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Asian Studies Review

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Destabilising Male Domination: Building

Community-Based Authority among Indonesian
Female Ulama

Nor Ismah

To cite this article: Nor Ismah (2016): Destabilising Male Domination: Building
Community-Based Authority among Indonesian Female Ulama, Asian Studies Review, DOI:

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Asian Studies Review, 2016

Destabilising Male Domination: Building Community-Based

Authority among Indonesian Female Ulama
Nor Ismah
Leiden University

The concept of ulama in the Indonesian context usually refers to Female leadership; female
Muslim scholars who have mastered Islamic knowledge and acquired ulama; religious authority;
the religious authority to issue fatwas based on Islamic jurisprudence. community-based authority;
In Indonesia, the formulation of fatwas is still undertaken almost Indonesia; Islam
exclusively by male ulama. This is despite the fact that a number of
issues they discuss and the fatwas they produce are closely related
to the lives and experiences of Muslim women. In response to this
situation, female ulama cadre programs have been set up by non-
governmental organisations concerned with womens empowerment.
Against the background of these recently instituted female ulama
cadre programs, this paper examines the ways in which female ulama
establish community-based authority. Two major questions provide
the basis for this research. First, how do male ulama respond to and
support female ulamas claims to religious authority? Second, to
what extent does community-based female authority interact with
or challenge Indonesias male-dominated religious authority? To
answer these questions, I interviewed female ulama cadres of the
organisation Rahima from different cohorts of the female ulama cadre
programs and from different social backgrounds. The research shed
light on the extent to which female ulama may in the future exercise
fatwa-issuing, that is, juristic, authority in Indonesia.

Women as leaders of organisations and muballighah (female religious preachers) are found
in many social, cultural and political contexts in Indonesia, but women rarely become
ulama or have religious authority that is as strong as that of male ulama in issuing fatwa.
The Indonesian Ulama Council (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, MUI) based in Jakarta, for exam-
ple, has only recruited a few women as members, notably Zakiyah Darajat, Aisyah Amini,
Chuzaimah Tanggo and Tuti Alawiyah (Agustina, 2010, p. 20; Rifai, 2002, p.170).1 Women
are also absent from discussion forums on religious issues such as those organised by the
mass organisation Nahdhatul Ulama called bahthul masail.2 Women may attend bahthul
masail where male ulama discuss religious problems as participants, but cannot take part
in deciding the fatwa.

CONTACT Nor Ismah,

2016 Asian Studies Association of Australia
2 N. Ismah

Azra (1996; 2002) proposed two major reasons to explain the relative absence of women
who have been recognised as ulama. First, they are disadvantaged by the lack of education
and training, especially regarding Islamic classical knowledge, so that they cannot fulfil
the requirements to become an ulama. Second, there may be a number of female ulama
who have reached an acceptable level of ulama-ness but whose profiles reveal insufficient
research and written publications, and a dearth of leadership experience.3 The organisations
concerned with womens rights in Islam, such as the Centre for Pesantren and Community
Development (Perhimpunan Pengembangan Pesantren dan Masyarakat, P3M), Puan Amal
Hayati and Fatayat Welfare Foundation (Yayasan Kesejahteraan Fatayat, YKF), have been
conducting education programs for Muslim women leaders. Since the 1990s they have
been actively publishing material by women to address the problems noted by Azra (Yafie,
2010, p. 10; Arimbi, 2009, p. 60). Rahima, a centre for Islamic education and information
on womens rights, has organised a similar program and specifically uses the term female
ulama4 in its training. Rahimas Female Ulama Cadre Program is intended to train women
who aspire to become ulama and help them fulfil the requirements. This program was ini-
tiated in 2005, and has produced four cohorts of female ulama. This paper demonstrates
that these female ulama, who emerged from local communities, have played an important
role not only as moral guardians but also as leaders and fatwa makers for the community.
My study explores the diverse experiences of these female ulama trained by Rahima,
including the strategies and methods they adopt to achieve their aims, and the best practices
revealed by such efforts. Based on their experiences, I examined the ways in which female
ulama establish community-based authority. Two major questions provide the basis for
my research in relation to these women. First, how do their male counterparts respond to
and support female leadership and religious authority? Second, to what extent does this
community-based female authority interact with or challenge Indonesias male-dominated
religious authority?
For this study, I carried out in-depth interviews with several female ulama cadres of
Rahima from different cohorts and social backgrounds: Afwah Mumtazah from cohort 1,
Ummi Hanik from cohort 2, and Khotimatul Husna from cohort 4. I used the edited book of
female ulama profiles published by Rahima, Merintis Keulamaan untuk Kemanusiaan: Profil
Kader Ulama Perempuan Rahima (Ismah, 2014), to look at the experiences and practices of
the female ulama. Most of the female ulama cadres of Rahima, including Afwah Mumtazah,
Ummi Hanik and Khotimatul Husna, are from and have been educated by pesantren that
are culturally associated with Nahdhatul Ulama. Therefore, my paper may only explore the
experience of female ulama from the Nahdhatul Ulama background. In order to provide
comparative data from male counterparts and a comprehensive analysis, I also investigated
the impressions and perceptions of male religious leaders from the area where these three
female ulama live regarding their leadership and authority.
The first section of this paper provides a brief description of ulama and religious author-
ity in Indonesia. The paper examines the use of the term ulama, and how ulama became
a gendered term that excluded women. The next section describes the education program
organised by Rahima and the female ulama trained by the program, and then moves on to
discuss the profiles of several female ulama, the authority they hold in their community,
and the response and impressions of male religious leaders. In analysing their experiences,
I attempt to uncover some of the methods they have applied in building their communi-
ty-based authority and negotiating their space with male counterparts. I conclude this paper
Asian Studies Review 3

with remarks on the possibility of female ulama gaining collective religious authority as a
step to eventually issuing fatwa in Indonesia.

