Subud and Islam

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.[1])

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.[2] 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.[3]

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:

Religions of Indonesia

“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:

<selamatan cycle>
<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>
<animism Javanese>

For example:
“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>
<Lia Aminuddin>
<wahyu power>
<wahyu javanese>

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.


[1] ‘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.



25 Responses

  1. Thanks for that article. Assuming that the research was correct – as correct as a summary can be of course – then I am glad to learn from it. As a Unitarian Christian pastor in N W of England, around me are towns with high densities of Asian muslims: I am slowly getting involved in ‘inter-faith’ dialogue and society. I had made certain assumptions which are obviously quite incorrect!

  2. Hi David,

    Interesting that you have pointed out so many differences. In both listening to many talks and reading the entire Qur’an this past month I was actually struck by the similarities in Bapaks message and Islam s portrayed in the Qur’an.

    The Qur’an actually does not state that children are all born pure – unless I missed it? What the Qur’an does state that people are created in ranks, some above others and further that God will try each according to the gifts He has given. This is not imcompataible with the Subud idea that peoples essences are different- being born with different issues and gifts.

    I also never saw that the Qur’an specifically forbids praying for those who have died. Isn’t this the best intent of a Selamatan? In the West it has sort of a feast feel. Is this also true in Indonesia, a feast without prayers? Personally I feel the selamatans are very hollow without prayer, that is asking God’s blessings, mercy, and grace on the departed. I sure hope that I will be remembered with prayer.

    And of course the Qur’an makes frequent references to Jinns and less so, but still several times to a strong injunction against the dark arts. Angels are of course also descibed as doing God’s bidding, in particular during the Nights of Power. In fact, it is also said more than once that angels pray to God for mercy for human beings.

    Some differences between Subud and Islam, that may be cultural, are the way Ramadan is observed. Sexual relations were not encouraged by Bapak, but it is the absolute opposite in the Qur’an in which sexual relations are specifically encouraged during Ramadan. Also the sacred part of the night for the Subud practice is the beginning of the night and in the Qur’an it is the pre-dawn period in which angels are seeking those in prostration to God. However the Qur’an also states that it is good to spend a portion of the night in prayer, not specifying when.

    I don’t dispute that Indonesia has many influences of other religions, but I personally feel the substance of what Bapak said is in many instances very close to Qur’anic Islam or certainly compatible – just described differently.

    Why has Subud not been taken up by Islamic countries? Because there is a a statement in the Qur’an that Muhammed was the seal of the prophets. However more often seen is the theme that God is merciful to all peoples and nations and has and does send human beings to help guide others. The Islamic countries adopt the first, but not the second. This has been historically true for all prophets and messengers – they are NEVER accepted as further manifestations of God Grace. Thus Jesus was not accepted by many or most Jews, Muhammed is accepted by neither Jews or Christians. This has more to do with human nature – my way, my country, my religion is the best and only true way.

    One of the recurring points in the Qur’an is that one can look to see whether the message is compatible with earlier prophets. This is a major criteria given in the Qur’an for why it should have been obvious that Muhammed’s message was true. So personally, I find that Bapak’s talks are very strongly consistant with Qur’anic Islam.

    I think one needs to be very careful about the practice of Islam which is guided very much by cultural values, specifically treatment and limitations on women.


  3. Sorry that last sentence was not clear, should have been:

    One needs to be very careful about making comparisons with how how Islam is practiced and Subud, because the practice of Islam is very much influenced by cultural values. The treatment of and restrictions on women is a good example of this. Consider Muhammed’s first wife was a very successful business woman. Another – there is no explicit statement that women should cover their heads. Both men and women should dress modestly and women should “not display their beauty”. The last bit is open to fairly wide interpretation.


  4. Hi Myrna.

    Summaries are indeed dangerous, and I was just a few days ago chided by an anthropologist friend for using the santri/abangan distinction, which is considered a little out of date, and a little too simplistic. If you want to see more nuanced picture of the religious landscape of Java, there’s this article by Gary Dean, which includes a very nice diagram.

    Pak Subuh would sit in the “priyayi” camp.

    I guess this highlights the fact that there many local flavours of Islam. The fact remains that the local tradition in which Pak Subuh was raised lies outside the realm of what would be considered orthodox Sunni Islam, and therefore care must be used in using his talks as a guide to talking with the Muslim community.

    Some of my knowledge I get from reading Islam, but most of my knowledge I get from talking to practicing Muslims about their faith. The most important picture of Islam you can get, I think, is straight from the people who leave near you: that’s the picture that matters most in relating to them respectfully, as people.

