Tanbihun.com- Syaikh Ahmad Rifa’i Al- Jawi- (not Syaikh Ahmad Ar Rifa’i, whose works were continuously published in Cahaya Sufi) was born in Tempuran Village in Kendal Regency, Central Java on 9 Muharram 1200 or 1786 AD. His father was R.K.H. Abi Suja’, alias Raden Soetjowidjojo, who was a religious judge in that Regency. His father passed away when Ahmad Rifa’i was six years old. His closest eldest relative was Syaikh Al Asy’ari (the husband of Nyai Rajiyah binti Muhammad), the founder of Pondok Pesantren Kaliwungu in Semarang, Central Java. It was he who looked after and raised young Ahmad Rifa’i with proper religious education in the twenty years of his youth.
In 1230 or 1816 AD, when he was 30 years old, Ahmad Rifa’i went to Mecca to undertake the Haj pilgrimage and studied the knowledge of Islam for eight years from his teachers Syaikh Usman and Syaikh Al-Faqih Muhammad Ibn Abd Al Aziz al Jaisyi. Then for twelve years he continued his studies in Cairo, Egypt, where he learned the Fiqh Books Mazhab Syafi’I under the guidance of great teachers, two of whom were Syaikh Ibrahim al Bajuri and Syaikh Abdurrahman al Misry.
According to history, after studying in the Middle East for twenty years, Ahmad Rifa’i returned to Indonesia with Syeikh Nawawi Banten and Syaikh Muhammad Kholil Bangkalan Madura. On their way back, the three of them sat down discussing their strong determination to spread their knowledge in the form of writing. They agreed to perform their individual duty in preaching, i.e.:
- First, the duty to perform amar ma’ruf nahi mungkar.
- Second, the duty to translate Arabic Books into local languages in order to spread Islam successfully.
- Third, the duty to establish schools of Koranic studies (pesantren)
- Fourth, the duty to perform Jihad fi sabilillah to expel the Dutch colonists.
They agreed that each of them was entitled to develop the Islamic teaching, education and religion. Muhammad Kholil Bangkalan was in charge of arranging Tauhid books; Syaikh Nawawi Banten was responsible for arranging books of Tasawuf, and Syeikh Ahmad Rifa’I was given the responsibility to arrange Fiqih books. The two of them decided to live permanently in their country, while Syaikh Nawawi Banten, at a certain point of time, left for Mecca and dwelled there till his death and was buried in Ma’la. Syaikh Ahmad Rifa’I himself chose to live in Kaliwungu Kendal Village (near Semarang), so that he could focus his attention on applying the teaching of religious knowledge and on writing Tarajumah books (translation from Arabic to Jawi). Apart from his busyness in teaching and writing, Ahmad Rifa’I worked hard to instill Islam and noncooperative patriotism against the colonial government among his disciples in particular and the society in general. At that time, the Dutch and its allies had just ended Diponegoro War (1825-1830), which lasted for a long time and consumed a great deal of their financial resources. Therefore, by forcibly applying the unjust Culture Stelsel System, they started to reexploit the rich resources in Java and seize people’s belongings to compensate for their loss and transferred them to their own country, the Netherlands.
Ahmad Rifa’I realized that the Dutch was responsible for the misery suffered by Moslems at the time. His struggle made him confront with the colonial government. Out of fear, the Dutch summoned Ahmad Rifa’I and put him in Kendal prison near Semarang without any sensible reason. Ahmad Rifa’I had been heard to refuse to perform ‘SEBO’ before the senior officials, because he thought it was humiliating people’s dignity. ‘SEBO’ was walking in a squatting way, performed by someone approaching senior officials or Dutch people.
Having been released from prison, Ahmad Rifa’I moved to Kalisalak (Kalisasak) Village. There he married a devoted Demang Kalisalak widow named Sujinah, after the passing away of his first wife, Ummil Umrah.
Kalisalak was a remote village located in Limpung Subdistrict, Batang Subdistrict, Central Java. It was in this village Ahmad Rifa’i founded for the first time a school of Koranic studies, whose name later got more and more recognition among people and therefore attracted disciples from various places, such as Kendal, Pekalongan, Wonosobo and others.
To strengthen and preserve his teachings, Ahmad Rifa’i RA prepared his disciples in special ways, such as forming of cadres for the future of his thoughts and movements. Those cadres were the people who later developed books translated from Arabic texts written by Ahmad Rifa’I. They were known as the First Generation Successors, among whom were Abdul Hamid bin Giwa alias kiai Hadits (Wonosobo), Abu Hasan (Wonosobo), Abdul Hadi (Wonosobo), Abu Ilham (Batang), Ilhan bin Abu Ilham (Batang), Maufura bin Nawawi (Batang), Idris bin Abu Ilham (Indramayu), Abdul Manaf and Abdul Qahar (Kendal), Iman Tsani (Kebumen), Muhara (Purworejo), Muhsin (Kendal), Muhammad Thuba bin Rodam (Kendal), Abu Salim (Pekalongan) and other numerous disciples.
When the colonial government noticed that Syaikh Ahmad Rifa’i’s movement gradually attracted more and more followers from other areas, they became aware that this movement could lead to social aggression towards them. Accordingly, using every possible way, they manipulated and captured Ahmad Rifa’I and put him in exile in Ambon on 16 Syawal 1275 Hijriah (19 May 1895). The accusation was brief: ‘putting the National security in danger’. National here meant the Dutch colonial government.(Ost Indische Besluit,289/59 Geheim, 19- Mei- 1859).
To defame Ahmad Rifa’I, the Dutch government also did a character assassination by making up some literary works in the form of Javanese chant. Chanting was a part of Javanese culture. The Javanese were used to performing URO-URO, which was singing Javanese songs while lying waiting the rice plants to ripen or while herding buffaloes. This strategy was meant to tarnish Syaikh Rifai’s’ image and it worked, especially among the poor. The literary works were later known under the title ‘Serat Cebolek’.
As a result of this defamation, Ahmad Rifa’i became secluded because he was sent away to a place whose society did not have the same religion as his. But he was not discouraged, he did not let go his jihad to write books as a means to spread Islam. Today his books are in Malay language, not in Javanese. It should be known that all Ar Rifa’I’s works in Java, which used Javanese language, were in the form of poems. He wrote 4 books and 60 back-to-back pages. Tanbih (warning) was done in Malay language in Maluku. The books of this warning were later sent to his disciples in Java by some secret couriers. Then Ahmad Rifa’i was moved to Kampong Jawa Tondano in Minahasa Regency, Menado and passed away there at the age of 89. He was buried in Bukit Tondasa Menado, the place where other national heroes like Pangeran Diponegoro and and Kiai Mojo were buried. In Menado, Ahmad Rifa’i formed a family again and nowadays his descendants can be found around Tondano and are known as having the Rifa’i surname.
By: KH.Khaeruddin Khasbullah