Chapter 6 Situated Prophethood: Reading the Sĕrat Ambiya in Nineteenth-Century Java

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Ronit Ricci
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This chapter investigates one of Java’s most popular yet little studied textual traditions, the Sĕrat Ambiya. These “Tales of the Prophets,” which appear in numerous manuscripts inscribed in palaces and villages, in poetry and prose and in various scripts, depict the lives of the many prophets of Islam leading up to Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets. The chapter examines two manuscripts produced in the mid-19th century Javanese pĕsantren milieu, focusing on scenes in which, I suggest, the life of an Ambiya figure echoes with that of a Javanese wali. Thus, for example, the episode of nabi Ibrahim constructing the first mosque in Mecca shares much with the well- known story of Sunan Kalijaga’s role in the erection of Java’s first mosque in Demak. Hence the chapter points to a “wali-Ambiya interface” through which two great Islamic traditions – those of the walis and nabis – were intertwined and mutually constituted in major Javano-Islamic pedagogical settings.

1 Introduction: Tales of the Prophets

The stories of the prophets’ lives form a central textual tradition of a global Islamic civilization. Told in many languages, genres, and places, they recount the deeds and sayings of the figures viewed as prophets in Islam, familiar from the Jewish and to a lesser degree Christian traditions. Many of these figures are not considered prophets by these latter religions but nonetheless are well known, including Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Jesus and others.1 In the Muslim tradition, the stories of the prophets inevitably lead up to the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad, considered the Seal of the Prophets after whom no further true prophets will appear in the world. The biography of Muhammad, from his birth and childhood to his early struggles, failures, and successes in convincing others to follow the path of Islam and his death, as well as stories of his companions and family members, are all typically included in, and form the closing section of, the cycle of tales.

The title qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (Ar. “Tales of the Prophets,” from nabī, pl. anbiyāʾ) was applied to a range of Islamic compositions written in Arabic as well as in Persian. The earliest Arabic versions date to the first or second century of the Islamic era.2 Regarding the tales’ arrival in the Indonesian archipelago some scholars are of the view that an Arabic book entitled ʿUmdat al-ansāb (“Pillar of the Genealogies”), a work written in Aceh but based on a sixteenth-century Persian text concerning the genealogy of the prophet Muhammad, constituted the authority on which the Javanese renditions are based but it is not known when the Javanese tradition first appeared.3 Versions of the tales are extant in several of the archipelago’s languages (above all in Malay, Madurese, Sundanese and Acehnese) and are known also from the repositories of colonial diasporas in Ceylon and South Africa.4

Be the precise transmission history as it may, in Java the Sĕrat (or Layang) Ambiya, sometimes spelled Anbiya (“Book of the Prophets”) corpus contains one of the largest number of different tellings within a single Javanese textual tradition and possess a very complex history.5 It has enjoyed great popularity, as the lives of the prophets serve as models for the believer and engagement with such texts was, and is, viewed as bearing rewards, e.g., producing merit that equals that of visiting the Kaʿba or going on pilgrimage to all the prophets’ graves. The manuscripts vary greatly in terms of their places of inscription, be it the central Javanese palaces, the Merapi-Merbabu scriptoria, the northern coast of Java (pasisiran), or the rural interior and Islamic boarding schools (pĕsantren); some are quite brief while others contain hundreds, if not thousands, of pages; they are written in prose and in poetic meters, in the Javanese, Balinese, Buda and pegon script and are inscribed on palm leaf and paper, with print versions appearing from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. As an example of their variability, Behrend in his Sonobudoyo Museum catalogue (1990) notes that the Museum possesses 30 Ambiya manuscripts of which no two are identical.6 Further complicating the picture is the fact that this corpus blends into others at the edges and overlaps to one degree or another with “branch texts” (which are also plentiful and diverse), like those focusing on a particular nabi (Sĕrat Yusup), a member of the Prophet’s family (Patimah Sami), or a particular biographical episode (Sĕrat Samud).7 In the Javanese Ambiya, which likely derive from Arabic and/or Persian sources but are also most likely linked to such tales in other languages of the archipelago, including most prominently Malay, the familiar stories often appear to be set in Java and present their themes through a local filter that teaches much both about Java at the time of compilation and writing, and about consistent elements at the core of the tales.

The Javanese Ambiya texts have been studied by several scholars who for the most part prepared synopses of different tellings, an important step in creating a basis for comparative study and a mapping of the larger corpus.8 What their studies reveal is that although tellings tend to be different, it is also the case that quite often two or more manuscripts will have entire sections that are the same (as expressed through identical tĕmbang macapat metrical sequences and corresponding initial lines of each canto), possibly pointing to a similar production context or a shared source.9 Information about the texts – their time and place of inscription, primarily – can also be gleaned, to some degree, from manuscript catalogues that map manuscript production across Java (Pigeaud 1967) or in particular sites (e.g., Florida 1993 on Karaton Surakarta; Saktimulya 2005 on Pura Pakualaman; Setyawati et al. 2002 on the Merapi-Merbabu Collection), and from digitized repositories (e.g., the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme).10 These volumes and websites bear witness to the popularity of the corpus and to its variability.

As Behrend noted in 1990,11 and this is still true 30 years on, research carried out to date on the Ambiya has been insufficient to allow an in-depth exploration of the corpus’ transmission history and its inter-textual and inter- corpora links.

The Ambiya corpus or textual tradition is central to Javanese Islam: to imagining and internalizing a “history of everything”: the creation of the world and the early history of humanity; major developments before, leading up to and throughout the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime; his legacy and the history of early Islam. If we explore these texts more closely, they present, in addition to these broad strokes of a particular history, also a model for moral behavior and attitudes in this life, a paradigm of how good Muslim men and women should act, the rituals they should carry out like the five daily prayers or fasting during Ramadan, and the acts they must avoid, like worshipping idols or doubting God’s omnipotence. At an even more detailed level – although of course linked to “correct behavior” and sometimes to transgressing it – the texts explore the most fundamental of human relationships, including those between husband and wife, parent and child, siblings, king and subjects, king and prophet, guru and disciple, elders and youth, foreigner and locals, friends and companions. Through these relationships the text also engages with a range of emotional responses and social contexts: episodes depict doubt, fear, anger, jealousy, passion, love, rivalry, courage, kindness, regret, remorse, hope, stubbornness, terror – offering a repository for thinking about what it means to be human in particular cultural contexts.12

2 The Ambiya and the Pĕsantren

The context I wish to explore further in this chapter is that of Ambiya production and consumption in Java’s pĕsantren milieu. Pĕsantren, nowadays known as “Islamic boarding schools” but possessing a long and under-studied history, were clearly important sites for the cultivation and transmission of Islamic knowledge in nineteenth-century Java.