    I want to write a blog sometime about the inter-faith movement, which has captured the interest of quite a few Subud members. If you care share any of your experiences further, I’d love to incorporate them.


  5. Hi again David,

    It occured to me that I addressed some of the differences you see, but didn’t specifcally stae why I feel there is compatability with Qur’anic Islam, that is straight from the source.

    1) The talks that Bapak gave and the practice of the latihan relate to the stance of man (and woman) towards God. It is funadamentally Islamic. The latihan is based on surrender, submission, patience, constancy – all huge themes in the Qur’an.

    2) The importance of looking only to God. Bapak was always very clear about his own role as having his own “job to do”. There was no statement that he should be regarded as other than a human being with a God given job. Although some regarded him in a sort of worshipful way, this came from members – not from Bapak. This is also very aligned with Islam.
    ONLY God.

    3) Regarding blessings from God as gifts, not anything earned. The risk of becoming arrogant after recieving good fortune. This theme is in Bapak’s talks and strongly in the Qur’an.

    4) Encouragement to live with high moral and ethical standards, prayer, being charitable – also overlapping themes.

    5) Honoring of all religions. Now here is a concept that is NOT practiced by Sunni Islam. Bapak encouraged people to follow their own religions. The Qur’an is very respectful of sincere practioners of people of the book – that is Jews and Christians. They are sometimes refered to as “Muslims” which means simply “Believers”. Bapak also was an observant Muslim, for whatever his mission, he also bowed down in submission through doing the daily prayers.

    6) Honoring of prophets from other religions – also a strong part of Subud and a fundamental part of the Qur’an. The idea that Subud is too Islamic is somewhat confusing to me because all prophets and religions are honored within Qur’anic Islam.

    These are the most significance consistencies to me.

    I would challenge you David to read the Qur’an. Draw your own conclusions.



    • Dear Lusijah,
      I adore you much. Point of view of your description is very clear and so beautiful. Regardless that what david wrote was good too. The most strong point in your description is “The Qur’an is very respectful of sincere practioners of people of the book – that is Jews and Christians. They are sometimes refered to as “Muslims” which means simply “Believers”.
      I’ll remember it in the rest of all my live.
      Love you all
      Darmawan (ibu rahayu give this name to me)

  6. Hi Lusijah

    The theme of my blog was: how we, as a Subud community, relate to Muslims inside and outside of Subud. Islam is a tradition that is more than a 1.3 billion people wide, and 1300 years deep. It is not going to be moved by argument, or an alternative reading of the Qur’an. In your post, you give your reasons for disagreeing with one of the pillars of Islam: that Muhammad is the final prophet. But in relating to the Islamic community, I think that we have to understand and accept their understanding of their religion, as they see it, rather than how we might wish them to see it.

    There are many mentions of the purity of children in explanations by Muslims about Islam. For instance: “According to Islam, the human being is born in a pure state, free from sin, in a state of fitrah (natural instinct and tendency towards truth) in complete submission to Allah, the One and Only Creator. At birth, the baby is totally innocent and is not responsible for the sin of his/her parents or any of his/her ancestors. He/she starts off with a clean slate, and as he/she grows up, he/she uses his/her own freedom of choice to do good or evil.”

    One Qur’anic source cited is this: “Whoever goes aright, for his own soul does he go aright; and whoever goes astray, to its detriment only does he go astray: nor can the bearer of a burden bear the burden of another…” (17:13-15). This principle was first explained to me by my 20-year old translator in Aceh, the “Verandah of Mecca”. I believe it is a widely accepted and important Islamic teaching, and have not seen it contradicted. In contrast, Pak Subuh’s talks clearly express the belief that children bear the burden of their parents sins. This seems to me to be more consistent with Hindu views, and his talks contain many Hindu terms, stories and theological ideas, consistent with his priyayi upbringing.

    On our websites, in our literature, and in the whole way we present ourselves to the world, we say joining Subud does not require one to give up one’s own religion. We are not out to proselytize. We are not out to convert. Therefore Muslims (or Christians or Buddhists) should feel confident that in coming to Subud that they will not be expected to partake in ceremonies or be presented with teachings that are contrary to their faith.

    To me, I don’t see that it matters whether Pak Subuh was a Muslim or a Hindu. They’re both respectable, rich and ancient traditions. That he gave Subud a Hindu name defined in Islamic terms suggests that, like most priyayi, he was a bit of both. My main point is that to follow through on our promises, we have to be aware of such differences, and act accordingly when we talk with our Muslim friends, inside and outside of Subud.


  7. Unfortunately I couldn’t open the link. I am glad you clarified your point – that we as a Subud commuity need to be aware of others beliefs so as to not claim something that is may be untrue for some, ie Subud is compatible with all religions.