A Brief Description of Ulama in Indonesia

The word ulama is derived from the Arabic word alima-yalamu meaning to know. Ulama
is the plural form of alim, from isim fail (the subject form in Arabic) meaning someone
who knows or someone who has knowledge. In Indonesia both alim and ulama are com-
monly used in reference to a single person. To refer to a number of ulama the word alim is
added to the word ulama to form the phrase alim ulama. The word ulama originally meant
one who had general knowledge of a particular field. For example, ulama al-handasah is
used to refer to experts in technology and ulama al-fiziya means physicians (Azra, 2002,
p. xxxii; Mansoornor, 1990, p. xv; Rofiah, 2014, p. xxxii; Muhammad, 2011, p. 157).
Influenced by the development of Islamic knowledge such as syariat and fiqh and reli-
gious studies that focus more on fiqh, the meaning of ulama has been changing to become
more specific and narrower than its original meaning. Recently, the word ulama has come
to refer specifically to a person who has mastered fiqh (Rofiah, 2014, p. xxxiii). Cendekiawan
Muslim (Muslim scholars) or muballigh (preachers) are not considered ulama as they have
less expertise in fiqh. Yet becoming an ulama requires not only mastering fiqh but other
qualifications. According to Azra (2002, p. xxix), the first and basic requirement for becom-
ing an ulama is an excellent knowledge of fiqh and of classical Islamic knowledge based
on Al-Quran, hadith and kitab kuning.5 This familiarity is necessary to support ulama
in making decisions regarding Islamic jurisprudence. In other words, ulama must have
a very good understanding of the sources and methodology of issuing fatwa.6 Second,
ulama should be individuals of good character and moral integrity in both behaviour and
religious practice (Azra, 2002, p. xxix). Because they are expected to be warathatul anbiya
(the heirs of prophets), ulama play an important role in guarding the morality of their
religious followers (jamaah). Third, ulama are leaders of their jamaah as well as leaders of
communities where they live. Ulama who take the role of kiai (pesantren leaders) and own
an Islamic institution such as a pesantren or a madrasah are expected to lead jamaah in
socio-religious activities, including preaching in majelis taklim7 and being responsible for
offering prayers and blessings for the community (Azra, 2002, p. xxix).
To some extent these requirements constrain women from becoming ulama. The lack of
education and training as well as the emphasis on interpreting Al-Quran and hadith often
place women in a subordinate position. Today, there are many female Muslims who have
been educated in pesantren and have received an intensive religious education; however,
only a few of these women have the same opportunity to participate in fatwa forums (i.e.
bahthul masail) as their male counterparts. Women are restricted to the position of imam
(the leader of shalat), teaching and delivering speeches but always merely tolerated in what
is considered a mens sphere. Women still have to deal with religious, social and cultural
questions, such as whether womens voices should be considered aurat,8 the acceptability
of female leadership, and the status of women in the public sphere.
Rofiah (2014, p. xxv) noted that even though some of the issues raised in the bahthul
masail organised by NU are closely related to the lives and experiences of Muslim women,
they do not consider the views of female ulama. The restriction on women delivering
speeches or preaching has been questioned in the bahthul masail forum since 1935. From
4 N. Ismah

that time till the present, the answer has been the same: women are prohibited from attend-
ing religious gatherings and delivering speeches because their presence has the potential to
generate fitnah (seduction).9 Another bahthul masail was conducted in January 2010 by the
Discussion Forum of Islamic Boarding Schools for Female Students (Forum Musyawarah
Pondok Pesantren Putri, FMP3) in Kediri, East Java. This forum was attended by 258 female
students from 48 Islamic boarding schools in East and Central Java. It issued several fatwa of
haram (prohibition) regarding matters such as rebonding (hair straightening), pre-wedding
photography, and employment as motorbike-taxi (tukang ojek) drivers for women. The basic
argument is the fear of possible fitnah and the need to ensure that women are controlled
and guided by men. For example, rebonding for a married woman is allowed as long as
her husband gives permission (Viva News, 2010). Although the forum allowed the FMP3
members, who are female students from the Islamic boarding schools, to attend, the fatwa
were decided by their male teachers.10
At this point, Rahima believes that the participation of female ulama is necessary to
establish gender equality. Female ulama can pass on their experiences in dealing with
discrimination against women, reinterpreting Al-Quran, hadith and Islamic classical texts
(i.e. kitab kuning) concerning women, and issuing religious fatwa for the Muslim commu-
nity. The presence of womens perspective and experience in religious matters shows the
value of justice and equality that Islam teaches. As noted explicitly in religious sources,
the word ulama is gender neutral; thus, both males and females can take on this role. The
use of female ulama to emphasise the role of women as ulama, according to Azra (2002,
p. xxviii), does not correspond with the spirit of equality, but expresses gender bias.
Nonetheless, this term is still popularly used to refer to women who take on the role of
ulama. Since 1980, the term female ulama has been used by the journal Mimbar Ulama,
published by the Indonesian Ulama Council, even though the term ulama here only refers
to the womens specific expertise in delivering sermons; they are called muballighah (female
religious preachers) (Srimulyani, 2012, p. 92). The Centre for the Study of Islam and Society
(Pusat Pengkajian Islam dan Masyarakat, PPIM) has published selected profiles of women
under the title Ulama Perempuan Indonesia since 2002. In this book the term ulama refers
to the participation of women in religious activities as muballighah, singers and lecturers,
and also to their participation in Islamic political parties. While Rahima, based on the
various backgrounds of the participants, uses the term ulama in its original meaning (i.e.
to refer to general expertise and knowledge). A.D. Eridani, director of Rahima, argues that
mentioning female before the word ulama affirms womens existence in this role and is
an attempt to appropriate a position for women in the ulama world.11

Rahima and the PUP Program

Rahima was established in August 2000 by Muslim activists (notably Lies Marcoes, Farha
Ciciek, A.D. Eridani and Syafiq Hasyim) who were engaged in the Fiqhunnisa (fiqh about
women) program of the Centre for Pesantren and Community Development (Perhimpunan
Pengembangan Pesantren dan Masyarakat, P3M). P3M is the first NGO to raise the issue
of Islam and democracy by addressing the traditional Muslim community and pesantren.
The centre introduced gender analysis and reproductive rights to the Muslim community
by holding training and discussions attended by male and female pesantren leaders. The
Centre uses Islamic classical texts, kitab kuning, as resources that can be analysed and
Asian Studies Review 5