I first became curious about the role of Ambiya stories in the pĕsantren when reading a manuscript, to be described below, which made me wonder how such stories were read, recited, taught and discussed at pĕsantren, or other, perhaps less formal, educational settings in nineteenth-century Java, and whether such manuscripts found a place among the more theological and legalistic curriculum offered to the students (J. santri). It also made me think about the ways the prophets’ tales could have been adapted to different circumstances, and how didactic and religious messages, as well as literary elements and folk motifs, could have found their way into the vast, often unruly, and highly popular corpus.

For example, considering popular practices and values like pilgrimage to holy graves, respect towards elders and belief in the supernatural, did these enter the text, and how? What was the relationship between practices, beliefs and attitudes, and these well-known stories? What do we know of the place of Ambiya tales in the nineteenth-century pĕsantren? Was there a space for storytelling more generally? When, how, and by whom were stories told?

Van Bruinessen (1994) discusses the development of pĕsantren on Java, suggesting that the first pĕsantren proper were not established before the eighteenth century. Prior to that, in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries, Islamic disciplines were taught at the mosque or court, and masters of mystical-magical sciences were based mainly in hermitages or near sacred graves.13 The pĕsantren in their later form may have developed in part out of these various locations.14 Van Bruinessen’s focus in his article is on the kitab kuning, the so-called “yellow books” in Arabic (with or without translation) studied in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century pĕsantren, which formed the core of the curriculum. Lists of such books are also known from van den Berg’s famous 1886 survey of works taught, and from elsewhere.15 The question of a possible “supplementary” educational element that included reading manuscripts in Javanese that focused on stories as a mode of enhancing an understanding of the Islamic tradition is not raised.

However, there are elements in pĕsantren life as described by van Bruinessen that clearly echo with core themes of the Ambiya corpus: the Prophet is highly venerated and the concept of an unbroken genealogical chain that goes back to him is central. Saints, whose intercession is invoked often, are also venerated and visits to their graves are an essential part of the annual ritual cycle.16 Islamic religious scholars and teachers (J. kyai) and saints (J. wali) are believed to retain spiritual powers and an ability to bestow blessings beyond the grave. The belief in wasila, spiritual mediation through one’s teacher to other teachers and saints, the Prophet and God, is strong. These beliefs in intercession to which death forms no barrier, are found, for example, in the biographies of nabi Daud (David) and nabi Yusuf (Joseph).

Thinking about the pĕsantren in nineteenth-century Java evokes the Sĕrat Cĕnthini, the remarkable and “encyclopediac” Javanese text discussed in the chapters by Florida and by Day in this volume, which depicts, among many other things, the wanderings of several santri across the Javanese social and geographical landscape.17 Pending an exhaustive search of the text, I am uncertain whether the titles Layang Ambiya or Sĕrat Ambiya are mentioned in the Cĕnthini but it is clear that the tales were told on various occasions. For example, in the Kamajaya edition of the Cĕnthini’s first volume, we find a scene stretching over two cantos in which Raden Jayĕngsari speaks of the lives of six prophets, followed by a discussion of Muhammad and his Law (J. sarengat). The six (J. kangjĕng nabi nĕnĕm) include Adam, Sis (Seth), Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Daud (David), Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus).18 The word “pĕsantren” does not appear in the Cĕnthini, but paguron (residence of a teacher) and padhepokan (camp, holy man’s settlement) do, highlighting the personal nature of study and discipleship that revolved around the relationship to a particular guru.19 For example, the text narrates how Seh Brahim taught at a paguron in the mountains of Karang,20 the same place van Bruinessen mentions as the site where Seh Bari is said to have taught doctrines propagated by the nine wali, the saintly men credited with bringing Islam to Java.21

This latter example brings me closer to the theme to which I will dedicate the rest of the chapter, what I wish to call a “wali-Ambiya interface.” In the absence of ethnographic studies of nineteenth-century pesantren life and a dearth of detailed historical records, the Ambiya texts offer inroads into the pĕsantren thought world and within it, I will suggest, to the ways in which two great Islamic traditions – those of the walis and prophets – were brought into dialogue with one another.22 Through an exploration of three particular Ambiya episodes I will consider how the biographies of the walis and nabis were linked in the pĕsantren Ambiya tradition, and propose that this process leaves behind dichotomies of “Arab” and “local” Islam, ancient and more recent, “authentic” and “syncretic,” and invites the reader or listener of the Ambiya to imagine these canonical figures as belonging to one and the same realm.

3 A “Wali-Ambiya Interface?”

There is textual evidence for links between walis and prophets in genealogical accounts that explicitly view the walis as descendants of the prophets as well as in accounts that relate the biographies of the prophets, then move on seamlessly to those of the walis on Java.23 These instances point to significant ties between the two groups, the earlier prophets being viewed as the biological ancestors of the walis or as their cultural and religious antecedents. Presently I wish to examine a different kind of link or overlap, one that is not sequential but rather involves the biographies themselves, which, as I demonstrate here, combine elements known from the lives of the walis with those of prophets. The recent case of former Indonesian President and Nahdlatul Ulama leader Abdurrahman Wahid (known as Gus Dur), viewed by many of his followers as the tenth wali who is also identified with nabi Kilir (Ar. al-Khiḍr), may provide a contemporary example of this phenomenon, the deeper history of which I wish to mine.24 However, although I set out thinking about the specific wali-prophet connection, I realized the tendency I highlight is not limited to prophets. Rather, it appears that elements from the walis’ biographies were entwined with those of important figures in the Ambiya tradition, be they a prophet, a king or a Companion (J. sahabat), thus blurring the lines between the well-known episodes of the nine walis (J. wali sanga) credited with introducing Islam to Java and propagating it there and the telling of earlier Islamic history.25 Therefore the term “wali-Ambiya interface” is more appropriate than “wali-nabi interface,” as it relates to links between the walis’ life narratives and those of a range of figures populating the Ambiya corpus. The links are never drawn explicitly. Rather, the biographical similarities, I suggest, create echoes that reverberate within the collective memory of Javanese Muslims listening to the tales. The Ambiya characters and the walis do not fully mesh with one another: they continue to exist, concurrently, in both separate and shared realms of piety, learning, personal conduct, and storytelling.

