with “perfected is the word of your Lord in truth and justice … He is the Hearer, the Knower,” and al-Fatihah, followed by supplications.

To the non-Arab Indonesians the practice is both religious and cultural.  The hadith that there is a double award for those for whom the recitation of the Qur’an Is difficult is very popular with Indonesians. The order of recitation, with additional verses after the end of the consecutive text is significant that the reading of the Qur’an is not over with the completion of the reading.

Most attendees come for the benefits of the recitation of the Qur’an. The quality is not the source of the benefit, but the intention. Tûmpong is the spiritual reward of getting closer to God. The Javanese also love to participate because it is a cultural event. Whenever students wish to proceed from one level of school to another, they must finish the khataman.

Discussant: Mahmoud Ayoub

What interests me is that you have a methodology that you try to follow. A santri is usually a student of a religious school who is committed to follow the Sharia and the Abangan are not liberal or loose Muslims, but Muslims still influenced by the original culture. We are talking about practice, not inner piety. The third group are the religious leaders who have had some training in religion. Geertz analysis makes good academic sense. The Khataman refers not to the completion of the Qur’an, but to the celebration that follows the completion of the recitation. Tadarusan comes from the hadith  “No people get together to study the Qur’an but that a divine tranquility comes down upon them and angels crowd them and God mentions them in the heavenly assembly.”

Rafiq: Tadârusan is the recitation and khataman is the celebration.

Discussant: Khaleel Mohammad

I like the way you highlighted the incorporation of the pre-Islamic tompong into the Islamic tradition, I wish you had spent more time on it in the oral presentation.

Rafiq: That is from Hindu-Buddhism. They bring the philosophy of the mountain, where they get closer to God. It is an agricultural society. Vegetables are picked from their own farms. Picking and serving their products has a spiritual element, and a feeling of harmony with nature that unfortunately has been displaced by the commercial purchase of vegetables.

Imtiaz Yusuf: You have been caught in a trap set by the Orientalists. You are student of religion, but this analysis is all anthropological. You should also consider how Indonesian scholars see the issue.

Rafiq: I am an anthrolopologist by practice not by training and it has influenced my approach.

Louay Safi: What you have described is very orthodox and can be found in Syria, Turkey, Egypt, etc. and Javanese only in detail.

Rafiq: The orthodoxy is a means of avoiding charges of bid`a. The cultural broker has to keep the orthodoxy, but appropriates it to the local system.

Abubaker Al-ShingietI: Once you are aware of the limits of the anthropological method it is easier to use it and to supplement it with other methods taken from other disciplines. There is a universal cultural code in khatm-al-Qur’an, in the eating of food, the timing, etc. It symbolizes the universality of Islam, but the anthropological approach focuses on the particulars.

Rafiq: Ethnography for me is only a tool for collecting the data. The theory of edge and center is a social-historical theory. I agree with you on the universality, but my dissertation is only about Indonesia.

Ayoub: The study of religion has always been done by some discipline other than religion. That’s what differentiates the study of religion from theology. You choose a methodology in order to locate your study. Whatever else we say about Geertz, he gave Indonesian studies a very good place in the academy. Of course, khataman is universal, going back to the 3rd and 4th hijra century.  For Muslims there are two rites of passage: circumcision and khatm-al-Qur’an. Orthodoxy applies to aqîda (faith) not to practice, where we speak about orthopraxy.

Mohammad: You mentioned that at the death of a Muslim Indonesians have recitation of the Qur’an for seven days. In the Caribbean it is done for forty days, considered bid`a by some.

Ayoub: In Lebanon for three days.

Rafiq: In some cases recitation is for seven days, in others for 14, 25, 40, 100, or a 1000. In Java this number is influenced by the Hindu-Buddhist tradition. They preserve the number but they imbue it with an Islamic value.

Sami Catovic: What role does the mawlad-an-nabi (Prophet’s birthday) play? In some parts of the Muslim world the mawlid serves the cultural function you ascribe to the khatm.

Rafiq: Recently they do khataman for an hour during mawlid. For Rabbi al Awal they recite during the entire month. In Indonesia they mostly observe mawlid with the recitation of poetry.

Rafiq: Various local Javanese religions still survive. ID cards recognize only Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism; so many followers of the local religions will put “Islam” on their cards.

Ayoub: Khatm al Qur’an in the Middle East refers to completing the Qur’an, initial reading, or memorization, or in Ramadan (whether in Tarawîh or otherwise).

Safi: I feel that that the view that diversity of practice is threatening is a modern view. Lawrence Rosen [in The Anthropology of Justice: Law as Culture in Islamic Society] says the qadis in the courts Morocco enforce local values.

Ahmad: I love Rosen’s book. I understand his conclusions to reflect not a sacrifice of Islamic law to local law, but a reflection of the Islamic law being a framework for contractual law that will easily accept the customs of the local social contract.

Ahmad Kazemi Mousavi: Iranians are warming to Shabastari’s theory that the message of the Qur’an is divine, but the language is culturally Arabic.

Ayoub: This is because the Iranians don’t like the Arabs.

Safi: There are two types of anthropologists. One looks at their subjects as objects who cannot articulate their own culture, which is very orientalist. The other is Rosen’s approach where he listens to the subjects .

Ayoub: Urf is incorporated into Islamic law as long as it doesn’t violate explicit rules. Where linearity is through the mother rather than the father, the inheritance laws giving more to men than women becomes a point of discussion.

Ahmad: The element of not objectifying the subject is what distinguished the better scholar from the Orientalist.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow by Email