The Illuminator, the life of Ahmad Dahlan

by bbudoyono

A movie review of an Indonesian movie.

Sang Pencerah
Sang Pencerah


Movie Title : Sang Pencerah (The Illuminator)

Director : Hanung Bramantyo.

Casts : Lukman Sardi, Zaskia Mecca, Slamet Rahardjo.


Let me introduce you to the prominent persons in Indonesian movie today. Hanung Bramantyo is one of the best Indonesian movie directors. Although he comes from a Chinese family, he directed many movies with Islamic background like this one. Slamet Rahardjo is a senior actor and is one of the best Indonesian movie stars. Lukman Sardi is a rising star in Indonesian movies lately. Zaskia Mecca is Hanung Bramantyo's wife who is also a popular actress.

I watched this movie on its premiere last week in Jakarta. It was launched on the last week of the holy month of Ramadan because it is about well known Islamic ulama (clergy). Ahmad Darwis was born in the Sultanate of Yogyakarta in 1868 in a Muslim family. His father was a clerk in the office of religious affairs of the Sultanate. The young Darwis was very concerned with the social condition of his people. They were oppressed under the Dutch colonial rule, so their social economic condition was very poor. Besides poverty, they lacked religious guidance. Most Javanese people at the time were Muslim but they also embraced animism. They used to give offering to banyan trees, ancestors, amulet etc. There is a scene in the movie when Darwis stole offering under a big banyan tree and then gave it to poor people.

Darwis went to Mecca to learn Islam and to do Hajj. Five years later he returned to Yogyakarta. He received a new name - Ahmad Dahlan. And he got honorific title of Kyai. So his full name was then Kyai Ahmad Dahlan. He was aware that his people misunderstood Islam so he decided to inform his people about Islam. At first he joined the Masjid Agung (the grand mosque) which was operated by Sultanate authority. But soon he found that his understanding about Islam was contrary to the belief of his superior there. He found that the direction of all mosque were wrong. In Islam prayers and mosques must be directed toward Mecca which is in the northwest of Indonesia while all mosques at the time were directed to the west. He tried to correct this fault. He informed his senior and many people. Instead of support he got fierce opposition because people did not trust him. So he ran his own mosque in his house. It was called Langgar Kidul which means Southern Small Mosque.

Dahlan also tried to convince people that they did not need to give offering to pray to God. In Islam there is no offering. People can communicate directly to God by praying. This is serious issue at the time. Consequently people got mad at him. Then Dahlan decided to run a school. Once again this move received a strong opposition from traditionalist Muslim who considered that his school was a product of the kafir people (infidel). Some people thought that he was a kyai kafir (infidel Islamic clergy).

Leaders of Masjid Agung and also prominent persons in his community finally lose their tolerance. One night some people destroyed his mosque. Dahlan was desperate. But then with the help of his faithful wife and family he did not give up. He established an organization called Muhamaddiyya which means the follower of Muhammad - the prophet of Islam. He was lucky because his organization was supported by Sultan Hamengku Buwono VII, the King of Yogyakarta at the time. The mission of his organization was to purify Islam from animism and local misleading belief. Besides it also run schools and hospitals.

After several difficult years, gradually he received support from prominent persons and the general public. Then Muhammadiyya developed into a modern and influential organization. Today it is the second largest Muslim organization in Indonesia in terms of member. It operates many schools from kinder garten to universities and many universities throughout Indonesia. Kyai Ahmad Dahlan was remembered as the illuminator of Indonesian Muslim.

In short, this movie shows an important part in Indonesian history which lacks public attention. It also gives an insight into the life and struggle of an Islamic clergyman.

The life of Ahmad Dahlan clearly shows me the danger of incompetent leaders. Formal leaders of the mosque and informal leaders in the society who had great influence over public at the time proved to be incompetent. They were not aware about the wrong direction of their mosques. They did not have a correct understanding about the true Islam. They inherited custom and tradition that proved to be handcuff to their mind. This misunderstanding about Islam is very relevant today. It is time for all of us to learn more about Islam. Partial understanding is dangerous. It is worse if our misunderstanding is only based on the dramatic report from the press.

Second point I got from this movie is every reformer will receive opposition from his social environment. This opposition may be based solely on misunderstanding. But in today's complicated socio-political setting, it is possible that the opposition also based on interest. Some people may take advantage of the present situation. Therefore they do not want change. But time will tell. As time goes by, people will realize the truth like in the case of Ahmad Dahlan. At first he was considered as public enemy but then he received recognition.

Third point I got, the Javanese society had been able to free themselves from the influence of customs and tradition. The negative side is the Javanese culture is deteriorating. But on the other hand the Javanese people are free from misleading traditional belief and animism. Consequently they will be able to keep up with modern development.

Updated: 01/05/2012, bbudoyono
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