In this study I examine these recurring life-motifs as they appear in two Javanese manuscripts from the nineteenth-century pĕsantren milieu. The first is Layang Ambiya, MS. MSB L12 from the Museum Sonobudoyo collection in Yogyakarta. The manuscript was inscribed in 1772 AJ/1844 CE by kyai Ahmad Ngali. Like almost all nineteeth-century texts discussed in this volume it, too, was composed in tĕmbang macapat and it encompasses 71 cantos written across 560 pages in the pegon script. The manuscript is missing its conclusion. There are canto (J. pupuh) and stanza (J. pada or bait) markers in red, green, and gold throughout the manuscript and every division of the stanza (J. gatra) is marked with the Arabic letter ṭāʾ (ط). The manuscript contains many colorful illustrations that relate to the tales, portraying human, animal, and wayang-like figures (see figure 6.1).26

Figure 6.1
Figure 6.1

Nabi Nuh (Noah) and his three sons on the ark. Layang Ambiya, Museum Sonobudoyo, Yogyakarta, MS. MSB L12, f. 50v

Museum Sonobudoyo, Yogyakarta

The second manuscript, Cerito Ambiya, now digitized as part of the project “Digitizing Islamic manuscripts of Indonesian Pondok Pesantren,” is from the collection of Pesantren Langitan in Tuban.27 Its call number in the digital collection is EAP061/1/95. Like MSB L12, this manuscript too is written in pegon and composed in tĕmbang macapat. The two manuscripts, however, differ significantly in their physical form: MSB L12 includes an unusual array of illuminations and illustrations while EAP061/1/95 is much plainer, with a red frame on its opening page and red marks signaling the divisions between lines in each stanza and the stanza’s end (see figure 6.2). Cantos are marked with slightly larger letters than the rest of the text in black and red, accompanied by flowers or leaves drawn in red.

Figure 6.2
Figure 6.2

The opening page of Cerito Ambiya

British Library, London, EAP061/1/95,

Although due to these characteristics the two Ambiya seem very different to one skimming through them, in fact a detailed comparison of their tĕmbang sequence, initial canto lines, language style and content reveals that they are remarkably similar: of the 71 cantos in MSB L12, 59 correspond in terms of sequence and initial line with EAP061/1/95 and an additional canto, the first in both manuscripts, corresponds in its poetic meter, bringing the overlap to over 80%.28 In the following pages I examine three episodes that appear in both manuscripts.

4 A Tale of Two Mosques

The first example of a wali-Ambiya interface is found in MSB L12, canto 16: 9–14 and EAP061/1/95, canto 14: 8–13, both of which are composed in the dhandhanggula meter and present the story in an almost identical manner.29 After the episode of nearly sacrificing his son Ismaʾil to God and events in Sodom with Lot and the infidels, Ibrahim returns home and tells his sons Ismaʾil and Ishaq (Isaac) that he received three boons (J. anugĕrah) from God: the epithet “beloved of God” (Ar. khalīl allāh; J. mitĕra Yang Widi), a book (J. kitab), and a commandment to spread the faith. In light of the latter, he wishes to build a mosque in Mecca. As he goes about preparing for this task and gathering the necessary components, he finds that one pillar for the structure is missing. He searches for a big slab of stone but cannot find one. Then he meets a man who has such a slab in his possession, but the man refuses to give or even to sell it to Ibrahim. Ibrahim turns to God and following this plea, the man has a dream in which a very old man appears, telling him to quickly give the stone to Ibrahim lest he meet misfortune in this world and the next. If, on the other hand, he offers the stone to Ibrahim, he will be rewarded in both worlds and enter paradise. Here are a few lines from MSB L12 (canto 16: 12) depicting this moment, with the corresponding, and very similar lines from EAP061/1/95 (canto 14: 11) placed in the footnote, a practice I will follow also in subsequent quotes from the two manuscripts:30

The stone-owner wakes up, finds Ibrahim and tells him he is entrusting the stone to him for the building of the mosque. Nabi Ibrahim accepts it, expressing the hope that the man will be rewarded by God for his assistance. The Masjid al-Harām in Mecca is then erected, many come to pray there and are led by nabi Ibrahim as imam.31

This depiction recalls the story of the founding of the mosque in Demak, Java’s first Islamic kingdom situated on the north coast, in the fifteenth century. As the story goes, a day before the mosque was completed, one of the main four pillars was still missing. Sunan Kalijaga, most renowned of the nine walis, collected bits of wood and was able, through his deep meditation, to miraculously connect them together so that they became a large, heavy, stable pillar without which the mosque could not be completed.32

Nabi Ibrahim, in Mecca, is the progenitor of all Muslims, father of Ismaʾil from whose line the Prophet would be born. Both he and Sunan Kalijaga are major father figures: Ibrahim for the entire Muslim umma and Sunan Kalijaga for Javanese Muslims, and the two structures they erected were to be foundational mosques in different corners of the Muslim world. The mosques in Mecca and Demak are connected through this episode, as they are linked through additional stories, including the one about orienting them towards one another, and there are also stories of connections made more broadly between the Holy Cities and Java, as in reports of Sultan Agung’s weekly Friday visits to the Prophet’s mosque and the many handfuls of Mecca’s earth that he brought home in the seventeenth century to create the royal burial mound at Imogiri, depicted in the Nitik texts discussed by Bogaerts in her chapter. In this way, the analogous stories of Ibrahim and Kalijaga connect for the Ambiya audience not only the men’s biographies but also their proselytizing efforts, the two mosques, and Java with Arabia. The pillar, indispensable to the building of the mosque, is a central component that connects all the parts into a single whole and allows the mosque to stand, steady and constant, for many centuries, and to remain a focal point for the Muslim community. The solution to the missing pillars is obtained in a supernatural manner, pointing to divine intervention and guidance at the creation moment of the mosques and the new Muslim communities.