criticised in order to suggest a new interpretation of gender issues (Yafie, 2010, p. 18; van
Doorn-Harder, 2006, p. 192).
Rahima has adopted and developed the issues initiated by the P3M Fiqhunnisa. For
instance, it organises critical discussions on religious discourses regarding women and
reproductive issues found in the kitab kuning in order to make these texts more reliable
and contextual. The discussions also propose new methodologies for analysing texts and
issuing fatwa through the bahstul masail forum (Yafie, 2010, p. 19). Faqihuddin Abdul
Kodir, one of Rahimas board members, has suggested a method known as mubadalah
(reciprocity)12 to interpret hadith that deal with gender relationships so that the interpreta-
tion addresses men and women equally. In regard to bahthul masail, Rahima requires four
aspects of consideration which are, first, theological sources including Al-Quran, hadith,
the thoughts of classical ulama described in kitab mutabarah (credible classical texts), and
those of contemporary ulama as published in their books. The second and the third matters
for consideration concern national and international regulations, and the fourth relates to
female experiences.13 Rahima introduces the new method to participants in its program,
especially Pengkaderan Ulama Perempuan (PUP, Female Ulama Cadre Program), which
has been conducted regularly and intensively.
PUP is one of Rahimas more significant programs. It started as a madrasah that Rahima
conducted in a small mushalla (prayer room) attended by some students of the State
University for Islamic Studies (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta. Most of the students were
women, and under the leadership of K.H. Husein Muhammad they studied an advanced
kitab kuning usually only given to male santri in pesantren. Because of the benefit of this
program for its initial participants, Rahima initiated a workshop for formulating the PUP
module on 2325 January 2005, attended by its board members. The following August,
Rahima implemented the PUP with two more groups. The first was attended by 15 female
Muslim leaders from districts in West Java and Magelang in Central Java, while 15 female
leaders from East Java areas participated in the second group. The first cohort of PUP was
divided into five tadarrus (learning classes) with five subjects: (1) Gender Perspectives; (2)
Social Changes; (3) Social Analysis; (4) Islamic Discourse Methodology; and (5) Organising
Community and Transformative Dawa (Eridani, 2014, pp. viiiix).
The number of participants in PUP has increased from 15 to 25 female leaders. The second
cohort included female leaders from West Java areas, the third came from Central Java, and
the fourth from Yogyakarta and Central Java. Subsequently, Rahima has developed a new
version of various subjects, namely Islam and Gender Equality, Tafsir (Quranic exegesis) and
Hadith (prophetic tradition) Studies, Fiqh Studies, Islam and Social Change, and Advocacy
and Organising Community (Eridani, 2014, p. x). These subjects were expanded into eight
tadarrus for the fourth cohort: Islam, Women and Reproductive Health, Islam and Social
Change, Tafsir and Ulum at-Tafsir, Hadith and Ulum al-Hadith, Fiqh and Ushul al-Fiqh,
Bahthul masail and Methods of Issuing Fatwa, Advocacy and Organising Community, and
Female Leadership.14
Participants in PUP have to meet certain criteria. They must be between 20 and 55 years
old, be unaffiliated with any political party, be able to read kitab kuning, be open minded
and progressive in attitude, and actively lead activities in the community.15 Occasionally,
board members of Rahima consider participants who do not fulfil one of the requirements
but have the qualities necessary to become a leader, and can therefore be accepted con-
ditionally. For example, a prospective participant might be able to read kitab kuning but
6 N. Ismah

not have jamaah (a religious following) or the equivalent. Rahima has adopted the idea
suggested by Abdullah Ahmad an-Naim in considering recruitment of participants. As
noted by Abdullah Ahmad, The recognised ulama are those who live in the society and
are committed to its people (Eridani, 2014, p. viii).16
PUP applies an adult learning method (Pendidikan Orang Dewasa, POD) that emphasises
action and reflection and learning from the experiences of the participants. It is not merely
based on theory but also practice (Yafie, 2011, p. xiv). The PUP is held for four or six days
depending on the subjects being studied. On the first day, the participants explore experiences
and cases (e.g. experiences of being a daughter) taken from their own lives and communities,
and also reflect on their connections with the tadarrus subjects (Yafie, 2011, p. xv). There is a
2-month gap between the tadarrus when they can apply action plans in the community and
find new cases to be discussed and reflected in the subsequent tadarrus. Thus the POD enables
the participants to share and enrich their experiences and practices as community leaders.
A.D. Eridani understands that eight tadarrus within two years does not give adequate
time to prepare female ulama cadre who are expected to be familiar with classical Islamic
knowledge taken from Al-Quran, hadith and kitab kuning. The female ulama are also
expected to understand gender perspectives, which means considering equality and jus-
tice for both male and female in analysing social and religious problems.17 They should
also be capable of critical thinking in regard to the reality of injustice, be able to organise
community activities, and finally be able to hold a legitimate position in society as well as
to rule on fatwa that can influence and encourage social changes (Yafie, 2011, p. xiii).18
Although these are demanding goals, in the process of becoming prospective female ulama,
some PUP participants have met these expectations. The next section of this paper provides
case studies of three female ulama cadres who attended the PUP and the responses of male
leaders to their leadership and roles in society.

Discussion: The Profiles of Female Ulama

Afwah Mumtazah
Afwah Mumtazah is a female ulama cadre from cohort 1. She was born in Babakan,
Ciwaringin, Cirebon, West Java, on 9 July 1973. She grew up in a family that owns a pesant-
ren. Her father, K.H. Fuad Amin, comes from Pesantren Babakan, while her mother, Nyai Hj.
Izzah Satory is from Pesantren Arjawinangun. Unlike her parents, who were only educated
in pesantren, Afwah studied in a regular school as well as the pesantren. In the Pesantren
Kempek Arjawinangun, owned by her aunt Hj. Siti Aisyah, she started to study Al-Quran
and kitab kuning. In 1984, after completing her primary education, she moved to Pesantren
Babakan to attend Madrasah Tsanawiyah (Muslim secondary school) and then continued
to Pesantren Yanbuul Quranin Kudus, Central Java.
Afwah stayed at Pesantren Yanbuul Quran for three months, where she memorised
Al-Quran. She then continued her education in Pesantren Ali Maksum, Krapyak, Yogyakarta
and also attended Madrasah Aliyah (a Muslim high school). Her parents requested that she
memorise the 30 sections of Al-Quran before she attended an Institute of Islamic Studies. She
therefore went to Pesantren BUQ Betengan in Demak, Central Java. Afwah was able to fulfil
the requirements in 1992 and continued her study in IAIN (State Institute for Islamic Studies)
Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta, majoring in Tafsir Hadith (MTs Nahdhatul Umam, 2013).
Asian Studies Review 7

Afwah was also actively involved in organisations such as OSIS (student school organ-
isation) of Madrasah Aliyah Ali Maksum and the BEM (student executive board) of IAIN
Sunan Kalijaga. She faced a difficult situation midway through her college career because
her parents arranged a marriage to her cousin from Pesantren Kempek Arjawinangun, K.H.
Muhammad Nawawi Umar. Afwah agreed to accept this arrangement after her parents
promised that she would be able to continue her studies after the marriage. She then trans-
ferred from IAIN Sunan Kalijaga to IAIN Syeh Nur Jati Cirebon and continued working
towards her masters degree at the same institute (Ismah, 2014, pp. 79).
Afwah now lives in Pesantren Aisyah Kempek, Arjawinangun, owned by her husbands
family, where she is ummi (mother) to around 600 female santri. In comparison to Pesantren
Babakan where she grew up, Pesantren Kempek and its affiliated pesantren are more con-
servative and restricted in terms of womens rules and participation in the public sphere.
None of the other Ibu Nyai (wife of kiai, pesantren leader) holds a strategic position like
that of Afwah as the head of Pesantren Aisyah, and this has become an issue among the
male leaders of Pesantren Kempek.19

