Sasak - Religion and Expressive Culture

All Sasak claim to be Muslim, whether of the more pervasive Waktu Lima orthodox type or of the syncretistic religion embraced by a small percentage of the population. Villages have mosques, and many also have pesantren, informal religious schools, and madrasah, schools offering more formalized religious education. These institutions are often operated by Tuan Guru, influential religious leaders who have exercised considerable political power among the Sasak.

Religious Beliefs. While the distinctions between Wetu Telu and orthodox Muslims have almost disappeared, a small number of Sasak in more isolated villages still embrace the traditional ancestor cult, with life-crisis ceremonies, agricultural feasts, and beliefs in local holy places, local spirits, and ritual inheritance. Generally Sasak today maintain that they are orthodox Muslims obeying the Five Pillars of Islam: the confession of faith in Allah and Mohammed as his prophet; the five daily prayers, salat ; the fast during the month of Ramadan, puasa; the pilgrimage to Mecca, hajj ; and the payment of religious tax for charity and mosque upkeep, zakat. Traditional belief in ancestral spirits, the rice mother, and spirits that possess people and cause misfortunes are less prevalent than they were formerly. Waktu Lima Sasak believe in Allah, the supreme being; Mohammed, the major prophet; Iblis, the satanic being; evil spirits, witches, and spirit doubles or jinn.

Religious Practitioners. The religious officials present in all Sasak villages are the kiyai, of whom the penghulu is the official religious leader. However, a few isolated traditional villages still have pemangku, officials of sacred places.

Ceremonies. Once prevalent adat ceremonies (rituals relating to traditional law), which varied by village, have declined. Replacing them are Islamic ceremonies, which tend to be more individualistic than were the ritual feasts held for life-cycle and agricultural events, and which entail a network of kinship and villagewide obligations.

Arts. Traditional arts include making musical instruments such as gongs, drums, and wooden xylophones (often in carved and painted wooden stands), dance dramas, shadow puppet plays, and Islamic songs and dances. Traditionally large wooden horses for carrying celebrants were made.

Medicine. Illness may be attributed to spirit possession, sorcery, supernatural retribution, reactions to adversity, and disease. The services of belian, native healers, are often used.

Death and Afterlife. Islamic officials preside at funerals, and, in traditional communities, at mourning ceremonies held at specified times afterward. The body is washed by kiyai and kin of the same sex, orifices are plugged, and it is shrouded. Burial takes place soon after death. The corpse is laid on its side facing Mecca, with the head pointed south. Traditionalists believe that deceased kin continue to influence future generations. Orthodox Muslims believe in an afterlife earned by the individual through personal actions.

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