Traditional Islam and Social Openness

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Pesantren represents traditional Islamic education, often referred to by Nusantara Islamic scholars as “the great traditional Islamic education”. This is evident when Pesantren offers a curriculum that is collaborative, based on Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and Tasawuf (Islamic mysticism).

The Qur’an and Hadith are the primary sources of Pesantren education, supported by consensus (Ijma) and analogical reasoning (Qiyas). The approach is also characterized by spiritual practices, such as self-discipline, recitation of God’s names (Zikir), night prayers, fasting, and so forth.


KH Husain Ilyas explains that “Traditional Islamic education continues to exist, but its movement adapts to the development and contextualization of the times.” This suggests that tradition, as a principle, is not closed off to the acceptance of social progress and knowledge.

Pesantren is generally understood as an educational space for Islam with a traditional character. Some even describe it as old-fashioned and rigid. This perception is reflected in the way some people often associate Pesantren with lower social strata.

However, gradually this view is being debunked, proven by the experiences of students (Santri) who contribute significantly to social life. Since the 18th to 20th century, many Santri from Nusantara have become prominent educators beyond their homeland. Their works are still referenced today.

Prominent figures like Syeh Nawawi Bantani, Syeh Mahfud Termas, Kyai Hasyim As’ari, Mbah Maimun Zubair, and modern thinkers such as Gus Dur, Gus Mus, KH Husain Ilyas, and Romo Yai Agus Sunyoto with his Atlas Walisongo, are examples of this. In the post-modern era, there are figures like Gus Yahya, among others.

These Santri have greatly influenced and colored social movements and development. They are present and influential in nearly every social sector, often even dominating.

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