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The Influence of Islam on Local Tradition:

the Minangkabaus Experience

Emeraldy Chatra


Sejarah pertemuan Islam dengan adat Minangkabau sering disebut
sebagai pertemuan berdarah karena kaum Wahabi memaksakan
kehendaknya kepada kaum Adat. Sikap keras kaum Wahabi
dikatakan sebagai penyebab timbulnya Perang Padri yang disudahi
dengan lahirnya perdamaian, yang merubah Adat Minang menjadi
adat yang Islami. Cerita demikian didominasi oleh sumber-
sumber kolonial.
Tulisan ini memberikan perspektif yang berbeda dari sumber lokal
yang tidak pernah ditulis; hanya disampaikan oleh tetua Minang
secara lisan. Klaim tentang adanya Wahabi, Padri dan Perang
Padri dibantah; tidak ada yang selama ini disebut Perang Padri,
melainkan Perang Candu. Demikan pula tentang Wahabi dan Padri.
Perang Candu digambarkan sebagai akibat dari usaha kelompok
muslim militan memerangi peredaran candu yang diikuti oleh
peredaran tuak yang disertai permainan judi. Perang terjadi
karena kegagalan komunikasi/diplomasi kelompok muslim militan
dengan para elit pemerintahan adat yang mendukung peredaran
candu, tuak dan judi.

1. Introduction
Islam was introduced to Minangkabau at time these tribe had
possesed a complex social system. Many say that it was happened in the
12th century, even before. Some argues that Islam was brought and
introduced by Shiite traders under the authority of the Fathimid Dynasty

Paper presented at the International Conference in Islamic Intercultural
Communication Studies, UIN Jakarta, 11 November 2013
Student of Program Doktor Ilmu Komunikasi, Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung.

of Egypt. M. O. Parlindungan in his book Tuanku Rao (1964) writes that
before Islamic reformation at the 19th century Minangkabau was governed
by Qaramitah Shiites. But his argument is refused by many scholars, since
there was no evidences and the Qaramitah was a deviant sect in Islamic
world. Hamka, the prominent Islamic scholar of Minangkabau in his book
Tuanku Rao : Antara Khayal dan Fakta (1974) accuses that Parlindungan
wrote history based on imagination, not fact.
How and since when Islam was being adhered by the Minang is a
difficult questions to be answered in academic context since there is no
complete historical report about it. Minangkabau history just start being
written at the colonial era and of course it is colored by colonial
perspective and interest. However for the Minang at large the lack of
written history seems not to be a serius problem since most of them
remain believe in old miths and stories.
The history that made by colonial apparatus tells that Islam was
introduced to Minangkabau by force or through a long religious war
between traditional faction or Kaum Adat and fundamentalist muslim that
called Padri group between 1803 to 1837 (see Hadler, 2008). Nevertheless
the colonial version is questionable for its accuracy because padri term is
not refer to Islam but Christian. Padri term was created by Professor Veth,
a Dutch scholar who never come to Minangkabau as long as his life.
Furthermore, there is no support of historical logic that the Padri was a
part of Wahhabi Movement as stated by colonial history version --

because there is no evidence that the leaders of these Islamic movement
had direct contact with Wahhabi of Arabia.
2. Warfare and the Failure of Communication
Islamization through violence actions as told by colonial version
is a less acceptable statement since the lack of supportive evidences. A
narration of local version, but never written properly, say that Padri War
(1803 1837) was not purely religious movement but a war that triggered
by an effort of combating opium and alcohol market. It is mean that the
war broke between muslim against muslim, but the one of them anti-
opium while another give support to the opium and alcohol distribution.
The warfare then interpreted by colonial scholars as a religious war
because the main supporter of opium and alcohol distribution was come
from a group who apply the traditional custom and majority of them were
at ruling party. Colonial scholars hide facts that they were muslim as well,
but did not fully apply Islamic teaching. But, this argument do not purpose
to support Parlindungans argument about Qaramitah Shiite since no one
knows what Islamic sect that followed by the member of the ruling party.
Facts that the Kaum Adat or ruling party members were also muslim
refused claim that Padri War was the part of a religious transformation
movement in Minangkabau. The fact, before the warfare the Minang had
been being muslim but majority of them were more adhered to the local
custom rather than Islamic teaching. So, the warfare was not to Islamized
the Minang but to change the old tradition that consume opium and

alcohol. Narration of local version says that marketing of opium and
alcohol was backed up by colonial force. From the perspective of
communication it can be said that the warfare was derived from a
communication failure in resolving and abolishing destructive habit of the
However, at the end of the war the parties arrived on a peace
agreement at Puncak Marapalam it is called Marapalam Agreement --
and declare a new commitment that Minangkabau's customs from that
moment based on Islamic teaching. Therefore, no longer both opium and
alcohol consumption and the customs should resist any praxis that
incompatible with Islamic teaching. In local expression the declaration is
pronounced: adat basandi syarak,syarak basandi Kitabullah (the
customs based on Islamic law, Islamic law based on Quran). With these
declaration then the Minang just approve one religion for its society, i.e
Islam. Any society member who convert to another religion will be
disposed from community. He/she will lose all of their traditional rights.
For sum, in analysing the influence of Islam on local tradition of
Minangkabau we cannot start from the war between Padri and Kaum
Adat in the 19th century but should look back to a long period before the
warfare. We should pay attention to the process of adoption Islamic
teaching that may be had begun since 10th century or before. In the 8th
century the Fathimid Dynasty of Egypt strongly supported Islamic mission
to many countries around the world, including to some part of Indonesia.

