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November 20, 2013

An Islamic Journey Part 2

Tom McLaughlin

Gresik, North Java Island – About three kilometers from the high hill tomb of Sunan Giri (see last weeks’ column) lies the grave of Sunan Malik Ibrahim. One enters a large square and in the upper left hand corner is the marble grave of the Sunan.


There are three other plots next to him thought to be family members. Like the Sunan Giri, he spread Islam through Java.


Sunan Malik Ibrahim (locally known as Grandpa Pillow because he slept with a Koran near his head) is thought to have been born in Persia (other accounts have him born in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern states) and arrived in Gresik around the late 1300’s. He left for what is now Vietnam (some say India) and learned farming skills while spreading Islam. He married a Princess and had a few children. He returned to Gresik without them and spread Islam by showing local farmers how to better grow crops.


His teachings were to the lower castes of Hindu society and with his Islamic philosophy that all men are equal, converted many of the farmers. He also spent much time treating the ill and became known as the healer as there were sudden out breaks of disease throughout Java.


Paradoxically, he also became friends with the princes and advisor to the local rulers. It was said he was summoned to treat the King’s wife.


Sunan Gresik (as he is also called, named after the town) also made a journey to the King of the Majaphit Empire, then ruling most of archipelago. He attempted to convert the royal family, a daring deed to say the least; but was unsuccessful. He did, however, return with a land grant for a few acres outside of Gresik.


The Sunan was also a successful trader at the port of Gresik. He probably bought and sold spices and other goods for trade with the Chinese and other areas of Indonesia.


His gravestone comes from India, which led some scholars to believe that Islam came via India and not the Middle East as previously thought. His inscription is written in Arabic and states:


“This is the grave of a man who is sure to be forgiven by Allah and be granted happiness by The All-Gracious, the teacher of princes and adviser to sultans and viziers, friend of the poor and destitute. The great religious teacher: Malik Ibrahim, renowned for his goodness. May Allah grant His pleasure and grace, and bring him to heaven. He died on Senin, 12 Rabi' al-Awwal, 822 Hijri.”


The Sunan Malik Ibrahim has been acknowledged as the first missionary of Islam in Java. His story is convoluted with both facts and legend intertwined together. The conceivable areas that he was a trader in the Arab quarter, healed the sick and had contacts with the royal families hold parallels to the Sunan Giri.


Each of these men will be instrumental in the spread of Islam to the Island of Borneo and the kampung across the river from me named for the town of Gresik and the birth place of my wife.


…Life is good. . . . .


Travelers advisory: When visiting the grave sites, men should wear long pants or a sarong to cover their shorts. Women must also wear a sarong, loose fitting blouse that does not reveal shape and a head cover. Try not to walk between those who are reciting the Koran and the grave of the Sunan. If from the west, one will probably be asked to have your picture taken with some individuals. Smile and enjoy the comradery.


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