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Julian Millie (ed), Hasan Mustapa: Ethnicity and Islam in Indonesia. Clayton: Monash University Press ; Jajang A. Rohmana, Informan Sunda Masa Kolonial: Surat-Surat Haji Hasan Mustapa untuk C. Snouck Hurgronje dalam Kurun 1894-1923

Michael Laffan
p. 249-252
Référence(s) :

Julian Millie (ed), Hasan Mustapa: Ethnicity and Islam in Indonesia. Clayton: Monash University Press, 2017, xxii-273 pp. ISBN: 9781925495553.

Jajang A. Rohmana, Informan Sunda Masa Kolonial: Surat-Surat Haji Hasan Mustapa untuk C. Snouck Hurgronje dalam Kurun 1894-1923. Yogyakarta: Octopus, 2018, xv-323 pp. ISBN: 9786027274389.

Texte intégral

How could I have the nerve to testify for so long that there is no deity other than Gusti Allah! What if someone asks me: How do you know? Maybe I will only be able to answer with: Because the old people said so! Because my father said so! How could this be believed? How can testimony rely on talk alone? ... I have been asked: How do you know what a chilli tastes like? I replied: Of course I know, because I have tasted that it is sweet! Do you know salt? I replied: Of course I know because I have tasted that it is salty! I do not answer: My father told me! (Hasan Mustapa, 104)

1Hasan Mustapa was a gifted thinker and writer in his vernacular Sundanese, in addition to being fully versed in the tradition that reigned over much of the Muslim World until the takeover of the Holy Cities of Arabia by the partisans of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. This tradition made space for some to speculate, in the footsteps of Ibn al-Arabi and Abd al-Karim al-Jili, on the ultimate union of Creator and creation through the doctrine of the Seven Grades, whereby the believer moves from submission and declaration to experiential gnosis of God. Such teachings were hardly to be commended to the masses, though, and privileged scholars like Mustapa, who had experience of life in Mecca, generally circulated them among those of similar social and educational standing. Mustapa was moreover a talented vernaculariser of Islam, reflecting on the natural world of the Priangan region where he grew up and later served as Chief Penghulu of Bandung. This was after an unhappy term in the recently-annexed territory of Aceh, where he was required to both advise the colonial authorities and keep his personal mentor apprised of their mis-steps. Indeed Mustapa was doubly privileged by virtue of his proximity to Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, the long-serving Advisor for Native and Arab Affairs, whom he first met in Mecca in 1885.

2Such entwined identities—elite mystic and colonial servant—are not the ideal ingredients for national heroism in today’s Indonesia, as Julian Millie observes in his thoughtful volume, Hasan Mustapa: Ethnicity and Islam in Indonesia. The result of genuine collaboration between scholars of Sundanese literature and Islam, Millie’s volume features high-quality contributions on Mustapa’s role as loyalist mufti, mystical poet, «solitary» thinker, and even reluctant writer, given so much of the corpus that has come down to us of some 10,000 stanzas was apparently transcribed by his most devoted followers and scribes. In this regard we owe a great debt to the labours of Ajip Rosidi, whose article of 1960 is included here, and, more recently, Ruhaliah, who transcribed Mustapa’s corpus from the original Arabic-script texts (though little is said in the volume about the ability for the original script to maintain an ambiguity between the cosmopolitan and the vernacular). As several contributors point out, Mustapa did not seem to be interested in having pupils, even as he emerged from the pesantren milieu, though this did not mean that he eschewed an audience. He gladly produced an ethnography of the Sundanese for Snouck (later translated by R.A. Kern as Over de gewoonten en gebruiken der Soendanezen), his playful correspondence with his long-term friend Kiai Kurdi of Singaparna was meant to be read (it was published in 1925 as Balé Bandung), and there are indications that his frequent use of analogies to the natural world of the Sundanese—of plants, animals, wet-rice agriculture, and attendant sensations—was meant to be comprehensible to his own people should they attain the necessary learning and maintain the proper habits of a Muslim believer.

3Even with such imagery, though, Hasan Mustapa’s preferred topics are indeed abstruse. We are thus all the more indebted to Millie and such contributors as Ahmad Gibson Albustomi, Jajang A. Rohmana and Asep Salahudin for offering both excellent analysis and clear renderings, and most especially in the form of his Gelaran Sasaka di Kaislaman (rendered by Millie as The Teachings of Our Islamic Inheritance). Here Mustapa outlines divergent paths for believers, in essence between mere emulation of the pious forebears (which is a good in itself) and questioning of the reasons for the proper practice of Islam. In Asep’s piece, translated by Stuart Robson, we furthermore gain an insight into his notions of being the «solitary» thinker in such works as The Quail Laments its Cage, where Mustapa played with the concepts of umaing and miaing (selfness and self), being unafraid to create neologisms in the process.