5 Signs of the Divine

The second wali-Ambiya interface example I present appears in MSB L12 canto 47: 1–10 and EAP061/1/95 canto 44: 1–10, both composed in megatruh and, as in the case discussed above, almost identical in their wording. Here we find the episode of the Israelites’ desire to be ruled by a king of their own. They turn to nabi Ismawil33 (Samuel) asking who shall rule over them and express the wish that it will be Ismawil himself, but he replies that the role will be filled by Thalut (the biblical Saul). The people (J. qaum) are appalled by the idea, claiming that Thalut is but a lowly, very poor tanner, and therefor unfit for kingship. Ismawil then retorts that he has been given a sign by God that will allow him to know who is the one destined to rule: the person who will be the first to see the Ark (J. pĕthi tabut). The people go quickly into the mountains and forests, searching, but Thalut is the one who encounters the Ark, which glows like the moon descending on a mountaintop. The Ark is brought before Ismawil who tells the people to open it. They all try to do so in turn, but none is able to open the pĕthi except for Thalut.34

Once it has been opened all those present see its contents: the royal regalia (J. upacaraning kapĕrabon) including (or consisting of) a garment. The people try it on but, once again, no one succeeds as it is too tight-fitting for all, until Thalut dons it and it fits perfectly, and he becomes king.35

Here we find the biography not of a prophet (as in the case of Ibrahim) but of a king linked to that of a wali, and once again that wali is Sunan Kalijaga. The story of the sign sent by God to indicate that Thalut is destined to be king echoes with that of Sunan Kalijaga as told in the Sĕrat Wali Sana, Babad Pajajaran and Babad Demak. These texts offer somewhat different tellings of the episode and I base myself here on a published 1914 Babad Demak which offers the most detail.36 After a long argument amongst the walis over the true kiblat (from A. qibla, orientation towards Mecca for prayer) and the reorienting of the mosques in Mecca and in Demak towards one another, the walis were having a discussion at the Demak mosque when they saw a parcel wrapped in sheepskin hanging from above. With his staff Sunan Bonang was able to pick at it and it dropped down. Upon opening the parcel two items were found inside the sheepskin: a letter and a beautiful vest (J. kotang). The letter was from God’s chosen Prophet, telling Sunan Kalijaga (here, as in the scenes discussed by Meyer in her chapter, referred to as Seh Mlaya) that Muhammad was rewarding him with his own garment (J. lorodan, an item handed down from one of higher status) known as Antakusuma, that he should wear in this world and the next, succeeding him, the Prophet (J. gĕnten ingsun).37 And further, the letter commanded, Sunan Kalijaga should make the sheepskin into a garment that will bring great benefits in the future, serving as the kingdom’s talisman and magically fulfilling wishes when donned, for all generations thereafter.

Sunan Bonang then tells Sunan Kalijaga to wear Antakusuma so that he can discern its true color. When he does so, the vest glows like a lightning bolt, and when the walis are asked to report on the nature of its color their views differed and there was no agreement. Finally, following Sunan Bonang’s instructions, the heavenly sheepskin is sewn into a garment and given the name Kyai Gondhil. In the section of the story that most recalls that of Thalut, the walis, one by one, attempt to wear the newly made garment: first is Sunan Bonang who finds it exceedingly tight, then Sunan Giri for whose build it was clearly inadequate, followed by Sunan Ngudung for whom, too, it was ill fitted. The other walis in turn hope to succeed, but to no avail. Kyai Gondhil was either too loose or too tight for all until Sunan Kalijaga donned it and it fit him perfectly.38 Sunan Bonang, understanding this “garment-test” as a sign from above, speaks:39

The analogy suggested here is between two figures, a wali and a king, who were chosen to lead in extraordinary and perhaps unlikely circumstances: Thalut, the poor man of humble background whom God determined would be the first king of Israel, and Seh Mlaya, the former robber, whom the Prophet appointed as his heir on earth on a tropical island far from the traditional centers of Islam. In both cases a sign was sent from the heavens to provide a concrete manifestation of the role bestowed upon these figures, and in both instances that initial sign (the appearance of the Ark, and of the bundle) was insufficient to persuade the doubtful. Thus the first sign was followed by a second, definitive test involving extraordinary garments: the royal heirloom (J. pusaka) for Thalut and the heavenly sheepskin-turned-garment for Kalijaga, with both seemingly custom-made for the predestined ones and ill-fitted for anyone else who donned them.40 Whereas the tale of the building of the mosque by Ibrahim and Sunan Kalijaga spoke to the importance of erecting a physical site of worship for emerging Muslim communities and to the mosque’s enduring centrality as a “pillar” of Muslim spiritual and ritual life, the Thalut and Kalijaga episodes emphasized for their audiences issues of lineage and legitimacy, political and religious leadership and the themes of divine tests, boons and approval. The next instance addresses a context that is more fraught than the previous two and shows how intricate the wali-Ambiya interface was.

6 Off with Your Head?

My third and final example appears in MSB L12 canto 65: 16–25 and EAP061/1/95 canto 61: 17–26, both composed in kinanthi and, once again, almost identical in their wording. In this episode the Prophet Muhammad emerges from the Thawr cave where he had taken refuge from the foes pursuing him and walks to Medina, flanked by his companions, and protected by a white cloud from above. Along the road and especially when he arrives at his home and later the mosque, many greet him and join his followers, accepting Islam and reciting the Qurʾan together. Then, in a manner similar to that described by Day as the poet’s “zooming in” on the masses in a Cĕnthini scene, the text shifts from the description of the large crowd to focus on a particular micro-scene within it, that of a dialogue between two men: the Prophet’s companion Shahid Jabar and the infidel king Raja Rajazi.41 The king turns to the companion and warns him, on pain of death, not to preach the faith to the multitudes as he believes following the Prophet is destroying the ways of old. Then, as if despite his harsh words there is some doubt in his heart, he asks Shahid Jabar who was the one who had advised him that Muhammad was indeed a prophet. Shahid Jabar replies that he learned from his scripture (J. kitab amba) that whoever follows Muhammad will enter paradise and whoever does not will be doomed to hell. He then offers to instruct the king, saying it would be a pity were the king not to gain a favorable afterlife. The king snarls at Shahid Jabar, then sings a song (J. gĕndhing) as the gamelan has gathered and its music plays soft and sweet (J. ngĕrangin). As Shahid Jabar hears the music his eyes fill with tears, and the king asks why he is so upset. Shahid explains the music is haram, forbidden by the Prophet. At this the king draws his sword and Shahid Jabar laughs. The king, bewildered, wonders why he is laughing, and strikes him down. Then:42

When the king strikes Shahid Jabar with his sword, his head rolls to the ground yet his mouth continues speaking as white blood of sweet fragrance appears, and he utters the Qurʾanic verse “wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah” (Sūrat al-Baqara 2: 115).43 The king is amazed, articulating out loud that which had just transpired before his eyes, stating that although he had killed many a person none were like Shahid Jabar, able to recite verses and attest to God’s all-pervading presence even when his head had been severed from his body.

