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Islamic School: Now and Then

Islamic school is a tested, creditworthy institution on education along the path of the nation’s history. The contributions of kiai (head of Islamic school) and santri (religious students) recorded clearly in the narration of this nation’s struggle against colonialism.

Many heroic memories of freedom fighters from Islamic schools who fought for independence are revealed in history books. NU’s Jihad Resolution October 22, 1945 is a real fact. The call for jihad fi sabilillah against the oppression of the Dutch colonialist from the ulama in the Nahdlatul Ulama Chapter Java and Madura was a real fact of the role of religious scholars had in the struggle for independence in Indonesia.

Second point of the Resolution stated that, “… (The ulama) are obliged to order struggles in the line of fisabilillah for the sovereignty of the free and independent Republic of Indonesia and Islam.” This inflaming call that ignite the spirit of ulama, santri and lawful Muslims to continue the struggles against the Dutch colonialist, that had tried to once again occupying Indonesia after the declaration of independence, August 17, 1945.

The traditional Islamic schools had proved itself in providing the society with education and enlightment. Through these schools, the nation has constructed thousands of creative, productive, innovative, tolerant, religious human resources, armed with a global vision. Factually speaking, through its education system traditional Islamic schools in Indonesia has set themselves as change agents of the nations.

The focal point of Islamic schools lie not only on the strong drill of religious knowledge and practice but also related to self-discipline and life skills. Moreover,  there are many Islamic schools has already maintain an integrated education, from pre-school up to college, making the integration between religious and common knowledge very strong.

The character-shaping education that elaborately endorsed in many educational institution lately actually has already implemented in the Islamic school since a long time ago. The Islamic schools have many mechanisms to discipline their students, both in manners and in akhlaq (morality). What is implemented in the Islamic schools are a model of education that are not bordered by the walls of a classroom. All activities in an Islamic school is a chain of educational process.

Education in Islamic school is an inclusive education; it covers exercises in thoughts and minds, heart and assertiveness, and last but not least, in physical exercises. The thoughts and minds are trained through assessments on the interpretation of the Quran, assessments on famous ulamas’ “yellow book”, religious discussion, language and speech training. Heart exercise is done through liturgies, e.g. tadarus (reciting) of the Quran, congregation prayers, Sunnah (subsidiary) prayers, and zikr (religious chanting). Assertiveness are trained by promoting mutual respects, cooperation and teamwork, tolerance with fellow santri, Kiai, ustadz/ustadzah (teachers) and with the society around the school. Physical exercises are carried out in the form of pentjak silat (Indonesian martial arts) and other trainings.

According to data from Ministry of Religion, the numbers of santri in the country are 3,759,198 person, 1,886,748 male (50.19%) and 1,872,450 female (49.81%). These three million santris spread all over Indonesia are the nation’s assets for the future. They have the rights to an excellent, qualified education. After they graduated they have the potencies to contribute to global competition.


Alumni of traditional Islamic schools and their contributions to the nation

The alumni of Islamic schools are not only taking professions as preachers, ustadz/ustadzah, religion teachers or kiai. They also living life as merchants, labors, writers, researchers, architects, economist, doctors, journalists, teachers, politicians and many more.

They are not always continue their educations in Al Azhar (in Cairo, Egypt), UIN (National Islamic University), STAIN (National Islamic School for Higher Education) or other Islamic educational institutions. It’s been a long time since alumni of Islamic schools continued their higher education in regular schools e.g. UI (University of Indonesia), ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology), UGM (Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta), Unair (Airlangga University in Surabaya), Unpad (Padjadjaran University in Bandung), ITS (Surabaya Institute of Technology), UPI (National Education University in Bandung), UNJ (State University of Jakarta) and other universities both in Indonesia and abroad. Those alumni are dispersed all over the country and contributing actively to the betterment of the nation.

Several of the nation’s notable figures who possess the leading and knowledge capacity were sprouting from Islamic schools. We all know KH Abdurrahman Wahid a k a Gus Dur, the 4th President of the Republic of Indonesia. There were also the late Cak Nur (Prof. DR. Nurcholish Madjid) and KH Idham Chalid. And we still have Hidayat Nur Wahid, KH Hasyim Muzadi, Dien Syamsudin, Yudi Latief, and the present Minister of Religion, Lukman Hakim Syaifudin, who is widely known both in Indonesia and in the international society.

In the younger generation we are also familiar with Ahmad Fuadi and Habiburrahman El Shirazy, whose novels were successfully acclaimed success as best sellers.  And there is also the founder of KawalPemilu.org (guard the election), Emha Ainun Nadjib, a data scientist, a poet and an artist.

Those names are the prove that alumni of Islamic school are not always working in that specific and exclusive field relating to faith and religion, but they are also capable doing tasks in other fields, Alumni of Islamic school could not afford to

It’s a pity that, concomitant with the time passed, traditional Islamic school increasingly losing society’s interest. Islamic school were identified with limited knowledge and everything that is old and outdated. The fact that many Islamic schools had adjust themselves to the 21st century and applies modern education concept without leaving the intellectual tradition of  the “old” school is yet widely known to today’s society.

In the tradition of Islamic school the term “Almuhafadhotu ‘ala qadimisshaalih wal akhdzu bil jadidil ashlah” is the guide for the students. This is the guide for Islamic school to preserve and maintain the old but still relevant values of old times and apply new ones for the sake of a better life.

Nowadays Islamic schools are more adapt and ready to face changes. A lot of them are already integrated with formal, non-Islamic education institution. Formal education from early child education (PAUD), elementary, middle and high school up to the higher education is the answer to the challenges of the post-modern era.

Aside from getting provisions in religious knowledge and moral guidance, students of Islamic schools are also given general knowledge and leadership drill. The model and characteristics of Islamic school education is getting really colorful. Mastering of religious knowledge and morality which is the main concern of education in Islamic schools are enriched with the mastering of technology, foreign language, leadership capability and entrepreneurship, is the new recipe in making Islamic schools graduates ready to face global challenge.

Strategic position Islamic schools have in the construction of the education world of Indonesia should be kept intact and developed regularly. Islamic schools should not be the lesser alternate of formal education chosen by parents for their children.

Therefore, parents should not worry about the chance of their children obtaining a prestigious and “good” job in the future when they enrolled in an Islamic school. The “Ayo Mondok!” (Let’s enroll to Islamic school!) movement coined by Rabithah Ma’ahid Islamiyah (RMI) is launched so that the numbers of parents that enroll their children to Islamic school are increased.

Besides being a foundry to shape future religious scholars who could set uswatun hasanah (good examples of behavior) to the people, they are also expected to be able to guard the morality of the nation. It is expected that alumni of Islamic schools all over Indonesia are more and more involved in the society and nationality to oversee the nations toward a just and independence nation. 

By: Anggi Afriansyah, Researcher, Indonesian Board of Science Research Centre

Bahasa Indonesia version of this article has been published in NU Online as a part of Wahid Foundation's Media Syndication Program.