4Of course there were things that did create anxiety in Mustapa, from the critiques of friends of Snouck such as Sayyid Uthman of Batavia (d. 1914), and the rise of organizations such as Sarekat Islam, which I shall turn to momentarily. To be sure, Millie and colleagues have given us a wonderful sense of Mustapa’s writings and the tensions inherent in celebrating a Sundanese in modern, and more uniform, Indonesia today. But there is less to be learned of the changing world Mustapa inhabited apart from in Mufti Ali’s chapter about his unhappy service in Aceh, where he either gave a fatwa on loyalty without being asked, or simply felt it better to occlude the name of his questioner. There is also rather less said about the closeness to Snouck, whose own Indonesian children Mustafa watched closely and reported on in his regular letters to his friend in Leiden after his return to Holland in 1906.

5Happily all such details, and rather more, are to be found in Informan Sunda Masa Kolonial, Jajang Rohmana’s careful study of the Arabic correspondence between the two from 1894 to 1923. While perhaps devoting more time and text than necessary to prove that Snouck and Hasan had indeed met in Mecca, Rohmana’s transcription of the letters and his parallel translation make fascinating reading, and not purely for the level of personal intimacy, which is seldom wrung from Snouck, given the occasional details about his five children. Rather, we learn things one misses in the Millie collaboration: from the fact that Mustapa had ten children of his own by six partners, even if we don’t get that close to them other than learning that he hoped for them all to gain work, Dutch education and, if they were girls, elite partners with the expected social seclusion that such relationships engendered. Perhaps more excitingly for the social historian, Mustapa often reflects, between bouts of wistfulness, on the rapid changes of the Indies after Snouck’s departure: of the rising prices, the passion for practical education (Islamic or otherwise) and the very thronging of the streets and byways of the Priangan. There are challenges and rumors too: the Chinese and Japanese are invoked as mercantilist threats and even potential invaders, much as Mustapa reflects on modern fashions, declining morals, and even the infighting among the Arab communities of Java and Sumatra. Beyond this, he seemed frustrated at times by the unwillingness of Snouck’s successors, G.A.J. Hazeu and D.A. Rinkes, to intervene in political issues and to expose the local branches of the Sarekat Islam, which Mustapa seemed to think were far too permeable for trickster and frauds who claimed to be pious.

6Setting aside some repetition in Rohmana’s analysis—which is perhaps useful if one does not choose to read through the full translations—there are minor hiccoughs and some hypercorrection. It seems unnecessary to transform the aspirated h Mustapa used to write Hazeu, or indeed to change Othmanliyya to Uthmaniyya. I also suspect that s.w.d.r.h. must surely be read as saudara, a byword of the pergerakan, and I rather doubt that a Sundanese ulama would have spelled faqih as fakih. It is also doubtful that Arabs would have celebrated Italian victories over the Libyans in 1911. Mustafa was more likely reporting how the (hopeful) news of Ottoman victories in late 1911 inspired celebrations and donations. Certainly the Arab communities of the Indies were initially the most enthusiastic about connecting to the empire of Abdulhamid and his immediate successors until the defection of Sharif Husayn. Lastly, it is rather a historically depressing thought that the word kenduri now requires a scholarly gloss.

7I should state that even with these hiccoughs I was thoroughly impressed by the work that went into Informan Sunda, and wonder how it may have impacted Ethnicity and Islam had it been available earlier. There were times in the latter, too, where Robson might have opted for a less-gendered translation of the philosophy of Hasan Mustapa. If the voice of the believer is indeed a male one in Arabic, the same is not necessarily that of Sundanese, even if it is clear from both these works that Mustapa was committed to the maintenance of a patriarchal Sundanese Muslim culture. Even with his ten children, Mustapa was probably able to get his solitary time whenever he needed it.

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Michael Laffan, « Julian Millie (ed), Hasan Mustapa: Ethnicity and Islam in Indonesia. Clayton: Monash University Press ; Jajang A. Rohmana, Informan Sunda Masa Kolonial: Surat-Surat Haji Hasan Mustapa untuk C. Snouck Hurgronje dalam Kurun 1894-1923 »Archipel, 98 | 2019, 249-252.

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Michael Laffan, « Julian Millie (ed), Hasan Mustapa: Ethnicity and Islam in Indonesia. Clayton: Monash University Press ; Jajang A. Rohmana, Informan Sunda Masa Kolonial: Surat-Surat Haji Hasan Mustapa untuk C. Snouck Hurgronje dalam Kurun 1894-1923 »Archipel [En ligne], 98 | 2019, mis en ligne le 11 décembre 2019, consulté le 04 juillet 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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