This episode, appearing towards the end of the Ambiya manuscripts, recalls the trial and execution of Siti Jĕnar, the most controversial of Javanese walis, who was sentenced to death by the council of walis for teaching secret truths about the Unity of Being to the uninitiated. When Siti Jĕnar was struck by Sunan Kalijaga (or, in some tellings, by Sunan Kudus), as Shahid Jabar was struck by the king, his head too rolled to the ground but continued speaking and laughing, ridiculing the walis and their limited, rigid view of devotion and piety. There are multiple tellings of this widely known episode, in which the walis try to curb, once and for all, Siti Jĕnar’s propagation of esoteric knowledge that they viewed as a threat to the social and political order of the time and to their own authority. The story, which appears in, among others, Babad Demak, Sĕrat Wali Sana, Sĕrat Siti Jĕnar and Babad Jaka Tingkir often delves into Siti Jĕnar’s teachings and, in its depiction of his execution, includes details of the four-colored, fragrant blood flowing out then returning to his body, his severed head reconnecting to his body and his disappearance into the sky, leaving no trace.44 The walis, who are eager to be rid of him, watch in a mix of awe and apprehension as he refuses to die the way all humans do, defying the walis and their wishes even in what was supposed to be his final hour. In several tellings Siti Jĕnar’s spilled blood spells out the Arabic words “there is no God but Allah,” while his voice speaks to the assembled, proclaiming his truth. It is thus but a glimpse of this fuller scene that is referenced in the brief Shahid Jabar episode, yet due to its centrality within written and also oral Javanese traditions, even this ultra-abbreviated version – which highlights the laughter in the midst of grave danger, the fragrance spreading and the head rolling to the ground and attesting to God’s all-pervading presence – was likely enough to resonate powerfully and unmistakably for the pĕsantren audience of the Ambiya.

As in the examples above of building the mosques by Ibrahim and Sunan Kalijaga and the reception of divine favor by Thalut and, again, by Sunan Kalijaga, here too the context of the scene depicted is different from the one it evokes: the Shahid Jabar episode is set in Medina in the time of the Prophet and involves one of his lesser known companions and an infidel king, while Siti Jĕnar’s episode is set in Java and concerns a disagreement among the walis, Siti Jĕnar’s fellow Muslims and fellow leaders of Islam in Java. Yet both instances have at their core an exposition of the relationship between God and Man and both are profound, because the companion Shahid Jabar was revealing the truth of Islam and the presence of God everywhere to an infidel (J. kapir) king, while Siti Jĕnar was exposing a truth hidden from many, with the threat of death meaningless for both as they had attained a higher plane of being. The names of the protagonists – Shahid Jabar and Siti Jĕnar – are linked by identical initials and number of syllables as well as proximity in sound, with each embedded through language in its own context: the former in the Arab Middle East where Shahid Jabar bore witness to God’s oneness (i.e., as a shahīd), the latter in the earth, or land of Java (i.e., siti).

Both episodes depict a moment of ambivalence and struggle. The walis do not claim Siti Jĕnar is lying but fear the consequences of Truth reaching the wrong ears and the social and political implications of such misguided dissemination. The king’s words and deeds express an explicit conflict between old and new ways, as he feels compelled to question Shahid Jabar about following the Prophet yet tries to prevent him from spreading beliefs that will challenge the status quo. Shahid Jabar’s criticism of the gamelan music evokes a very harsh response in the king, reflecting his ambivalence as he is pulled in two opposing directions. In a way, this is what many wali tales are about: the process of accommodating an Islam brought from elsewhere to Javanese culture. And although in many a tale the encounter is depicted as agreeable, it must have been, in reality, a long and often rough process of push and pull, admiration and rejection. The Shahid Jabar scene offers a glimpse of the initial stages of Islamization, of anger, doubt, frustration, and a clinging to the familiar including, poignantly, to the heart-rending music that Shahid Jabar wishes to expunge.45 And while the king reacts violently upon hearing of the gamelan’s prohibition, he is also filled with wonder upon seeing Shahid Jabar’s response to his aggressive deed and he repeats the Arabic Qurʾanic quote he just heard flawlessly, word for word, as if reciting the profession of faith (Ar. shahāda). Rulers and religious leaders may have much to lose from change or from widening the circles of those with access to knowledge. The king worries about Muhammad’s new and competing form of leadership, while the walis are concerned about spreading a truth they recognize to many others, thus doubt and apprehension pervade these affect-filled scenes.

It is intriguing to explore the analogies that arise from juxtaposing the Ambiya and wali tales. In the example of the “pillar episode,” the mosques in Arabia and Java are compared, as are the prophet Ibrahim and Sunan Kalijaga, that is, a prophet and patriarch is likened to a wali. Through the “omen of leadership” scene, a future king, Thalut, and the wali Sunan Kalijaga are compared. But in the Shahid Jabar episode the infidel king who killed Shahid Jabar may be associated with the wali – in some tellings Sunan Kalijaga, in others Sunan Kudus – who struck Siti Jĕnar. Is the text suggesting the walis be viewed as infidels because of their unwillingness to share the Unity of Being with the masses of believers? Yet Shahid Jabar, the Prophet’s Companion, is also compared with a wali, i.e. Siti Jĕnar, possessor of Truth who evaded the other walis, depicted by tradition as somewhat narrow minded and stiff. In this instance the implicit comparison is not between wali and prophet or wali and king but between two walis, one of whom (Siti Jĕnar) is likened to the Prophet’s companion while another (Sunan Kudus or Kalijaga) is associated with an infidel king. The comparisons, however, should not be taken too literally. As is clear from the three examples presented, the comparisons shift from one tale to the next and point to different roles ascribed to the walis and different associations that were attached to them. Despite the fact that the links between walis and Ambiya figures are not made explicitly, the echoes created by biographical similarities and by the range of social and religious issues these tales evoke in the audiences’ minds, allows them to move in thought and imagination between the ancient world of the prophets and the more recent Javanese past, with the main goal, I suggest, being weaving two great traditions of Islamic history into one. This process leaves behind dichotomies of “Arab” and “local” Islam, ancient and more recent, “authentic” and “syncretic,” and invites the reader or listener of the Ambiya to imagine these canonical figures as belonging to one and the same realm.

7 Concluding Thoughts

This chapter asked whether the tales of the prophets were read, recited, taught, and discussed within Java’s pĕsantren milieu in the nineteenth century. And if the tales were indeed embraced in such settings, how were they then adapted to the world of practice and ethics inhabited by santri and kyai? Put differently, what was the relationship between practices, beliefs and attitudes, and these well-known stories?