Ummi Hanik
The second female ulama cadre of Rahima selected for discussion is Ummi Hanik, from
cohort 3, who was also raised in the pesantren tradition. In 1999, at the beginning of her
career, she established majelis taklim, namely Sabilun Naja (the path of fortune) and Pesantren
Al-Quran Hisnun Naja, in Karangawen, Demak, Central Java, her husbands hometown.
She herself was born in Grobogan, Purwodadi, Central Java, on 1 June 1970, and grew up
in a salaf pesantren.20 Most women in her family were educated in salaf pesantren, but only
a few graduated from Muslim secondary schools. Despite this situation, Ummi convinced
her parents to allow her to continue on to higher education. After her primary education,
she went to several salaf and modern pesantren in East and West Java, such as Pesantren
Bangil Gresik, East Java, Pesantren Al-Muayyad Solo, Central Java, Pesantren As-Shidiqiyyah
Jember, East Java, and a pesantren in Pandeglang Banten (Ismah, 2014, pp. 24950).
Ummi was married in 1998, but in 2006 she began studying for her bachelors degree
at STIPI (Sekolah Tinggi Ilmi Pendidikan Islam) in Yogyakarta. Since several courses in
which she was enrolled were offered at the Demak STIPI campus, she travelled back and
forth between Yogyakarta and Demak. Eventually, she graduated with the outstanding
GPA of 8.94. Currently, she is assisting around 150 female santri in her pesantren, preach-
ing in Sabilun Naja and other public majelis taklim, leading the Muslimat NU branch in
Karangawen, holding a position on the takmir masjid board, and serving as the only female
member of the Village Representative Board (Badan Permusyawaratan Desa, BPD) of
Brambang Karangawen Demak. She is a prominent female preacher in Demak and preaches
weekly or monthly in several majelis taklim held in various Demak villages. Her audience
includes both men and women, and she incorporates ideas about gender equality in Islam
in her preaching.21

Khotimatul Husna
Khotimatul Husna was born in Bojonegoro on 27 March 1976. She went to Pesantren
at-Tanwir Talun Bojonegoro to pursue her regular and Islamic education. She was a santri
8 N. Ismah

kalong, a santri who studies at a pesantren but does not stay there, and moves back and forth
between the pesantren and her house. In 1996, she left her hometown in Bojonegoro and
moved to Yogyakarta to complete her bachelors degree. She studied Ahwal asy-Syakhshiyah
(family law) at IAIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta. She was an active member of the student
dawa organisation, Kordiska, the student magazine, Advokasia, the Indonesian Muslim
Student Movement (Pergerakan Mahasiswa Islam Indonesia, PMII), and the Nahdhatul
Ulama Female Youth Association (Ikatan Putri-Putri Nahdhatul Ulama, IPPNU). She had
opportunities to deepen her knowledge regarding womens issues and gender through var-
ious training courses, such as Journalism Training with a Gender Perspective and the study
group of Lembaga Kajian Islam dan Sosial (LKiS, Institute for the Study on Islam and Social)
on Women and Gender.22
Khotim could not embark on a masters degree, even though she was accepted by Gajah
Mada University, because in 2000 she had to move to Malang, East Java, after her marriage.
In 2013, she moved back to Yogyakarta, and now lives in Kepanjen Banguntapan Bantul
Yogyakarta. She has not yet had a chance to study for a higher degree because her time is
completely taken up with her household responsibilities, but inspired by her mother, who is
a leader of Muslimat NU (a female organisation affiliated to NU) in Talun, Khotim devotes
herself to empowering people in her village through education and organisational involve-
ment. She provides pre-school education through the Flamboyan Play Group, and runs a
village youth organisation and also majelis taklim Syifaul Qulub. She uses space in her house
for classes, a playground and a meeting room. She has also set aside a section of her living
room for a small library known as Kandank Ilmu. Recently, the education and community
activities are conducted in a new common building built by the people in her community.
In addition, Khotim is a prolific writer and editor who has published many books
including Sukses Berbisnis ala Nabi (2010) andTerapi Nabi Mengikis Terorisme (2014). She
also disseminates her thoughts, particularly on gender and Islam, through national news-
papers, journals and magazines. Some of her articles include Mitos dan Industrialisasi
Tubuh Perempuan (Jawa Pos, 2 July 2006); Mendamba Kecantikan dan Pengakuan den-
gan Penderitaan (Seputar Indonesia, 16 July 2006) and Pengorganisasian dan Advokasi
Sosial untuk Gerakan Perubahan yang Humanis dan Adil Gender (Swara Rahima, 46
[XIV], October 2014).23

Building Religious and Social Communities of Female Ulama

Pesantren Aisyah, where Afwah Mumtazah lives, is located in the area of Pesantren Kempek
Arjawinangun. This area, consisting of some small pesantren and formal schools from ele-
mentary to senior high level, is like a kampung santri (santri village). Every pesantren in this
village has its own santri, either female or male. Other than pursuing religious education,
these santri also go to the same school, managed by Pesantren Kempek Foundation. The
male pesantren is located opposite the female pesantren. The road between these pesantren
is used to segregate the sexes, signifying the space between the two pesantren where inter-
action between female and male is prohibited.
Afwah realised the inequality of male and female santri in religious education after she
moved to teach the female santri of Pesantren Aisyah. In this pesantren, male santri can
learn fiqh, hadith, tarikh (history) and ilmu alat (Arabic grammatical) included in kitab
kuning, which are considered the advanced level of Islamic sources, including scholarly
Asian Studies Review 9

works such as Kitab Alfiyah ibn Malik and Kitab Shahih Bukhari and Shahih Muslim. Female
santri, however, are only allowed to study kitab kuning such as Kitab Munjiyat and Maratus
Shalihah, which deal with basic Muslim ethics. As a result, the female santri of Pesantren
Aisyah are not able to continue their religious learning and go to other pesantren that require
basic knowledge of other areas of Islam, such as ilmu alat.
Reflecting on this inequality, in 1996 Afwah established a madrasah diniyyah (religious
school) for female santri called Madrasah Takhashush Lil Banat (MTLB) to provide these
female santri with the same skills as those of the male santri (Ismah, 2014, p. 4). Afwah had
not herself been taught about gender, equality, discrimination and other concepts related
to women. Her only motivation in establishing the school was her own experience. In
1999, Afwah joined Puan Amal Hayati, where she learned about gender equality, and from
that time she understood that she had in fact been defending womens educational rights.
Similarly, Khotim and Ummi, the other two Rahima female ulama cadre discussed in this
paper, were also motivated by their concerns about childrens and womens education in their
villages. This lay behind their initiative to work with stakeholders to establish educational
institutions such as a pre-school group, pesantren and majelis taklim.24
These cases might show that womens experiences and the presence of empathy as a
woman are significant aspects in reflecting on and responding to female issues, includ-
ing discrimination and violence against women. Without the experience and empathy,
the reflection on and response to womens issues may be different and may tend towards
proposing a biased solution or even one that is harmful for women (Rofiah, 2014, p. xxxi).
Ummi admits that the gender perspective she learned in PUP transformed the way she
analysed, for instance, a case of marital violence described by one of her jamaah enabling
her to propose a more respectful response that saw the woman as a victim. She noted, Before
I joined Rahima, I could only suggest that she should be patient and accept violence. But
now I can suggest a solution, and offer help for legal advocacy.25
The presence of empathy as a woman is also significant in female ulama contributions
to the process of textual interpretation for example, hadith and kitab kuning such as
Kitab Syarh Uqud Al-Lujjain fi Bayan Huquq Al-Zaujain.26 Afwah explains that she tries
to preserve the pesantren tradition by using classical Arabic references, such as kitab Uqud,
although the ethics lessons in the kitab imply an unequal position between male and female.
The method that can be used is mubadalah, as proposed and taught by Faqihuddin Abdul
Kodir. Kitab Uqud is like a special character of pesantren salaf, so I use it in my pesantren.
However, I do interpret the texts and hadith using a gender perspective. I also make sure
that the teacher who teaches the kitab has to learn first from me so that she/he will use the
same perspective, stated Afwah.27
Although Ummi, Khotim and Afwah had only recently moved to new neighbourhoods,
they demonstrated a leadership capability and the capacity to enhance the religious envi-
ronment of their community. They live harmoniously with people in their new neighbour-
hoods and are involved in religious and social activities such as majelis taklim and the
Family Welfare and Empowerment forum (Pemberdayaan dan Kesejahteraan Keluarga,
PKK). Khotim has developed an interest in pre-school children and youth activities. When
she moved to her new neighbourhood, she found that there was nothing organised by the
local people for youth and teenagers that could encourage them to engage in beneficial
activities and prevent them from involvement in negative behaviours, such as consuming
drugs and vandalising public facilities. Khotim then applied a personal approach, talking
10 N. Ismah

