Muharram Commemoration and ‘Tabot’ Tradition in Indonesia

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and commemorated as Islamic New Year. Muharram refers to ‘forbidden’ that Muslims are prohibited to do bloodshed. Muharram itself is one of the special months since a lot of historical events occurred in the month. To celebrate the month, Sunni and Shia possess different perception. Ahli Sunna wal Jamaah or well-known as Sunni views the celebration of 1st Muharram based on Hijra (movement) of Prophet Muhammad SAW, while Shia believes that ‘Asyura or the 10th day of Muharram is the day of mourning.

In an interview on Tuesday (13/10) at Graduate School of Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY), Head of Master of International Relations Dr. Surwandono, M.Si. conveyed that Sunni-Shia have distinctive commemoration of Muharram. “Sunni looks at Hijra of Rasulullah and his followers to Medina, whereas Shia commemorated in asyura, celebrating the event of Karbala.

Dr. Surwandono provided few examples of the celebration of Muharram in Indonesia such as ‘Tabot’ or ‘Tabuik’ in Bengkulu and West Sumatera. Tabot is conducted to evoke the loss of Husein bin Ali bin Abi Thalib, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad SAW. Most people contended that the commemoration is identically in line with Shia’s celebration. Dr. Surwandono opposed the perception. “Tabot is a culture which does not deal with any religion. It is an inclusive culture, and it is not an exclusive culture. It is distinctive from Karbala,” he argued.

Further, he elucidated that an inclusive culture is a culture not having any political and religion affiliation. It is an open culture. “Tabot is in accordance with local context. When I queried the local government and local government, Tabot is cultural heritage, and they do not support Shia at all so that the issue that Bengkulu is pro Shia and there will be ‘Shianization’ is no longer true,” he emphasized. In fact, Tabot becomes an additional subject in Bengkulu, but the students do not learn Shia.

Dr. Surwandono recommended that the issue of different perception between Sunni and Shia should be comprehended and responded properly. If it is articulated improperly, the responses will be not unpredictable. “Logically, if everything is measurable, the extradition will be measurable as well so that the conflict relation will also measurable. The commemoration ought not to be undertaken democratically since it may cause cons and immeasurable responses,” he advised,

Moreover, Secretary of Qur’an Hadith Division of Muhammadiyah’s Tarjih Council Aly Aulia asserted that the commemoration of Muharram in Islamic teaching may be carried out because it is ‘muamalah’ as long as it does not deviate from the religion. Argumentation or Hadith regarding prohibition or recommendation to of the Muharram celebration is not found so that Muslims may undertake Muharram commemoration like Tabot. “There is no hadith forbidding or suggesting the celebration of Islamic New Year. God may give His reward for people conducting Islamic study and muhasabah to celebrate Muharram,” Aly maintained.

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