Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The lost role of ‘Pak Haji’

The lost role of ‘Pak Haji’

Al Makin, Yogyakarta | Fri, 11/26/2010 8:56 AM | Opinion, The Jakarta Post
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Indonesia is welcoming the pilgrims from the Islamic holiest land — Hijaz. After throwing pebbles at the pillars in Mina (jumrah), they performed the farewell circumambulation of the Kabah (tawaf wada). At home family and friends will address those who completed the ritual with new titles — Pak Haji and Bu Hajah (Mr. and Mrs. Haj).

To visit the Kabah in Mecca and the mosque of the Prophet in Medina, many Indonesians sacrificed their most precious belongings, such as land, animals, gold, cars and savings.

They sold their assets in order to collect about US$3,500 to apply for the trip with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Those who want to enjoy more luxurious facilities in a package called “haji-plus” must pay approximately double the ordinary price.

Haj is the most expensive ritual in Islam. It involves financial, managerial, physical and psychological issues.

However, a question can now be raised about what kind of role Pak Haji and Bu Hajah can play in our modern Indonesian society. It remains unclear whether the title still implies positive social and religious status. Beyond economic factors, particularly as a lucrative state business which enormously benefits those who are involved in its management, how the haj contributes to social and religious dimensions in society cries out for explanation.

Historians and scholars, such as Martin van Bruinessen, M. C. Ricklef, and Moeslim Abdurrahman, wrote that in Indonesia haj was a unique Islamic ritual with a vital social dimension.

In the old days, those who went to the holy land did not merely perform haj.

They also sought greater knowledge about Islam by studying Arabic, reading books and learning other cultures.

Returning from Hijaz, Pak Hajis would share what they learned in the holy land.