to the parents, and a structural approach by approaching the village head and commu-
nity leaders, sharing her concerns and thoughts in order to gain support and permission
to address the situation. This initiative was turned down by the local people, who were
reluctant to accept innovation and change. She therefore initiated an independent program
by inviting the children and youth to come to her house and developing activities that
responded to their needs.28
In order to convince the stakeholders to agree to their various proposals, the female
ulama cadres also negotiate, using different strategic methods. Ummi Hanik joined the
existing majelis taklim in her village, but after a while she encountered opposition from the
jamaah leader because some saw her as a better leader. Jamaah members who supported
Ummi then suggested that she establish a new majelis taklim. Ummi agreed to do so only
because she was supported by the jamaah, her husband and local male religious leaders.
In running the madrasah diniyyah for female santri and joining womens activist groups,
Afwah always consults her husband, the son of the Pesantren Aisyah leader. She also works
with him to develop the curricula of the madrasah diniyyah. She explains:
When I taught santri with kitab Tijan in the morning class at Pesantren Aisyah, I saw that they
were very much interested in studying kitab kuning. This was because studying kitab kuning
was a new activity for them. I then asked an ustadz to teach them the future lessons because
what I taught in one class would not give them adequate religious skills. However, the ustadz
refused, and said that Mbah Yai Umar (her father-in-law) forbade male santri to enter the
female area. I talked to my husband, and he allowed the ustadz to enter.29
In building the pesantren community, Afwah realised that she needed to live in the local
environment and engage with local people; therefore, when she decided to continue her
masters degree she enrolled in classes at STAIN Syeh Nur Jati Cirebon. Actually I want to
study in Yogyakarta or Jakarta. However, my family told me that building a community is
hard. I have been working at it for 20 years, from 92 santri up to now 600 santri. If I leave
them while I am a central leader, my community may be weakened, observed Afwah.30
Ummi also cited similar reasons when she received an offer to become a civil servant in
Demak. Accepting the position would mean that she would not be able to spend her week-
days at the office and would have little time for her santri and her majelis taklim. She thinks
that santri and pesantren, jamaah and majelis taklim are an amanah (responsibility) and
that she must be responsible for assisting, managing and taking care of them.31 Khotim,
who is a Fatayat NU activist, attempts to make her community program her first priority.32
Khotim argued that if female ulama really try to work with the community, people
will acknowledge their capabilities.33 To be trusted as leaders, ulama first have to show
the capabilities of a leader through their social activities. After that, they must convince
the people and search for opportunities, added Ummi.34 According to Afwah, Khotim
and Ummi, Rahimas PUP had taught them leadership skills as well as giving them new
knowledge, particularly about gender equality, techniques of interpreting Al-Quran and
hadith without a gender bias, and new ways to answer questions by evaluating gender
equality from an Islamic perspective.
There are some issues on women in Islam that need to be clarified by interpretations based
on gender equity, such as female leadership, polygamy, female voices as aurat, and the place
of women in public spaces. Both Afwah and Ummi encountered offensive actions prompted
by gender bias. Afwah was not allowed to teach male santri and Ummi was asked to put
down the microphone during her preaching. Nonetheless, they did not give up because of
Asian Studies Review 11

these offensive actions. To Afwah, dawah bil hal (practising religion according to Islam) as
a female is more effective than arguing and debating the concepts of gender equality with
people who oppose her. Afwah and Ummi also appreciate ubudiyah rules that acting as an
imam for daily prayers is a male privilege.

Building the Community-Based Authority of Female Ulama

This paper has argued that femaleulama must build their relationships with the community
in order to establish their authority, especially where they cannot draw on a long history of
cultural assumptions about the legitimacy of mens leadership. This is not, of course, to sug-
gest that community support is unimportant for maleulama. For instance, Jeremy Kingsley,
as cited by Feener (2014, p. 511), has studied the various sources from which the Tuan Guru,
male religious leaders on the eastern Indonesian island of Lombok, derive their authority.
Like the women described in this paper, they must also be seen as knowledgeable about
religious texts and capable of assuming leadership positions, be known for personal piety
and connections with centres of Islamic learning, and exhibit personal charisma. However,
the evidence indicates that a maleulamawho falls short in any of these categories can still
draw on centuries of tradition that affirms mens religious authority and links them with
institutional and collective authority. This is not the case for women.
Community-based authority is authority within community circles. Being educated and
graduating with an Islamic education such as that acquired in a pesantren is not the only
prerequisite for female ulama to gain this authority. They must also demonstrate their ability
in leading the community, solving religious and social problems by providing guidance
and advice. Unlike the men, they do not have the privilege of becoming a religious leader
and ulama, which makes it much easier to gain authority within the community. In con-
trast to men, women are often questioned about their qualifications, virtue and abilities.
Moreover, systems and authoritative institutions in Indonesia relating to religious matters
are dominated entirely by men.35
Based on the experiences of Afwah, Ummi and Khotim, it is not tradition but the holding
of positions as religious and institutional leaders, preachers, teachers and religious advis-
ers for the community that is the essential source of the authority of femaleulama. This
authority, built and strengthened by and within the local community, is therefore different
from a mere institutional or collective authority. The establishment of community-based
authority of femaleulamais an ongoing process that may become stronger or weaker in
the course of time, depending on the solidarity of the community.
The community-based authority of female ulama can be manifested in, first, religious
authority, in providing religious advice and fatwa for the community. Kaptein (2004,
p. 122) explained that religious advice and fatwa are different in terms of the procedure and
the questions asked. The issuing of fatwa requires a certain methodology and an adequate
source of references and usually answers a question addressed to the ulama. Religious advice
is more personal and usually a response to a particular event or religious occasion in the
community. Questions that have been raised by female jamaah range from daily ubudiya
(worshiping Allah) to more serious concerns related to working as a migrant labourer and
cases of marital violence. They apply the method that has been learned in PUP and refer
to textual sources such as Al-Quran, hadith, kitab kuning and national and international
regulations, and incorporate womens experiences in their responses.
12 N. Ismah