    I think it is difficut to define mainstream Islam. There are many ways that Islam is practiced, wahabism (an interpretation developed in the 1800s practiced in Saudi Arabia), Shites, Sufis, or the more moderate and secular Islam practiced in Jordan, Morrocco, Turkey, and Bosnia, plus of course Indonesian Islam that historically was considered both moderate and tolerant, to name a few.

    I agree that it is good to be aware – so we agree. I also feel that the dominant practice of Islam is fundamentalism, a very rigid approach that seems to instruct God what Grace can be given. It is NOT a an alternative reading of the Qur’an that God sends Helpers to all nations and peoples as God sees fit. This is stated many times. This fundametalist attitude doesn’t allow anything out of the rigid box – “my way is the only truth”. Just the way it is. The Islamic community is split, many do not agree with this rigid brand of Islam.

    One more thing about the state of a newborn. I can’t comment on the link, but my question would be is this interpretation? The pure state of newborns is not explicitly addressed in the Qur’an. The quotes you gave are a common theme in the Qur’an. In my feeling this has has more to do with each person having sole responsibility and burden for their own choices. But I can see that this could also be interpreted as children not being able to inherit the sins of the parents. In any case, this belief that children do inheret the sins is not only a Hindu belief, it is also part of Judeo-Christian thinking as well – up to seven generations.


  8. Hi Lusijah

    Though it is dangerous to talk about “Islam this” and “Islam that”, there is much that most Muslims do share. The five pillars is an example. I’ve read that Islam is less diversified than, for instance, Christianity. Even the Sunnis and the Shiites agree on far more than they disagree on.

    It is true that Muslims are taught to be tolerant of the “people of the book”. However, Islamic tolerance is just that: Christians and Jews are in not considered equals. Also, that tolerance does not extend to the rest of the world’s religions. The Islamic term for those other religions is “kafir”. An Islamicised Subud would be closed to the majority of the world’s peoples. But that’s another story, which I will explore later this month.

    I think that there are hazards to reading of the Qur’an as, by itself, a guide to understanding Islam. First, from a Muslim point of view, the Qur’an is the direct word of Allah dictated to the Prophet by the Angel Gabriel. Translations are not considered to be a substitute. To understand the Qur’an, Muslims consider Arabic essential. Second, any text—and particularly ones from so far away in time and place—are open to multiple interpretations and to misinterpretations. To guard against these, Muslims always read the Qur’an within a context provide by: first in importance, the Sunnah, which is the way Muhammad lived his life, knowledge of which is obligatory for both Sunni and Shi’a Muslims; second, the hadith, which are his sayings, and sometimes those of his companions; thirdly, the ijma’, or consensus of the Islamic community.

    I have to insist that your reading of the Qur’an provides a very unorthodox interpretation: that there is room for more prophets after Muhammad, the “Seal of the Prophets.” The lines you quote are not ignored or passed over in Islamic theology. In fact, in a religion that old and broad, every line has been scrutinized and interpreted thousands of times. These interpretations do not contradict the pillars. The interpretation as I know it runs something like this: Adam was the first messenger; Muhammad was the last. In between, Allah sent 124,000 prophets to all the lands of the world, sometimes more than one to the same place at the same time. However, their messages inevitably got forgotten or distorted. Therefore, Allah chose, through the Angel Gabriel, to dictate the Qur’an to Muhammad. The Qur’an is the direct word of Allah. It is perfect, consistent and complete. There is nothing more beautiful, and this beauty is evidence of its divine origin. Everything that you need is to be found in the Qur’an. Nothing is missing. Nothing can be added to it. If you need help, you do not need further prophets. They are in the past. All you need do is turn to the community of followers: to become a Muslim, and submit to the will of Allah, as found in the Qur’an.

    You can see various versions of this account by googling [126000 prophets] or [quran perfect complete], or variants of those.

    This turns us again to the state of children when they are born. As I know the story, they are born in a state of fitrah, or pure, correct, human nature. In fact, they are considered to be born Muslims, in a state of complete submission to Allah. However, it is after that they are born, through the influence of their parents, of society, and the development of their nafs, or lower self, that they go astray. In order to avoid this happening, what is important is for parents to become Muslims, to build a Muslim society, and for all to follow the teachings of the Qur’an, which is whole and complete and sufficient to keep every person on the path.

    You can see various versions of this story by googling [children fitrah quran], or variants of that.

    I think that in order to understand a religious tradition, you need to look at the whole of it. Islam is more than a book. The book shapes the community, but the community provides the interpretation of the book. I would say the same of Christianity, or even physics. I can’t understand a book on quantum mechanics without an education in physics, and I am still likely to misunderstand many things unless I am in with qualified physicists.