One path to address such questions is by considering how practices and values popular in Java at the time found their way into the stories. As examples, we might examine the pilgrimage to holy graves, respect toward elders, and belief in the supernatural. Another example, the one highlighted here, concerns the wali-Ambiya interface: the relationship between the very popular stories depicting the lives and deeds of the wali sanga credited with bringing Islam to Java and the Ambiya tales. By considering this interface the chapter also wishes to begin exploring the role of storytelling within the wider curriculum of theological, legal, and grammatical texts studied at Java’s Islamic educational institutions.

Thinking comparatively about the Ambiya and the walis helps one see that although the prophets are ultimately the main figures in the Javanese Ambiya texts, and the narrative logic is one depicting a line of prophets leading up to Muhammad, there are many other characters populating the tales, some of whom were discussed throughout this chapter. No doubt plenty of the “non-nabi” characters can be defined as “minor,” as they may appear only briefly or with little detail, yet as Tony Day, following Woloch, convincingly shows in his chapter, minor characters exist as a category because despite what the term may initially suggest, they are strangely central to many texts.46 In the Ambiya, such characters’ links to the walis’ biographies prove precisely this point.

The three examples I discussed converge – at least if particular tellings are taken into account – on the same wali, and it is intriguing to consider how the biography of Sunan Kalijaga, no doubt the most prominent of the walis in most wali sanga accounts, overlaps with that of the Patriarch of Islam Ibrahim, with that of Thalut, the first Israelite king who was ultimately a tragic figure, and with Raja Razanji, the infidel king. However, the comparison is not meant to suggest that Sunan Kalijaga is the only wali whose deeds are linked with those of Ambiya characters. There are additional cases to be laid out, like that of the infant prophet Musa (Moses) being placed in a basket and cast upon the waters of the Nile and a very similar event during Sunan Giri’s early life, or the infatuation of older women, mother-figures, with both Yusuf and Sunan Giri when they were young men.47 The comparison’s goal is also not to map the wali tales perfectly unto those of the Ambiya or vice versa, but rather to point to the ways in which, through evoking their common biographical episodes within one of Java’s most popular literary traditions, a range of figures of the Ambiya tales and those of the walis seem to inhabit one and the same world. The texts suggest a certain interchangeability between the two categories of figures, one that fits with a broader phenomenon within Javanese literature in which characters, tropes and roles are often interchangeable across texts and genres, as found for example also in van der Molen’s discussion of the Ramayana and Panji tales, or Bogaerts’ analysis of the Sĕrat Nitik Sultan Agung, a tendency that has consistently shaped Javanese storyworlds.

The two Ambiya manuscripts from which my examples were drawn come from nineteenth-century pĕsantren educational settings. MSB L12 notes explicitly that it was composed for teaching and the many illustrations that adorn its pages bring the text to life in form and color, while EAP 061 is from Pesantren Langitan in Tuban, East Java. Reading and comparing additional Ambiya texts will contribute to a better understanding of the interface phenomenon and, more broadly, the place of Ambiya tales within pĕsantren life. However, for the time being, it seems clear that the two Ambiya manuscripts which I discussed do not form exceptions within the pĕsantren milieu. Thus, in his 2015 Leiden University dissertation on manuscript collections in East Javanese pĕsantren (to which MS. EAP061/1/95 belongs), Amiq mentions several Ambiya and states that “The Layang Ambiya seems to have been the most widely copied text in the area.”48 Important follow-up questions are whether the wali-Ambiya interface phenomenon is found only or predominantly in pĕsantren Ambiya manuscripts, i.e., representing a particular “Javanese Islam” for which wali veneration is central and that would have an interest in linking the walis to the prophets and other major Ambiya figures? Or is it of much broader occurrence? Is it found beyond Java, and if so, would this indicate a dissemination of the wali tales further afield?49

The texts discussed depict the lives of the prophets and other figures in ways that evoke the world of the wali tales. The associations made between the biographies and episodes formed one way of situating the prophets in Java and Javanese wali traditions within the Islamic Ambiya genre. The temporal question of who preceded whom and where the inspiration for the common motifs lay may not matter as much as the ways in which Ambiya figures of various strata and importance, and walis, merged or meshed in minds and imaginations. And even if, clearly, in strictly chronological terms the prophets’ tales are much older than those of the walis, I believe our thinking about directionality should not be clear cut: the Ambiya stories and their lessons are one of the pĕsantren’s foundations, and give meaning to life as Muslims, but the Ambiya texts also reinforce this importance by tying their stories to local saints and local practices, while all this unfolds (especially in the case of MSB L12) within the framework of a manuscript that was explicitly composed for instructing the young, for guiding and directing within a particular historical and cultural moment of pĕsantren life. Beyond the temporal question, the interface phenomenon could be viewed as one more form of the localization of Islam in Java; but in fact, the dichotomy of foreign and local is less valid here than the way the figures depicted in the Ambiya and their echoes or shadows in the wali tales mutually constitute one another. That is, the prophets and other Ambiya figures take on aspects of Javanese life and culture, including their links to the walis, yet they remain concurrently as foreign figures depicted as living in a distant time and place. The walis take on elements of the Ambiya world but, since they do not explicitly appear in the texts and their presence within the stories is fragmented, echo-like and situated in the imagination, they too traverse both spheres but remain first and foremost in Java, where their tombs are venerated and where their followers can continue to pray for their mediation. This mutual constitution or mutual dependency of the two groups of figures, both located at the core of a central stream of Javanese piety, signifies an ongoing, unresolved yet fruitful process of creating Javanese Islamic belonging.

The Ambiya textual tradition opens up additional paths for study and exploration. As is true for many of the texts discussed in this volume, the Ambiya too awaits a time when many more of its tellings will be read closely, analyzed, and compared, bringing to light not only their rich variations of content, style, and tone but also aspects of illumination, illustration, and script use, and of the social contexts in which the Ambiya were read as history, literature, and manuals of religious guidance. For now, just a few suggestions for further thought.

For scholars of literature, the Ambiya texts are a vast repository of traveling motifs that can be followed across time, religions, genres, and places. Thus, Siti Jĕnar’s defiant proclamation at his trial has been linked to that of the famous tenth-century Persian mystic al-Ḥallāj, while the trope of a baby cast upon the waters to be found and raised to become a great man is common to the Biblical story of Moses, the Javanese Menak Amir Hamzah and Sunan Giri, among others.50 The way such traveling motifs and tropes have been incorporated into the Ambiya points to their relevance in different contexts of the Islamic world and offers a window on the relationship between established religion and folklore.