I give several options so the person who asked can decide which options she prefers
to take, said Khotim. For example, there was a question about what she thought of a wife
who acts as the imam for the shalat when her husband is present. Khotim explained the
different opinions regarding a woman who becomes an imam for a man, according to par-
ticular conditions and the textual sources. She suggested that a wife can be an imam for her
husband when she can fulfil the requirements for becoming an imam. She also suggested
that any decisions should be based on the interpretation of Al-Quran and hadith.36 Religious
authority also allows Ummi Hanik to interpret Al-Quran and hadith as sources for religious
advice and as a basis for her preaching. She gives an example: When I elaborate the meaning
of hadith regarding maratus shalihah (a good woman), I also compare it with other hadith
that contain the lessons about being a good man or husband.37
Second, female ulama also hold social and cultural authority through which they are posi-
tioned as leaders in decisions implemented by and within the community. Ummi Hanik pre-
sented her thoughts on pengajian or a weekly prayer for individuals who have died. Usually,
the host has to provide food and drink, but Ummi suggested that her jamaah abandon the
practice because it imposes too much responsibility on the shahibul musibah (the mourning
family). She also acts as a mediator between members of the community and the government.
For instance, she negotiates with the mayor of Demak regarding womens opinions and their
participation in solving the problem of unexpected pregnancies among teenagers.38
Third, the institutional positions of female ulama mean they are able to maintain lead-
ership authority. The experience of Afwah in establishing Madrasah Takhashush Lil Banat
clearly shows the leadership authority that enabled her to make decisions regarding the
expansion of the curriculum and facilities of her madrasah. In addition to the madrasah,
Afwah formed a family foundation known as Mahad Islamy al-Kempeky, which she heads,
as well as chairing its board, which has all male members. In 2013, a secondary school
Madrasah Tsanawiyah Nahdhatul Umam was added to the pesantren (MTs Nahdhatul
Umam, 2013) and a senior high school is currently under construction. She believes that
the acceptance of women as leaders is increasing in Pesantren Aisyah, and in the coming
years she may be allowed to teach male santri.39
Community-based authority provides resources and capital for female ulama cadres in
building and developing a supportive community. According to Ummi, female ulama can
be subjects in the process of producing and interpreting religious texts because they have
authority. Afwah also stated that [R]eligious decisions made by ulama are also related to
womens lives. The absence of female ulama in the decision-making process may cause biased
decisions. She offers an example in relation to the issue of whether women are allowed to
work and develop careers. Female ulama can see the benefit of career development and
employment for women to build their capacities, so that a religious answer about this issue
should not be detrimental to women.40
Khotim argues that community-based authority is also a strong element in collective
authority. The community can be affiliated with, for example, jamiyah NU, which is located
at the local level and consists of Muslim NU members who then become part of NUs
religious mass organisation.41 Female ulama also benefit from networking in the PUP and
with participants in the program while they are learning new skills and knowledge. Khotim
admits that she learned how to manage a pre-school class from another female ulama. As
Ummi and Nur Rofiah, the PUP facilitator, put it, clapping with five fingers will make a big
sound but one finger can only touch.42
Asian Studies Review 13

Since all graduates of Rahimas PUP lead communities and hold community-based
authority, they may establish another level of authority. This can be termed collective
authority,43 established through a forum or institution of Indonesian female ulama. The
requirements to become ulama can be fulfilled collectively, which means female ulama with
different religious skills and knowledge can support one another. The forum can be a place
for affirmative action for female religious leaders, where they can issue fatwa about women
and religious issues for Muslim communities. Rahima has been preparing for this forum by
conducting several halaqah and pre-congress meetings of Indonesian female ulama since
February 2015, and a full congress is planned for 2017.44 With this collective authority,
female ulama can play significant roles in handling womens issues, such as discrimination,
violence against women, and biased interpretation of religious textual resources, compre-
hensively and simultaneously.

The Response of Male Religious Leaders

Creating a supportive environment for women to perform and play leading roles in society
is very important in promoting gender equality. Afwah feels grateful for the support of her
husband for her goal of founding the madrasah diniyah at Pesantren Aisyah. Her husband
allows Afwah to independently run and manage the female pesantren while he and his
nephews take care of the male pesantren.45 Similarly, the husbands of Ummi and Khotim
support their attendance at training sessions and their participation in community activities.
Khotims husband, Irfan Muttaqin Abdillah, acts as a mediator between Khotim and the
male jamaah, especially when they invite Khotim to preach in the jamaah.46 Leaving home
for learning is also an obligation of women, not only men. I just remind her to behave prop-
erly, said Zubaidi Mansur, Ummis husband. I am proud of her achievements, he added.47
The efforts of female ulama and their dedication to empowering the community have
demonstrated their capabilities as leaders. Most of the male leaders interviewed in this study
admitted that the popularity of female ulama and the recognition of their achievements
are determined by their knowledge and capabilities rather than because they are female.
Ahmad, a male religious teacher, considers that Khotim, as a new resident of Jambidan,
has a pleasant personality and can live harmoniously with the people around her. She also
actively attends social events, including jamaah and pengajian. As a result, she was quickly
accepted as part of the village community.48 Muflihul Hadi, a religious leader at Brambang
Karangawen, appreciates Ummis positive characteristics, such as taking responsibility
for the financial reports of takmir masjid when she was appointed treasurer. Hadi even
acknowledges that Ummi Haniks expertise in regard to Al-Quran, kitab kuning and other
religious knowledge is better than his own.49
The social and cultural background of male religious leaders may influence their accept-
ance of female ulama leadership. The response to the leadership of Khotim and Ummi seems
to be more supportive than the response of male leaders towards Afwah, who has to deal
with the fact that most male leaders of Pesantren Kempek do not appreciate her achieve-
ments. Yet K.H. Husein Muhammad, a cousin of Afwah from Pesantren Dar al-Tauhid
Arjawinangun Cirebon, says that Afwah is passionate in her efforts to bring about social
and cultural change. She uses her own traditions, such as learning kitab kuning and using
Arabic terms such as musawah (equality) and adalah (justice), instead of English terms, as
a strategy for approaching her community. She teaches kitab kuning to female santri with
14 N. Ismah