  9. Hi David,

    I definitely need to correct the idea that I am proposing that the Qur’an allows for more prophets. No – what I am saying is that there is room for others as helpers to mankind. Teachers, saints, mystics – this is a part of the ongoing practice of Islam. For Subud members to claim that Bapak is a prophet or imply that has prophet status, which he himself never did, would be something the Islamic community would simply not accept.

    Also I am not proposing or encouraging that Subud be Islamicised. It is a simple reality that Bapak was Mulsim. This influence is pretty clear.

    Personally I don’t feel that what Bapak said is in conflict with the Qur’an. That’s all I am saying. The fundamentalist reading the Qur’an may disagree. Like all major religions, there is broad divergance of interpretation.

    I would like to share something I found out on a trip to Morocco several years back. I found it really shocking that even Arabic speaking Muslims do not fully understand the Arabic in the Qur’an, never mind Muslims who do not speak Arabic. The language has changed that much. This was from a man who studied religious studies in the University at Fez. He expressed contempt actually for rote memorization of the Qur’an by children. “Parrots!” he said “It means nothing to them.”

    I don’t mean to insult you or humiliate you, but the Qur’an itself is a better way to understand Islam than Google, imperfect as an English translation might be.


  10. Hi Lusijah

    Long delay. I’ve been in Southern Laos, away from the Internet.

    Pak Subuh was only a recent, and only partial, convert to Islam. There is abundant evidence that he was himself not familiar with the Qur’an. He makes errors in his talks that are astonishing. For instance, in “Talk to men and women, Cilandak, Indonesia, February 4, 1979” he says: “At the end of the Koran one finds the Al-Fatihah.” Al-Fatihah is of course the first Surah of the Qur’an, which is why is it is called Al-Fatihah: “The Opening”. He says this more than once, in several talks.

    We can understand this if we understand that the social times and context in which he lived. Let me quote an eye witness, who wrote to me: “I was present in Tjilandak in 1964 (the first of several visits), when the revolution toppled Sukarno and brought in not only Suharto but also Modernist Islam and the defeat of Java’s traditional form of Islam. So I’m therefore in a pretty good position to detail Pak Subuh’s change of direction at that point and the beginning of the fog that seemed to descend on Subud thereafter. Until then Subud was an esoteric movement clearly following the syncretic Sufi path in the Javanese style; afterwards that all suddenly closed down. The explanation for the change of direction was given as political; it was too dangerous to pursue the old ideology, presumably because it was linked to the communist threat. Many of the Javanese Subud members had to go into hiding for their political beliefs, and Pak Subuh hurriedly brought out his bona fide Muslim credentials – which of course include antagonism to the Sufic wisdom and a concentration purely on ritual, simple dogma and a personality cult.”

    This eye-witness report is supported by the historical, sociological and anthropological literature on the situation of the priyayi (Pak Subuh’s social grouping) at the time. I will cover this in posts to come.

    We can also look to Pak Subuh’s magnum opus, Susila Budhi Dharma, for an understanding of his views. SBD is a purely Kejawen text, expounding Javanese “ilmu” (spiritual science) widely known in Java, and containing nothing surprising or new to any Javanist or anthropologist. It is written in the poetic forms in which such knowledge is typically expressed. The “ilmu” thus expounded is all from pre-Islamic sources.

    I don’t understand the relevance of your quote from the scholar from the University of Fez. Most Muslims are not children, and the Muslims I meet in my travels are well-educated, and not given to rote memorization. The Malaysia which classes Subud as a deviant sect is the same Malaysia which surpasses Indonesia on all indicators of development: education, economic development, science, technology, public health, life expectancy, poverty reduction, medical services, literacy. These people are not “parrots”.

    Would your scholar from Fez think that Pak Subuh is a saint on a mission from God? Give me his name. I’ll be happy to email him, and ask.

    I do not learn Islam from google. I learn Islam from three sources: Muslims, the writings of Muslims, and Al-Qur’an. I have read the Qur’an. I have consulted many educated Muslims, both practicing and non-practicing. By “non-practicing”, I mean people with advanced university degrees who were raised as Muslims, but choose no longer to follow that religion. They are hardly “fundamentalists”.

    I have also looked at many texts written by Muslims, famous and non-famous. The Internet is nothing but a library. Google is nothing but an index. It allows you access to a library far broader than one book. That library includes the Qur’an, in all its translations, as well as the original.