With this activity probably Islamic missionaries had reached Minangkabau
land and introduced the religion to the people. Since the beginning up to
the 19th century the history of religious conflict between local people is
absolutely absent. Islam came and develop among the Minang in peace.
But we cannot argue about the quality of religious praxis for the lack of
information about it. The burst of war in the 19th century pointed that
there was a degradation of religious praxis: opium, alcohol, and gambling
had integrated with the daily customs even practiced among traditional
leaders. Christine Dobbin (1987) describes how the widespread of banditry
phenomena, even inhabitant of some villages were bandit that always
disturb traders for obtaining opium and they play cockfight and other form
of gambling.
Why the degradation has happened there? Isnt the main mission of
Islam to change human kind morality? Where did the religious clerks go
and what was they role in maintaining the value of Islam? These are the
fundamental questions that bring us to assumption that the religious
clerks did not have strong position among the people, even up to an
assumption that the argument of Parlindungan about the influence of
Qaramitah Shiite may be true. An unpleasant assumption, off course ! The
reason is the Qaramitah Shiite the most liberal sect in Shiite faction since
it do not oblige muslims to carry out fundamental rites of Islam i.e pray,
fasting and other precepts (Livingstone, 2007:73), even according to some
sources it also permit to conduct adultery as well as consume opium and

alcohol. By these ideology the Qaramit seems did not make crucial
contradictions among the people that presumably had consumed opium or
alcohol long before the ideology introduced.
However, these traditions brought crucial problems among the
society members; morality lost and ultimately Islam just being a cultural
symbol. The Islamic purification movement that appeared in Arab, i.e
Wahhabi Movement seems had inspired some local Islamic leader to
follow the movement, but there is not enough evidence to say that Islamic
movement in Minangkabau is a part of or supported by Wahabbi
Movement of Arabia.
Out of the interconnection issue between the two movements we can
conclude that at that time Minangkabau Islamic leaders had intensively
exchanged information with muslim community outside Minangkabau.
They did not only adopt the idea of purification but also about the war
tactics and used weapons. Communication media was still not as
sophisticated as this time, but they could use it properly. In the side of
communication studies these matter is an interesting to be studied
particularly on how did they set up and control internal communication to
sustain and maintain the movement up to 30 years.
3. Islamic Influences
The implication of Marapalam Agreement do not only cover the
matter of opium, alcohol and gambling, but also other aspects of life of the
Minang, among others the rule of marriage, inheritance law, leadership

etc. In brief, all aspect of the Minang life must refers to the norm and value
of Islam.
However, Islamization in Minangkabau is not equal with Arabization
or making Minangkabau being identical with Arabic. Islam is accepted as
the core value of the culture and ritual tradition, but it is not abolish the
local culture of Minangkabau. In family system for instance, the structure
is remain unique; do not refers to Arabs culture. The role of mothers
extended family is more important than those of fathers. Minangkabau is
still maintain the matrilineal system for collective legacy in its inheritance
law (Kahn, 1980: 25). Even though, faraidh law or Islamic inheritance law
is implemented for parents legacy. After married the bride do not live with
her husbands family but conversely the husband live with her family.
Nevertheless, changes appear at any aspect of the life of the Minang
nowadays. The role of mothers extended family is gradually decline and
replaced by both parents' extended family, or no replaced by any one of
those extended family. The absence of both or one of parents' extended
family for their children means that nuclear family is being more
important than extended family; children just belong to their parents, do
not belong to their parent's family.
On the other hand, quite many of the Minang prefer to choose
western value rather than Islams for their way of life. They adopt many
thoughts from the West and put Islamic values as the alternatif

perspective. Therefore, any issues related with Minangkabau culture
including its degradation will not be an important problem for them.
4. Conclusion
To sum up above description, Minangkabau culture can not be
separated from Islam since Islamic value is the core value of this culture.
No one of community member of Minangkabau ethnicity is permitted to
adhere other religion than Islam, and anyone who convert to other religion
will be disposed from its community. However, many efforts to pull those
people leave Islam is intensively carried out particularly by Christian
movement. It is a crucial problem for Minangkabau culture and the
Minang nowadays because some of them even being priest and persuade
the others convert to their religion.
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