a new perspective, and uses alternative kitab kuning that are more progressive, including
Manbaus Saadah and Sittin al-Adilah.50
K.H. Husein Muhammad admires Afwahs ability to negotiate with her husband, which
has meant she can travel by herself. I believe that the arguments delivered by Afwah have
successfully convinced her husband. She has shown that she has a good purpose and can travel
safely, and that she could manage it very well, he added.51 On the other hand, Ahfaz, an ustadz
of Pesantren Asiyah and Afwahs nephew, notes that despite her achievements, her husband,
K.H. Muhammad Nawawi Umar, remains the leader, but because he respects Afwahs husband,
he also respects Afwah. Ahfaz also claims that Afwah holds the position as head of Yayasan
al-Mahad al-Islamy al-Kempeky simply because she is a woman and is supposed to lead the
female pesantren. He considers that she should only promote the study of kitab kuning such as
Fiqhunnisa and Mambau Saadah that are suitable for female santri.52 Based on this response,
it seems that there is a clear distinction between male and female in Pesantren Aisyah, and
that Afwahs efforts may be challenged by this division. Male religious leaders may think that
defending equal opportunity in education for women is only the responsibility of female ulama.
Nevertheless, these male religious leaders accept and acknowledge the presence of female
ulama as agents of change and pembaharu (reformers) in their community. Ummi Hanik
has helped the jamaah to understand more about Islam and has enabled them to read
Al-Quran through majelis taklim as well as through her preaching in a public pengajian.
She has demonstrated that female ulama are not only concerned about women and work-
ing with female jamaah, but are also engaged with social issues and with male-dominated
institutions such as BPD. Ahmad admits that women who are both able and sufficiently
brave to preach in pengajian are very rare in Kepanjen, but Khotim has accomplished this.53
K.H. Husein Muhammad and Ahfaz acknowledge that Afwah has reformed education for
female santri. Previously, female santri could not attend madrasah, but now they can. This
is because a female ulama is well educated and her enlightened notions influence female
santri, who want to study with her, Ahfaz added.54 In other words, these female ulama have
played an important role in the community.
The positive response of male religious leaders is in line with Azras statement that men
who engage in educational and religious institutions, such as husbands and close relatives,
play an important role in providing strong impetus and opportunities for women to develop
their knowledge and clerical capabilities (Azra, 2002, p. xxxiv). The response also shows
that male and female ulama can work collaboratively in creating musawah (equality) and
adalah (justice) for men and women in the community. Both male and female ulama
have a responsibility for disseminating Islam rahmah (the peace of Islam) and addressing
concerns about womens rights. This collaboration requires a supportive and affirmative
response from male leaders. Today, gender training sessions and programs concerning
women in Indonesia have incorporated male participation for example, the Male Ulama
Cadre program (Pengkaderan Ulama Laki-Laki) of Rahima55 and the New Mens Alliance
(Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru).56 With these encouraging developments, we can expect more
significant participation of female ulama in strategic roles.

In this paper I have described the experiences of female ulama cadres of PUP in build-
ing communities and gaining community-based authority. Afwah Mumtazah, Khotimatul
Asian Studies Review 15

Husna and Ummi Hanik have shown their passion and capabilities in the process of initi-
ation, negotiation and establishment of their activities in the community. They approach
the people and stakeholders, including the village heads and male religious leaders, in
order to engage everyone in the community. They also use the language and the traditions
of the community in order to teach people about the equality of men and women in prac-
tising Islam. The PUP has contributed to sharpening their understanding of technique and
knowledge in the interpretation of religious texts. This article has shown how the concept of
community-based authority can be developed to another level of authority termed collective
authority, from a relationship between the local community and the collective community of
female ulama. The community-based authority of female ulama can be manifested through
religious, social and cultural, and institutional authority.
Afwah, Khotim and Ummi all obtained support from male religious leaders, enabling
them to play meaningful roles as agents of change and reform in the community. Female
ulama are able to work collaboratively with male ulama to develop religious practices
and religious education of high quality. Nevertheless, the community-based authority of
female ulama may challenge the male-dominated religious authority. The participation of
female ulama may destabilise the unequal relations between men and women by stressing
a gender-equal interpretation of Islamic knowledge, practices and religious texts, including
Al-Quran, hadith and kitab kuning. This does not, however, mean that the leadership and
authority of female ulama is replacing the male ulama; rather, both are supporting one
another in creating a better Muslim community for both men and women.

This institution has also conducted an ulama cadre program for males only, but it emphasises
the role of ulama as moral guardians (Azra, 2002, p. xxx). The Consultative Assembly of
Ulama (Majelis Permusyawaratan Ulama) of Aceh conducted the 18th ulama cadre program
specifically for female ulama in 2013. This is a positive step in developing the ability of Muslim
women to become ulama, but such programs will not lead to any significant changes affecting
womens position in Muslim society if the methodology and perspective used do not consider
gender equality between male and female (Antara Banda Aceh, 2013).
Lajnah bahthul masail is an institution under Nahdhatul Ulama that organises the bahthul
masail forum to compile and study religious issues raised and requested by Muslim believers
in order to investigate Islamic legal decisions based on the thought of four mazhhab: Hanafi,
Maliki, Syafii and Hambali (Zahro, 2001, p. xii).
Tarajim al-Hayah, or biographical dictionaries, refer to biographies of ulama categorised
by cohort or grouping of expertise. In Indonesia a tarajim of female religious leaders has
been compiled only in contemporary times. For example, Perempuan dan Ilmu Pengetahuan
(1990) contains brief biographies of 136 women who have excelled in various disciplines
(Azra, 2002, p. xxvi).
Female ulama should of course be referred to as alimat, but since it is a common expression
in Java and also used by Rahima, in this paper I use the term female ulama.
Kitab kuning are the classical texts of the various Islamic disciplines, together with
commentaries, glosses, and super commentaries on these basic texts written over the ages
(van Bruinessen, 1994, p. 1).
The role of ulama in Indonesia has been dominated by MUI from its very inception, including
the issuing of fatwa. According to the Outlook of the Indonesian Council of Ulama
(Wawasan Majelis Ulama Indonesia), MUI has five major roles: (1) to act as heir of the
Prophets (warathat al-anbiya, a traditional description of the task of the ulama); (2) to issue
fatwa; (3) to act as both guide and servant of the Muslim community (khadim al-ummah);
16 N. Ismah