    To me, what is important here is the if Subud wants to be truly open to all religions, its members need to stop using Pak Subuh’s talks as some kind of religious encyclopedia, and need to be proceed on the basis of fact, truth, and finding out for themselves. Pak Subuh’s knowledge of Islam, science, sociology, Christianity, Judaism, and just about everything was limited by the perspective of a Javanese man, partially-educated, a rural civil servant and small businessman raised between the wars in a feudal, patriarchal, colonized society. We would do well to recognise his accomplishments, but also his limitations.

    I think that if Subud, or its latihan practitioners, are to be anything more than yet another of the 10,000 New Religious Movements which riddle the late 20th C., all with their own charismatic leaders, texts, inward-looking communities, and declining memberships, something is going to have to change. One thing that will have to change is the anti-intellectual milieu which allows the publication of unqualified repetition of false statements about the world’s religions and societies, just because “Bapak says”. This is a way of slamming the door in the face of virtually everyone in the world today, and in so doing, slamming shut the door on our own future.

  11. David, there is so much that we agree on. But I think you missed my point on some of my comments.

    Much of the Islamic world is strongly interwoven with a countries cultural values–same as Indonesia. In this time, the predominant brand of Islam is super fundamentalism and is influenced by Arab culture. This is also happening, by the way, within Christianity in the US. There is a kind of attitude that devalues any interpretation other than the fundamentalist one. The Gnostic Gospel, writings of the followers of different disciples of Jesus, were mostly destroyed as a result of suppression of a different point of view than the prevailing one. Does this mean the people responsible for writing the Gnostic Gospels were not Christian? Sufis–are they not Muslims?

    Yes there are of course many educated Muslims. I myself work (at Stanford University) closely with people from various parts of the Islamic world. My point was that Qur’anic Arabic is no longer understood well by even Arabic speakers, not to mention the many other languages. It would be the same as memorizing the Bible or praying in Greek or Latin. Obviously Italians or Romanians have a closer connection, but there is no direct understanding of the ancient language texts by Christians who speak other languages. This does become a filter. There is not as much room for a personal relationship with the direct source. There is a lot of spoon feeding and acceptance of what has been carried down—with inevitable interpretation. The trinity within Christianity is case in point. This was approved as Christian theology in the 300s by one vote in the council of Nicea. The point is now accepted—all the discussion and different points of view on this concept are not part of that understanding. It is possible that the Trinity was understood differently (than how it is understood in fundmentalist churches) when accepted as Christian Theology.

    Personally, I find the cultural basis of Bapak’s talks less problematic than you do—maybe? I find them peripheral to the core of the Subud practice—the latihan. Susila Buddhi Dharma is a writing about cosmology, on the forces humans need and experience. There are words for all of these “forces” in probably all languages and religions. Greed, judgemental, selfishness, arrogance, aggressive, nationalistic, etc.

    I think your point is that there should not be an assumption that Subud is perfectly compatible with the ideas of any and every Muslim. Fair enough. And that Subud members should not use “Bapak says…” as the definitive word–Agreed. Personally I find what Bapak said in talks compatible with the Qur’an–this was my point.

    I am also saddened by an anti-intellectual basis in looking at any religion. I think that fundamentalists actually regard historians with suspicion and fear. It might shake the boat of their firm beliefs. This then becomes the work of the devil. Crazy. But this is a human nature issue rather than being linked to any particular religious group.

  12. Dear David,

    I think there would be little doubt that Subud and strict, formal Islam are leagues apart.

    The question, in my opinion, is not whether Subud is “Islamic” – even a bizarre variant of Sufism – but whether it represents more than a transitory and rapidly fading phenomenon.

    Sharif Horthy used, I believe, to represent it to Arabs (non-Wahhabis I trust!) as being similar to Sufism.

    As someone who was, many moons ago, interested in Sufism, I thought that was deceptive bullshit.

    When I was an active Subud member I always felt we were trying to sugar coat what seemed to me to be a long and diabolically difficult path.

    It heartens me that, after years of the spiritual goats becoming Muslim every Ramadan in Cilandak in the usual “bulk ceremony”, then coming home and realising they’d made a mistake, or not practising anything except keeping their “Muslim” names (sometimes actually a Hindu one like Lakshmi) this seems to have abated.

    In the next twenty-five years Subud will either fizzle out or become vastly different to the nonsense which pertains today.



  13. David,

    In Islam we learn that every child is born without sin. This is different then ancestral influences.

    A sinless child means that every child is born without any sin applied to his record so to speak. The child has yet to make his own decisions and commit sin.

    What I believe Pak Subuh was saying is that our ancestors sins help shape the world we are born into. We are born sinless but because the world is made of sin we immediately start to be influenced by this in the environment in which we grow. Behavior we learn and take for granted may be sinful because we learn it from our ancestors whose ways were also sinful.