Already mentioned was the way the Ambiya overlap with various “branch stories” that depict the life of a particular prophet or an episode of Muhammad’s life. Also intriguing are the Ambiya’s links to other Islamic and Javanese genres, central among them the maulid devotional texts that center on the Seal of the Prophets and are recited in commemoration of his birth and on other occasions, but that often mention briefly other prophets and their signature deeds and epithets. For example, when Aminah, the Prophet’s mother, speaks of her pregnancy, she recalls how several prophets came to her in her dreams, bringing her good tidings about her yet to be born child. In just a few words, or sometimes an epithet (i.e. Ibrahim as kalilullah, “beloved of God;” Musa as kalimullah, “the one God spoke to;” Isa as al-masih, “the messiah”), these prophets are introduced, as are additional figures, especially the women who came to assist her at the birth (i.e. Maryam, “Imran’s daughter;” Asiya, “Pharoah’s wife”).51 Such abbreviated tales, hints, or epithets of the prophets, appearing also in other Javano-Islamic genres, function like echo chambers in which a word, a deed, or a phrase conjure in the listener’s mind a story, a memory, a scene. Such hints would be especially meaningful to those familiar with the Ambiya texts, for whom even brief mentions would bring to life much longer and fuller narratives and associations.

Finally, thinking about the Ambiya, especially within a pĕsantren context, encourages us to seek a better understanding of the santri, kyai and pĕsantren world of nineteenth-century Java, despite or perhaps because of how different they were from those we have come to expect in the present. A persistence in the use of terminology – in this case of “pĕsantren” – often masks significant shifts, the study of which, along with the study of continuities, can be greatly enriched by the close reading of Javanese texts.


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Among the most popular of tales that bring to the fore Jewish traditions which have been adapted within Islam, rather than a strict image of the Jews, are the traditions known in Arabic as ḥadīth Isrāʾīliyyāt, or Judaica. In his early biography of the Prophet, Ibn Isḥāq (8th c.) drew extensively on this body of stories. One effect of their use by Ibn Isḥāq was to link his Sīra and the Qurʾan to previous scripture through these stories, fostering the claim that Islam was the heir to Judaism and Christianity. They include narratives regarded as historical, serving to complement the information provided in the scriptures, particularly regarding the prophets; edifying narratives placed within the chronological framework of “the period of the ancient Israelites”; and fables allegedly, and sometimes actually, borrowed from Jewish sources. On the Isrāʾīliyyāt see, for example, Newby 1989.


Milstein et al. 1999: 7; Schussman 1981.


Ricklefs 2016, accessed February 7, 2021.


For an example from colonial Ceylon, see Tales of the Prophets and Misc., accessed April 7, 2022.


Following A.K. Ramanujan (1991: 24–25), I prefer “tellings” to “versions,” the latter a term that implies the existence of an Ur-text.


These diverse Ambiya manuscripts are described in Behrend 1990: 206–20.


See, respectively, Arps 1990; Behrend 1990: 207; Ricci 2011.


For example, Brandes 1901: 76–89; Poerbatjaraka et al. 1950: 26–74.


Behrend (1990: 207) found an exception to this tendency in two manuscripts from the Central Javanese palaces which did not resemble any others.


Pigeaud 1967: 130–31; Florida 1993: 65–66, 193; Saktimulya 2005: 128–34; Setyawati et al. 2002: 115, 138, 157, 215.


Behrend 1990: 206.


For an additional perspective on the affective dimensions of Javanese literature see Arps’ contribution to this volume.


Van Bruinessen 1994: 11. For another discussion of early forms of Islamic learning and educational settings in the archipelago, see Laffan 2011: 26–27.


The inclusion of several Ambiya texts amongst the 16th–18th century Merapi-Merbabu manuscripts offers a tantalizing hint of such earlier sites of learning and textual production, suggesting that at least some Islamic tales were copied and read alongside the older Hindu-Buddhist texts and Old Javanese kakawin poems in these mountain scriptoria. For an introduction to the Merapi-Merbabu collection, see Setyawati et al. 2005: 1–6.


The first Dutch observations on the curriculum were documented in 1819, see van der Chijs 1864: 217; Van den Berg 1886.


Van Bruinessen 1994: 4.


I thank Tony Day for pointing me to several relevant references mentioned by Pigeaud in his discussion of the Cĕnthini (1933). These do not mention the title Sĕrat Ambiya with which we are familiar at present, but they indicate that the biographies of a range of Ambiya figures including, for example, the prophets Isa and Yusup and Raja Namrud, served as storytelling material.


Kamajaya 1985–1991, 1: 234–37. The six prophets are discussed in canto 65 (in Jurudemung, 230–34) and the Prophet Muhammad in canto 66 (in Maskumambang),, accessed September 15, 2021. Further research is needed to ascertain the place of the prophets’ stories within the Cĕnthini and to assess their relationship to the Ambiya tellings originating from pesantren and elsewhere.


A scene depicting devotion to two Javanese Islamic gurus by an exilic circle of disciples in colonial Ceylon is depicted in the Babad Giyanti, see Ricci 2019: 104–11.


Kamajaya 1985, canto 58: 20 (in dhandhanggula).


Van Bruinessen 1994: 10–11. In present day tellings of the walis’ lives, several of them, e.g., Sunan Giri and Sunan Drajat, are said to have founded pĕsantren of their own, while major figures in the history of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the movement whose members, across hundreds of pĕsantren, continue to endorse the wali traditions, are depicted as the direct heirs to the walis. Thus, the life and deeds of NU founder KH. Hasyim Asy’ari appear immediately after those of the nine walis and Siti Jĕnar (the latter is included amongst the walis but denounced as Shia), see Rahimsyah 1997: 224–62.


It is not my intention to claim that findings and insights presented here are uniquely tied to Ambiya composed and inscribed in the pĕsantren milieu. Making such a claim, if at all, will require in-depth study of palace (and other) Ambiya manuscripts and a careful comparison amongst tellings produced in different contexts.


See, for example the early 19th c. Punika sĕrat sĕjarah Rasulullah Muhammat (MS. BL IOL Jav 12, 218–38), which includes a genealogy (J. sĕjarah) that stretches from the Prophet via his daughter Patima and grandson Kusen and several others to Sunan Giri.


For an analysis of this phenomenon, see Quinn 2018.