(4) to reform and revive Islam (islah wa tajdid); and (5) to enjoin good and forbid evil (al-amr
bi-l-maruf wa al-nahy an al-munkar) (Ichwan, 2013, p. 68).
7. Majelis taklim is an Islamic learning forum in the Indonesian Muslim communities.
8. Aurat refers to parts of the human body that are shameful and must be covered, such as the
genital areas. There are different views in fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) about womens aurat,
and whether or not all parts of womens bodies including their voices have to be concealed
(Rasmussen, 2010, p. 222).
9. Fitnah means falling into sin and hypocrisy (Islam Question and Answer, n.d.). A biased
view of women, arguing that they have less analytical ability than men, has turned into an
assumption that they are the source of sin and seduction in society. Women are often blamed
for being responsible for any adverse effects on them because of their presence in the public
sphere. Therefore, adamul fitnah (the absence of fitnah) is always required of womens
presence in the public sphere (Subhan, 1999, pp. 8283).
10.Discussion with Imam Nakhoi, 1 September 2014.
11.Interview with A.D. Eridani, 28 October 2014.
12.Mubadalah is a method of interpreting hadith by finding a general value of the message and
applying the value reciprocally to gender, men and women. Individual note from Tadarrus
4, 912 January 2014.
13.Individual note, Tadarrus 6, 1618 May 2014.
14.Individual note, Lokakarya PUP, 21 May 2013.
15.Interview with A.D. Eridani, 28 October 2014.
17.The female ulama cadres are also expected to apply gender perspectives as a means of
analysis while interpreting the verses of Al-Quran and hadith. There are some guiding
principles for the interpretation: 1) To consider the history and social situation when the
verse was revealed (because interpretation can mean discovering the meaning of the texts);
2) To establish gender equality as the core of awareness while interpreting the texts; 3) To
cite and use the verses that textually support gender equality; 4) To consider gender equality
as one of the acceptable parameters of interpretation; 5) To consider womens voices while
interpreting the texts (Yafie, 2011, p. 79).
18.Interview with A.D. Eridani, 28 October 2014.
19.Some Kiai of Pesantren Kempek characterise Afwah as a weird Ibu Nyai who wanted to leave
studying in her pesantren to become active in outside programs, whereas other Ibu Nyai are
typically housewives who generally stay at home and go out only with their husbands. The
majority have graduated from pesantren and have not experienced formal (secular) education.
Afwah said, He (the Kiai) asked me, Do you want to be a civil servant? Is that why you
continue your higher education? Interview with Afwah Mumtazah, 26 October 2014.
20.Salaf or salafiyah (traditional) pesantren maintain the study of traditional Islamic texts as the
core of teaching. They operate a madrasah diniyah system which is different from khalafiyah
(modern) pesantren that also provide a formal (secular) education.
21.Interview with Ummi Hanik, 30 November 2014.
22.Interview with Khotimatul Husna, 19 October 2014.
24.Interviews with Khotimatul Husna, 19 October 2014, and Ummi Hanik, 30 November 2014.
25.Interview with Ummi Hanik, 30 November 2014.
26.Kitab Syarh Uqud Al-Lujjain fi BayanHuquq Al-Zaujain was written by Muhammad bin Umar
Nawawi al-Jawial-Bantani al-Shafii (181398). The kitab discusses marital relationships,
especially the mutual responsibility between husband and wife, using gender-biased teaching
(van Doorn-Harder, 2006, p. 167, p. 228).
27.Interview with Afwah Mumtazah, 26 October 2014.
28.Interview with Khotimatul Husna, 19 October 2014.
29.Interview with Afwah Mumtazah, 26 October 2014.
31.Interview with Ummi Hanik, 30 November 2014.
32.Interview with Khotimatul Husna, 19 November 2014.
Asian Studies Review 17

34.Interview with Ummi Hanik, 30 November 2014.
35.van Doorn-Harder describes how women have to struggle for space in NU, which is a male-
based organisation. This also happens in other religious-based institutions such as MUI
(Indonesian Ulama Council) (van Doorn-Harder, 2006, p. 223).
36.Interview with Khotimatul Husna, 19 October 2014.
37.Interview with Ummi Hanik, 30 November 2014.
39.Interview with Afwah Mumtazah, 26 October 2014.
41.Interview with Khotimatul Husna, 19 October 2014.
42.Interview with Ummi Hanik, 30 November 2014.
43.The idea of collective fatwa, from Kaptein (2004, p. 121), means the fatwas resulted from
a collective effort to reach a certain point of view in a process. One example is a fatwa by
bahstul masail forum in NU.
44.Interview with A.D. Eridani, 1 March 2016.
45.Interview with Afwah Mumtazah, 26 October 2014.
46.Interview with Khotimatul Husna, 19 October 2014.
47.Interview with Zubaidi Mansur, 30 November 2014.
48.Interview with Mbah Ahmad, an Al-Quran teacher for children in Jambidan Bantul
Yogyakarta, 19 October 2014.
49.Interview with Muflihul Hadi, 30 November 2014.
50.Interview with K.H. Husein Muhammad, 27 October 2014. Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir has
written some kitab kuning and shalawat in Arabic. Some of these are Mamba al-Saadah fi
Usus Husn al-Muasyarah fi Hayati al-Zaujiyyah (Cirebon: Institute Studi Islam Fahmina and
the Fahmina Institute, 2012), Sittin al-Adilah (Cirebon: Institute Studi Islam Fahmina and
the Fahmina Institute, 2012) and Nabiyyurrahmah (Cirebon: Institute Studi Islam Fahmina
and Rabithah Maahid Salafiyah Cirebon, 2013).
52.Interview with Ahfaz, 26 October 2014.
53.Interview with Ahmad, 19 October 2014.
54.Interviews with K.H. Husein Muhammad, 27 October 2014, and Ahfaz, 26 October 2014.
55.Eridani (2014) explains that Rahima started organising the Male Ulama Cadre Program
(PUL) in 2012 and produced two cohorts. The PUL is the counterpart of the PUP (Female
Ulama Cadre Program), although there are several differences e.g. the number of tadarrus
is less that it is for PUP, and the themes discussed focus on the elimination of violence against
women. Interview with Eridani, 28 October 2014.
56.This is a network of several NGOs involving men in action for eliminating violence against
women in Indonesia (Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru, n.d).

I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Barbara Watson Andaya for her critical input and
intellectual guidance. Without her this piece could not have been completed.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

This is part of my ongoing PhD research at Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), the
Netherlands, sponsored by the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP) of the Ministry
of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia (201620).
18 N. Ismah

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Asian Studies Review 19

List of Individuals Interviewed

No Name Position Address
1 Afwah Mumtazah Female ulama cadre Pesantren Aisyah, Kempek Arjawinangun Cirebon West
2 Ummi Hanik Female ulama cadre Pesantren Hisnun Naja, Brambang Karangawen Demak
Central Java
3 Khotimatul Husna Female ulama cadre Jambidan Banguntapan Bantul Yogyakarta
4 K.H. Husein Muhammad Muslim activist Pesantren Dar al-Tauhid Arjawinangun Cirebon West Java
5 Ahfaz Ustadz of Pesantren Aisyah Pesantren Aisyah Kempek Arjawinangun Cirebon West
6 Muflihul Hadi Muslim leader Brambang Karangawen Demak Central Java
7 Ahmad Muslim leader Jambidan Banguntapan Bantul Yogyakarta
8 Nur Rofiah Facilitator of PUP Rahima Jakarta
9 Imam Nakhoi Facilitator of PUP Asembagus Situbondo East Java
10 A.D. Eridani Director of Rahima Rahima Jakarta