    I believe that Subud is in essence the touch stone of all religions. Lets face it. They all come from the same God. How could they be different except by human interpretations and corruptions. God is absolute and unchanging. Humans are not.

    Anyway thats my 2 cents worth.

  14. Hi Amin

    Your interpretation is certainly more in keeping with the Islamic view. However, I don’t think that this is what Pak Subuh said. In his numerous discourses on ancestry and sex, he made clear reference to the direct transmission to the child at conception of the “lower forces” and “impurities” of the parents. For example:

    “The difference between Christ or Muhammad and yourselves is only that Christ was born pure. His self was indeed pure and immaculate. The Prophet Muhammad was the same. He was pure and immaculate from birth, whereas you are not like that. You have faults and impurities and disordered feelings. These have come down to you from your ancestors. You must not imagine they have not handed on their faults, for they have.” 70 LTC 1

    You might also refer to the book Susila Budhi Dharma, 16 SINOM, verses 27-28, and 14 KINANTHI, verses 9-10. These talk about any spiritual “impurities” a person have being a direct consequence of the misbehaviour of their parents.

    The theory of sex and the transmission of impurities which Pak Subuh sets forth appears to be of Hindu origins. Tantric beliefs permeate the traditional worldview of the priyayi class in which Pak Subuh was raised. And in this aspect, he was perhaps indeed shaped by his ancestors, in the way you suggest.



  15. David,

    Yes Bapak did mention about impurity of the human at conception, but again I don’t think this contradicts Islam. For one thing if the latihan is from God and Islam is from God in essence we will find no contradictions as God does not contradict. All we will find is that we ourselves fail to understand things.

    Again to explain, we can be born ‘impure’ as Bapak put it but this does not mean we are born with sin. The condition of our parents plays a role in shaping our condition at conception and birth, perhaps this is a part of what science calls genetics, but this is our parents ‘sins’ if you will, not ours.

    Sin only manifests when the individual with his or her limited free will commits an act that is contrary to Gods will. It is this sin, as described in Islam, that we are held accountable for on the last day. We are not responsible for the condition we are born into because of our parents fault. Thus being born ‘impure’ is not sin.

    Humanity is like a giant organism. We are all individuals but God holds us all accountable for taking care of the whole or each other.This is why charity and mercy are strongly emphasized in Islam. If we are irresponsible then we make the condition of life less conducive to spiritual growth for our children. It is basic cause and effect. This life is not only a test for the individual but for humanity as a whole.

    I would also like to add that at it’s deepest roots, Hinduism is no different then Islam. All religions were inspired by the same God. Any contradiction found in todays interpretations of any religion are proof of mans meddling.

    Assalamu alaikum


  16. It’s very hard to speak about these things. We are none of us (I think) experts on Islam. But for example in islam there is a distinction between a Prophet, a Messenger and someone who receives inspiration from God. Al-Hadid, the surah (verse) usually translated as Iron, has the following:

    “The People of the Book should know that they have no power over any of God’s grace and that grace is in the hand of God alone: He gives it to whoever He will.”

    Most Muslims interpret that very narrowly as a reprimand to the Christians and the Jews for rejecting Muhammad. But is that all it is? I don’t believe so. For Rumi (and the Sufis) you can only really understand the Quran if it is unveiled.

    My experience seems to be similar to that of Lusijah. In fact the longer I am in Subud and the more I read the Quran, the latihan and the Quran definitely seem to be from the same source. And Bapak’s talks seem to me to be very Quranic in a way. Bapak emphasised reminding us of certain basics. Just like the Quran. Indeed one of the Quran’s names is the Reminder. And David, however much you harp on about Bapak’s teachings and Indonesian beliefs etc I’d say Lusijah got it exactly right when she described all of this as peripheral. Ultimately Bapak in his talks just kept reminding us of certain basic things necessary for our spiritual progress through the practice of the latihan. All the rest was comparatively unimportant.

    There was a very famous meditation master in Thailand known as Acharn Chah. He was a forest monk, considered by many to be enlightened. Once he was giving some talks on Buddhism based on his experience and he asked if there were any questions. A French woman said she had. She went on to say she had studied the Pali canon, the Mahayana scriptures and many others but she still felt she had made no progress in Buddhism. she wanted to know what she should do. Through a translator Acharn Chah said: Madam you are like a chicken farmer who collects the chickenshit but doesn’t bother to collect the eggs.

    I guess it’s a universal failing.

