Java’s pilgrimage culture is a dense, batik-like pattern of contradictions: seriousness collides with laughter; curiosity with bewilderment; piety with scepticism; intense spirituality with, in some places, the joy of shopping.
The pilgrimage culture on the island of Java in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim country – is a rebuke to the conservative orthodoxy that has been gaining ground in Indonesia’s religious landscape since the 1980s. In the rhetoric of this orthodoxy the “real” Islam is pure and exclusive. Piety comes from obedience to religious authority and its rules. Local pilgrimage is anything but pure and exclusive or rigidly authoritarian. It is powerfully Islamic but it fuses Islam with local history, the ancient power of place and a pastiche of devotional practices with roots deep in the pre-Islamic past. Quietly but tenaciously – just outside the great echo chamber of public space – it is growing as fast as the higher proﬁle neo-orthodoxy.
Bandit Saints of Java delves deep under the surface of modern Indonesia, exploring personalities and stories in the weird world of local pilgrimage, where Middle Eastern Islam wrestles with the ancient power of Javanese civilisation. It paints an astonishing portrait of Islam as it is practised today – largely invisible to journalists, scholars and tourists – by many of Java’s 130 million people.
“A brilliant book—one of the most engaging, memorable and genuinely insightful works on Indonesia published in recent years: a perfect model for what popular scholarship can achieve in terms of accessibility. It deserves a wide readership.” Tim Hannigan, Asian Review of Books, Hong Kong
“Bandit Saints of Java paints an astonishing portrait of Islam as it’s actually practiced today by many of Java’s 130 million people. The author is a superb, witty and entertaining writer who vividly records what he saw and felt close-up on the ground. The book’s most vital contribution in my mind is that it gives one faith that Indonesia’s lovely, animist native kajawen beliefs will endure in the end under the onslaught of the harsh tenets of hardline Islamist Wahhabism imported from Saudi Arabia. This erudite and well-researched study gives us the hope that Java will continue to hold dear its own soft, Sufi-inspired interpretation of Islam.” Bill Dalton, Bali Advertiser, Indonesia
“This is the most entertaining book in English on the mystery and magic of Indonesia since Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia Etc.” Duncan Graham, Jakarta Post, Indonesia
“George Quinn is a master storyteller … His book is compelling because he relies on interviews with [pilgrimage site] caretakers and the pilgrims themselves, and not on dry academic texts. Like a seasoned journalist, his reports are detailed and lively. He is able to present nuances that others might be unable to grasp. In Quinn’s hands, information on the history of local Islamic pilgrimage in Java and Madura is more diverse than we thought, especially with regards to religious tolerance. Quinn sees the phenomenon of increasing local pilgrimage as an ‘inner civilization’ of Javanese culture that will not easily be lost in the face of the emergence of a new phenomenon: radical Islam. Will syncretic Islamic culture be replaced by the purification of orthodox Islam, whose political resonance is now looming large? Will Javanese Islam, which is full of stories of folklore and local mythology, gradually become irrelevant to modern life? From the way it is presented, we can rest assured that something ‘inner’ is not easily destroyed.” Seno Joko Suyono, TEMPO magazine, Indonesia
“The cult of the saints, that is to say the pilgrimages made to so-called “sacred” Muslim tombs, represent, in Java, a relatively neglected aspect of religious devotion, as opposed to faith, the observances and the rites dictated by Muslim dogma. It is a common practice, however, which, for tens of millions of devotees, makes the fusion between religion, observed elsewhere, and beliefs much older. George Quinn devotes to this phenomenon a scholarly, intelligent and subtle book, written for the general public. The book is nourished by an intimate knowledge of Javanese civilization. At the end of this ethnographic and scholarly journey, the reader discovers a form of devotion and Muslim faith different to all that the international news teaches to him and even very far from Islam of which the academic publications on Indonesia speak. The veneration of the tombs, as well as other sacred sites, is undoubtedly Muslim, but it is part of a spiritual universe, which represents an essential aspect of the Javanese.” Henri Chambert-Loir, Archipel, Paris
About the author
George Quinn holds a BA from Gadjah Mada University (Indonesia) and a PhD from the University of Sydney. Between 2001 and retirement in 2008 he was Head of the Southeast Asia Centre in the Faculty of Asian Studies at the Australian National University. He has a native-speaker level command of Indonesian and Javanese. He is the author of The Novel in Javanese (KITLV Press, 1991) and The Learner’s Dictionary of Today’s Indonesian (Allen & Unwin, 2001), plus many scholarly papers and an English translation of the Indonesian-language novel The Rape of Sukreni (Lontar, 2003). Learn more about the author and his visits to the Islamic pilgrimage sites of Java and Madura at www.saintsofjava.net.