In a tentative way, I would suggest this to be a gendered phenomenon. Both groups are male (and although there are also instances of female sainthood in Java, as I learned from George Quinn, and significant female figures appear in the Ambiya (e.g. Dewi Maryam, Dewi Aminah) we do not find the title “prophetess” bestowed on any of them). As far as I know, there are no female prophetesses in Islam and there is no feminine equivalent of nabī in Arabic.


The title appears as Sĕrat Ambiya in the catalogue but as Layang Ambiya in the manuscript (canto 1, stanza 13). For information about the manuscript, see Behrend 1990: 208–209. For a brief study of this manuscript and a selection of translated verses, see Ricci 2021.


“Digitizing Islamic Manuscripts of Indonesian Pondok Pesantren,” funded by the British Library’s Endangered Archive Programme (EAP061), comprises 315 items. See:, accessed September 2021.


The corresponding cantos are: L12 4–17 and EAP 2–15; L12 20–24 and EAP 19–23; L12 26–28 and EAP 24–26; L12 34–52 and EAP 31–49; L12 54–71 (end) and EAP 50–67.


I refrain here from mentioning differences between the two manuscripts as they are very minor.


Ana ngucap wong wus kaki2/ eh ki putu sela winehana/marang nabi Ibrahim age/yen sira nora suka/ tĕmah sira nĕmu bilahi/ing dungnya lan ing kerat/balik yen sira asung/masthi aleh ing suwarga/dungnya kerat kabĕcikan kang sira panggih/sapanglilirnya kesah//. I have followed Nancy Florida’s example of keeping the syllable count of the Javanese tĕmbang in the translation.


To date I have not come across a tradition about nabi Ibrahim lacking a pillar at the time he erected the Masjid al-Harām. The building of the mosque by Ibrahim is mentioned, albeit from a different perspective, in Meyer’s discussion of the Seh Mlaya in which nabi Kilir mentions Ibrahim’s old mosque to explain to Sunan Kalijaga that the real Mecca is not at the site of those old rocks but is an inner spiritual journey.


For a translation of this scene as it appears in the Babad Jaka Tingkir and for its analysis as part of the founding of the Demak Mosque episode, see Florida 1995: 162–64 and 319–32, respectively.


In EAP061/1/95 this prophet is called Ismaʾil (the name of Ibrahim’s son) but it is clearly referring to a different person.


There are many instances in the Layang Ambiya in which different boxes, containers and chests play an important role, but this is a topic for another study.


MSB L12 canto 47: 10. The corresponding verse in EAP061/1/95 is: Nulya denanggo busana ing para qaum/sadaya sĕsĕk pĕrsami/nulya dhatĕng Thalut/ busana nira raspati/lastari jumĕnĕng katong (canto 44: 10).

The story of Thalut becoming king is mentioned only briefly in the Qurʾan, in Sūrat al-Baqara 2: 247–51, where the Israelites resist the idea because they do not believe he is fit and the Ark appears (brought by an angel) as a divine sign that God has chosen Thalut as ruler, but none of the other details mentioned above appear there.


Babad Demak, canto 8: 3–17 in pangkur., accessed June 10, 2021.


This phrase seems to correspond to Arabic khalīfa: successor, ruler, leader, viceroy.


Like the box/treasure chest mentioned above, the “right fit” is also a popular folk motif across cultures, e.g., in the Goldilocks tale. This opens up the question of the embeddedness of such folk motifs in biblical and Qurʾanic stories.


Babad Demak, canto 8: 16.


Humor is culture and period-bound. I wonder if there is humor intended in the depiction of the Israelites, and the walis, trying to squeeze into an item of clothing that is far too small? Or putting it on and having it hang loose and look ridiculous? There is no explicit indication in the text that this was so.


This is the name as it appears in EAP061/1/95, while in MSB L12 the name is spelled Rĕzaji.


MSB L12 canto 65: 24–25. The first line has an extra syllable while the second is missing two. The corresponding verse in EAP061/1/95 is canto 61: 25–26. Maca ini wahjatu/rahiya pĕthak kandanya mirek/raja Rajazi ʿandika/akeh wong kang sun pateni/nora kaya shahid jabar/sirahing tinigas nuli// Angling payanama tuwalu/pashima wajahu Allahi/ The first line is missing a syllable; the second line has two extra syllables. The penultimate line has an extra syllable.


The Arabic reads: Fa-aynamā tuwallū fa-thamma wajhu ʾllāhiفَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا۟ فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ ٱللَّهِ.


See, for example, Wali Sana, canto 51: 9–33 in kinanthi., accessed September 15, 2021; Babad Tanah Jawi, canto 28: 3–28 in sinom., accessed September 15, 2021; in Sitijĕnar, based on Babad Demak, Siti Jĕnar is not executed by the walis but decides on the time of his own death through control of the breath: Sitijĕnar, H. Buning, c. 1921, canto 9:1–37 in sinom., accessed September 15, 2021. On the Siti Jĕnar episode and its appearance in the Babad Jaka Tingkir, see Florida 1995: 353–66; Pigeaud 1967: 83–84.


The tension related to playing music in general, and gamelan music in particular, is resolved in some tellings by the walis being credited with bringing the gamelan to Java, as they are also credited with introducing the wayang shadowplay and other “quintessentially Javanese” art forms. For a discussion of the walis’ approach to gamelan music see Rahimsyah 1997: 104; on the bonang’s use by Raden Makdum Ibrahim (Sunan Bonang) to draw people closer to Islam, see ibid., 117.


Alex Woloch (2003: 37), cited in Day (this volume).


In the case of Yusuf, the woman was the wife of the chief minister of Egypt al-ʿAzīz (known in the Bible as Potiphar), and in the case of Sunan Giri, his adoptive mother Nyai Gĕdhe Pinatih.


Amiq 2015: 32.


To the best of my knowledge, there are only a few known tellings of the wali sanga stories in languages of the Archipelago other than Javanese. Of course, like many other cases, this assumption may be due to a lacuna in research. Two Malay tellings I am aware of are MS. IOL Jav 12 at the British Library (a translation from Javanese) and the Hikayat Tuan Gusti, 1897, from colonial Ceylon, Hussainmiya Collection, Dept. of National Archives, Sri Lanka, MF 182.


On the complex, non-linear connections between traditions of al-Ḥallāj and Southeast Asian Islam, see Feener 1998.


See, for example, Babad Maulud, BL MS. Or. 16873, 22v–24r.

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