    I think when Bapak says the latihan is compatible with all religions he is referring to the essence of the major religions. So the reason that the majority of the world’s Muslims might reject islam is no great mystery, it might be that they haven’t experienced the essence of Islam. They only know the shell and that is enough for them. I don’t think we should even be “trying” to bring them into Subud. They have their beliefs and we have ours. It may be that the latihan is not compatible with all belief systems but all believers can practice the latihan. Perhaps all beliefs are not true or equal. That would be my position. I wouldn’t disguise that. I wouldn’t argue about it either. But whatever your beliefs you can try the latihan.

    Remember: When a king invites you to his palace you don’t expect him to dress down because you can’t dress like him. Perhaps when you go something will rub off and you will become more king like.

  17. You wrote:
    “Pak Subuh was only a recent, and only partial, convert to Islam.”

    This is a patently absurd statement as Bapak was born a Muslim. Not a Wahabi for sure, but a Muslim. He didn’t need to convert to islam, wholly or partially.

    Then again:

    “There is abundant evidence that he was himself not familiar with the Qur’an. He makes errors in his talks that are astonishing. For instance, in “Talk to men and women, Cilandak, Indonesia, February 4, 1979″ he says: “At the end of the Koran one finds the Al-Fatihah.” Al-Fatihah is of course the first Surah of the Qur’an, which is why is it is called Al-Fatihah: “The Opening”. He says this more than once, in several talks.”

    Bapak never claimed to be an expert on Islam, I don’t think he attended religious school but his “error” as you put it may have a simple explanation. The Quran is traditionally read from right to left (back of book to front) whereas most modern books are read left to right (front to back). So a traditional book seen from a modern perspective might lead someone to say what Bapak said.
    Can’t you cut him some slack? I mean after all he did bring you the latihan.


    • To give a comparison, Bapak will return again to the comparison he used before, that is of the holy books. Taking an example now of the Al Koran, or the holy book of Islam, the beginning of the Al Koran starts with just three letters: Alif Lam Mim. And these three letters are actually the force, or the opening of, or in fact the whole content of the holy book. And they signify the power of Almighty God – that everything originates and starts, or is initiated by, the power of Almighty God. So the opener, or the one who opens, is the power of Almighty God. And then comes the whole of the Al Koran, which is the story of prophet Muhammad’s life, and all the things that he experienced, starting from that basis of the power of Almighty God.

      So that, from this beginning of Alif Lam Mim there came all the other things that followed; for example, he had to fight wars, he had to undergo defamation and criticism, he had to put up with being ostracized, he had to undergo tests and temptations, and finally could have many experiences, such as the mihrod, or the ascension that he experienced. And then after all that, after the whole of the Al Koran, we come at the end to the Al Fatihah, which is returning again to the beginning, that is, Al Fatihah is an expression of man’s surrender to God Almighty, when man surrenders again to the power of Almighty God, which is then the closing of the Al Fatihah. In other words, man retuns once again to Almighty God.

      • Real Muslims don’t claim to know what “Alif Lam Mim” means. Pak Subuh’s novel interpretation of these three letters are typical of Javanism, which is always claiming to know the “inner” meaning of “mysterious” things.

        Abangan Muslims (Pak Subuh was one) claim to have “mystical” interpretations of the entire Qur’an. This is how they continued their animist and Hindu beliefs into a society in which orthodox Islam was becoming increasingly dominant.

        For example, Sunan Kalijaga whom Pak Subuh claimed as an ancestor, interpreted the Qur’an in sexual terms. On the other hand, the companions of the Prophet claimed no knowledge of the meaning of the letters. This ignorance was also professed by Abu Bakr. In quoting Subuh as an authority, you set yourself as someone in a position to decide that an elderly Javanese mystical teacher is a superior authority on the Qur’an, than either the Companions, or Abu Bakr.

        Who, exactly, are you: to set yourself up as superior to the ummah?

        “Apart from the emphasis on the Muslim fast, Bapak often refers to the Koran, especially the three opening letters Alif, Lam, Mim, symbolising, according to Bapak, that everything is preceded by the power of the One Almighty God…. it is clear that Bapak prefers symbolical interpretations of classical Islamic issues, a way of interpretations so common in Sufism and Javanism.”

        In the quote above, you repeat what Pak Subuh said, apparently not realising that he himself was repeating what others had told him.

        I have no problems with Pak Subuh, a Javanese, electing to practice the Javanese religion. I have no problems with “seekers”, dissatisfied with their own religion, trolling other countries for some guru to teach them a new one. It’s a free world, and those actions are the problems of the people that take them.

        But it’s not okay to misrepresent the beliefs of a billion people, or to characterise them as ignorant of their own religion. Pak Subuh’s talks are simple re-iterations of commonplace and common Javanese mystical beliefs. No more. No less. They are not special. Nor are they representative of Islam.

