Our Subud literature says that membership in Subud is compatible with any religion. (In making this claim, Subud is not alone among the mystical movements to come out of Java. Pangestu, Sapta Darma and Sumarah also promote themselves as being compatible with all the mainstream religions, to be practiced in conjunction with a religion.)
Our Subud literature says that Pak Subuh was a Muslim.
If these statements are correct, then we would expect Subud to flourish in Islamic countries. However, the evidence seems otherwise. Subud is poorly represented in Islamic countries. In Malaysia, it has been declared a “deviant sect” of Islam. In Indonesia, the country of its origin, Subud is classified by anthropologists as a kebatinan movement. Officially, it is registered at the Ministry of Education and Culture as a “faith”, along with movements such as Brahma Kumaris, Ananda Marga, and The Family.
Does Subud conflict with Islam? If so, why and how? This question is important for our dealings with the Islamic world, and our dealings with Muslim members or potential members.
Pak Subuh’s Islamic faith
Pak Subuh identified himself as a Muslim, but that has to be understood in context. Islam in Indonesia is sharply divided. The division is shown on this map:
“Traditional Islam” is a form of Islam unique to Java. It mixes all kinds of historical influences that have come to that island. At the base is an indigenous animism. (Animism is form of religion which sees everything as alive, even rocks and krises.) On top of the animist base is layered a later Hinduism, and then Buddhism, then Sufism, brought by the famous “Wali Sanga”, or Nine Saints, and finally mainstream Islam, brought by traders.
All of these religious influences co-exist in Java’s “Traditional Islam”. Scholars call Java’s Traditional Islam a “syncretic” religion: a religion that mixes many other religions together.
In the 19th C., people from the archipelago started to travel to Mecca to fulfil their Muslim obligation to do so. They found there that Islam in the rest of the Islamic world was not like the Islam of the Indonesian archipelago. Out of this discovery grew a movement within Indonesia to move to a purer form of Islam, without the syncretic influences. This relatively new (to them) form of Islam became known as “Modernist Islam”.
This split is the major fault line in the Indonesian religious landscape: between Traditional Islam, also known as “Kejawen”, “Agama Jawa”, or “Abangan Islam”; and Modernist Islam, also called “Santri Islam”.
Santri Islam is similar in form and belief to the Islam practiced by the rest of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. Abangan Islam is a uniquely Javanese invention, marked by its mixing in of animist, Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi influences.
In this light, it’s easy to understand Islam’s distance from Subud. Pak Subuh’s talks mix animist (e.g. life forces, ancestral influences), Hindu-Buddhist (e.g. jiva, sukma, susila, buddhi, dharma) and Sufi (e.g. tarekat, shariat, hakekat, marifat) influences with his Islam. To the majority of Muslims outside of Java, Javanese Islam—and Pak Subuh’s talks—look (ironically) like “mixing”.
Some specific differences
If I were writing an article for Subud Vision, I would set out many pages of differences, with explanations and citations. But the purpose of this blog is to lay out some pointers, and encourage you to do some of your own research, which is now possible, using google. In each of the sections below, I introduce a topic, and then suggest some search terms. These terms are enclosed in angle brackets: <>.
- <search string> means put the words search and string (without quote marks) in the google search box.
- <”search string”> means put the phrase “search string” (with the quote marks) in the google search box. The quote marks force google to search for the exact phrase.
If you search on Indonesian words like <wahyu>, you will come across many, many Indonesian sites. It’s better to mix the search with an English word, such as <wahyu javanese>, in order to return English sites.
My suggestions are only starters. As you find relevant pages and articles, use phrases and words from those to construct new searches.
Here are some of the specific differences between mainstream Islam, and the religion of Java in which Pak Subuh was raised:
No contact with the dead
In Islam, when someone dies, there is no possibility of further contact with them. For this reason, Islamic culture and religion is largely free of stories of apparitions. In this, it is very different from the religion of Java, which teaches of a world populated by spirits of the dead. Accounts of spirits and ghosts (“hantu”) are commonplace, even forming the basis for popular TV serials.
Along the same lines, the Javanese practice the selamatan cycle of ritual feasts and prayers after someone has died, to assist them on their journey. This has no place in Islam, where—once a person has died—they are solely in the hands of Allah. The Santri Muslims of Indonesia are opposed to the selamatan practice.
Some google terms to start:
<Muslim after death beliefs>
<tension santri abangan>
Take care in reading Christian sites on Islam. Some are accurate, some less so.
A good site on Kejawen (Abangan Islam) is this one:
Children born pure
In Islam, all children are born pure, in a state called “al-fitra“. They are not tainted by “ancestral influences”. The theology that Pak Subuh uses, in which burdensome ancestral influences are passed down through generations, and later generations assist the after-death progress of dead ancestors through spiritual practice, comes out of the religion of Java.
<Islam children born pure>
<children born al-fitra>
“Unlike Christianity, which teaches that all the children of Adam are sinful for Adam’s sin, Islam teaches that all humans are innocent by birth and they become sinful only when they consciously commit a sin… Another important point to bear in mind about the Islamic concept of sin is that one man’s sin cannot be transferred to another; nor can the reward due to a person be transferred either. Every individual is responsible only for his or her actions, for God is never unjust.”
Mohammed the last prophet
In Islam, Mohammed is the last prophet, the last to receive wahy—revelation. In Java, on the other hand, wahyu (the Indonesian form of the Arabic word, also meaning “revelation”) is still descending on a wide variety of people. However, as Santri Islam gains the upper hand over Abangan Islam, that’s changing. An Indonesian guru, Lia Aminuddin, who claimed to receive wahyu, was recently jailed for apostasy.
<Mohammed the last prophet>
<Mohammed prophet wahy>
A set of references on wahyu appear in Note 1, at the end of this article: History and Myth.
Throughout your researches, try combinations of words other than the ones I’ve suggested. If you find articles of interest, post links to them in the comment boxes below. And feel free to write me, by posting in the comment boxes, at any time. I’ll try to respond to all comments.
 ‘Many Paths to God and Modernity: Of Sufism, Syncretism and Universalism in Cosmopolitan Indonesian Islam’, Julia Day Howell. Griffith University, Australia, in L’islam dans les rythmes du temps mondial, edited by Patrick Haenni and Olivier Roy
The text “Ajaran sesat yang dikenali dengan ajaran SUBUD yang disebarkan dalam tahun 1950an dan ajaran Martabat Tujuh. Ajaran SUBUD hampir hilang tetapi ajaran Martabat Tujuh dipercayai masih hidup, bukan sahaja di Kelantan tetapi di negeri-negeri lain.” translates as “In Kelantan the deviant sects we have knowledge of are the SUBUD teaching, which spread in the 1950s, and the Seven Levels Teaching (Ajaran Martabat Tujuh). The SUBUD teaching has nearly disappeared, but we believe the Seven Levels Teaching still lives on, not only in Kelantan, but in other states as well.