Wed, 05 Jan 2000

Fasting month a good time to study the Koran

By Agus Maryono

PURWOKERTO, Central Java (JP): During the current fasting month of Ramadhan, Muslims have many ways to get divine reward.

For some 250 students of Al-Ikhsan Pesantren (traditional Islamic boarding school) at Beji village, Kedungbanteng subdistrict, Banyumas, Central Java, the study of the Koran and the standard religious textbook popularly called Kitab Kuning (the Yellow Book) is their choice. Santri (students) intently take part in the program for the whole month of Ramadhan.

"Usually the recitation of one chapter of the Muslim holy book requires one hour each day and night. But during the fasting month, the Koran is studied for 10 hours a day," KH Abu Hamid, the principal of the Al-Ikhsan school, told The Jakarta Post recently.

Such an intensive system of studying religion is typical of a boarding school, which is associated to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's largest rural-based Islamic social organization.

"A non-NU school does not use the model of instruction of the Yellow Book like we do," Abu Hamid said.

The text is called the Yellow Book because its pages are all yellow. Otherwise, it is called kitab gundul (the book of classic Arabic), the text of which has no harakah (punctuation marks).

The Yellow Book contains, among other things, the Hadith (the Prophet Muhammad's quotes), Fiqih (Islamic jurisprudence), Tauhid (the concept of the Oneness of God), Tasawuf (Sufism) and Nahwu Saraf (Arabic grammar).

Model of study

Abu Hamid says that the technique of reading the Yellow Book during Ramadhan is similar to that during the rest of the year. The teacher reads from the book in Arabic, giving a full explanation of its meaning in Javanese while students listen attentively and take note of new words as they are interpreted.

The difference is in the amount of time spent. "Besides, the reading speed of the book during Ramadhan is higher compared to other days, because we target to finish the study by the end of the holy month," said Abu Hamid.

"For example," he added, "a book of Hadith compiled by Bukhari or Muslim normally requires three years. We can finish it in less than 30 days," he said. Likewise is the four-volume Imam Al- Ghazali's Ihya Ulumaddin, which is a very popular classic book in the world of pesantren. The volumes usually need four years to finish, but during Ramadhan they can do it within a month.

Another difference, Abu Hamid said, lies in the explanation of the book's contents. "A teacher explains very little about the book's contents. He usually reads the book and its meaning without explanation. That is all," said Abu Hamid. In his opinion, the quality of the study is not as good as during the rest of the year, but quantitatively speaking, it is more extensive.

Abu Hamid said the difference is the aim of the study of the Koran during Ramadhan, which is meant to pursue divine reward. "We believe that Ramadhan is a month full of blessings, divine reward, therefore we spend our time on study," said Abu Hamid. Thus, by studying the Koran in that manner, he said, teachers and students also hope to obtain the blessings of the Koran, apart from obtaining the blessings of Ramadhan.

"With the blessings of Ramadhan, the Koran and the writers of other books, the students are expected to be able to read all the books complete with meanings. The other teachers and I have gained that experience," said Abu Hamid. He said at the beginning he could not read any of the book but later on he managed to read it complete with meaning.

He said that to read the Yellow Book without punctuation marks complete with its meaning in Javanese was an achievement for a senior student who has studied there for more than five years.

Although the study is done continuously, the students say they do not feel tired. "I do not feel tired. We are also happy to do our prayers and recite the Koran continuously during Ramadhan. This is perhaps one of the blessings of the holy month," said Saefuddin, a student from the Central Java town of Kebumen.

He said the recitation is done after each of the five daily prayers. In the evening, it is done after the tarawih (Ramadhan evening prayer). "Each study session lasts two hours. After the subuh (early morning) prayer, it may last more than three hours. We take a rest afterwards and the recitation resumes after the midday prayer service," said Saefuddin.

Nuryanto, 23, a student from Palembang, South Sumatra, told The Jakarta Post he had been a part of the program for three times. He gains a special satisfaction after finishing the Yellow Book. "On ordinary days, I feel lazy. During Ramadhan though, I feel inspired because I obtain a lot of knowledge from the book I read. After Idul Fitri, the post-fasting holidays, we start studying again and improve our understanding of the contents, page by page," said Nuryanto.

The way of reading the Yellow Book with a translation in Javanese is known locally by the term Utawi Iku-Iku, a method of translating Arabic word by word and, at the same time, explaining the grammar. Therefore, at the beginning, not every student can read the Yellow Book, Abu Hamid said.

But if somebody claims to be able to read it, he must have a good knowledge of Arabic grammar and an adequate vocabulary.