        Those who made them to be more than that are those that sought some father-figure in their life, who would know everything, and tell them what to do. Well: people are pretty good at finding that which they need.

  18. I would like to explain a bit more pertaining to my remarks about the distinction between a Prophet (nabi) and a Messenger (rasul) and then about Divine inspiration.
    According to Surah Al ‘Imran (The Family of ‘Imran):
    “God took a covenant from the PROPHETS, saying, “I will give you the SCRIPTURE AND WISDOM. Afterwards, a MESSENGER will come to CONFIRM all existing scriptures. You shall believe in him and support him.” He said, “Do you agree with this, and pledge to fulfill this covenant?” They said, “We agree.” He said, “You have thus borne witness, and I bear witness along with you.” 3:81
    This is interpreted by some as meaning that a Prophet receives a scripture and a Messenger confirms it. But of course like much in the Quran is open to interpretation. There are other interpretations of this to be sure.
    I have seen in print a statement by Bapak, under Divine Inspiration, saying: “This is the Messenger of the Power of God.” No problem as far as I am concerned as it would conform to the interpretation stated above. But admittedly, it is not without controversy and why it is not often repeated. Having said this, one should recognise that all mysticism is controversial in many Muslim countries and even the writings of someone like Ibn Arabi (considered to be the greatest of the Sufis) are banned in a number of Muslim countries. So it is actually no surprise that Muslims in general have not welcomed Subud. It is not due to any shortcoming of Subud. Actually Bapak has referred to this on many occasions saying something like so-called esoteric (batinist) groups (into which Subud is frequently classed) are seen as anti development and hence governments and parents are not keen on them. But I don’t think this suggests that we market Subud as a keep fit exercise just to keep the government off our back and expand the membership.

    To cut the next topic short, let me just quote from John Renard’s All the King’s Falcons: Rumi on Prophets and Revelation (1994, p. 30-31): “Jalal ad-DIn’s [Rumi’s] language of revelation seems to warrant the following conclusions: …wahy is given mostly to prophets, though it can be related to others on rare occasions. Kafsh is applicable to prophets and nonprophets alike without significant distinction, whereas ilham seems to pertain only to nonprophets. Virtually every seeker of God may attain the Divine tajalli. In terms of content wahy and ilham may impart every sort of beneficial knowledge, whether of the strictly mysterious or not as trades or other practical affairs, secrets of the universe, etc. Kafsh is the uncovering of the mysteriousness of a mystery, that is that which should not, and will never be, the common property of all human beings. Tajalli imparts an overwhelming sense of the brilliance and power of the Deity without necessarily conveying any further information.”
    No Rumi was not from Java 🙂
    The point I think I am making is that these are complex matters and it doesn’t really hold up to paint a picture of the Javanese as somehow uniquely deviant among Muslims and the fact that Subud has not been warmly embraced as meaning anything more than a general modern Muslim (significantly influenced by Wahhabism) suspicion of anything to do with mysticism, esoteric groups and the like. Remember most governments in Islamic countries have fully subscribed to a model of development that is based on science and technology and keeping religion in its place. Saying something like are you driving the car or is the car driving you would be seen as encouraging people not to work hard so they can afford a car!

    Many of Subud’s problems might simply be problems of swimming against the increasingly material tide of modern societies, Islamic or otherwise.


  19. My most striking discovery as a new member of Subud, and hence a new reader of the transcripts of his talks, is that the beings that he refers to as ‘angels’ are quite clearly the beings that the Qur’an refers to as ‘jinn’. In my opinion, Bapak in his Tokyo July 1967 talks even appropriates the idea that they are divided into two camps, one of which is hostile to humanity and the other is not, from the Sura, ‘The Jinn’, where Jibril relays to the prophet the jinns’ statement, “we are divided into sects.” (72:11)

    I am currently considering the possibility that the charismatic effect the latihan is supposed to produce only makes sense in terms of a more or less Christian concept of ‘the Holy Spirit,’ which cannot be glossed away by relating it to the usual reading of the Qur’anic ‘Ruh Qudus’ as referring to Jibril.

  20. Actually, I have now resigned my membership (after three months of attending latihans, reading Bapak, etc.). Both the teaching and the practice seem to me to be quite fatuous.

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  22. I am thinking of joining subud HOWEVER only if it does not conflict with mainstream Islam. Eg i believe every child is born sinless – does subud or pak subuh believe what Christians believe? Transfer of ancestrol badness to generations is somewhat problematic. I believe in the finality of Prophet Muhammad. Is this also the belief of pak subuh?

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