This study will not elaborate on several definitions of religion because many scholars have tried to explore the definitions. Nevertheless, briefly, religion can be understood in three ways, namely: the existence of beliefs, practices, and social institutions. So it is through these three elements we will see how the religious pattern in Aceh is.
It must be admitted that the official religion of the Acehnese is Islam. If asked what their religion is, almost all people will simultaneously answer Islam! Likewise, statistically, almost 100 percent of Aceh’s population is Muslim. However, the study of the religious pattern of the Acehnese does assume that the Acehnese are very Islamic, and there is not a single flaw here.
This presentation will conduct a critical study of the diversity of the Acehnese people. It is hoped that this will provide a new discourse for us to understand the religious pattern of the Acehnese people.
In this case, the intellectual production carried out by Ar-Raniry, Singkel, Hamzah Fansuri, and several other scholars is concrete evidence of how the kingdom wanted to regulate the diversity of the Acehnese people.
Historically, the religious discourse of the Acehnese people was indeed controlled by royal institutions where several laws were applied that could regulate the life of Muslims at that time. Orders that are only seen as fiqh are regulated in law, in which the Acehnese are given a guide to practice their religion.
After the invaders came, religion then became a kind of spirit to fight against the invaders. Religion was then used to inflame the spirit of jihad against the invaders. As a result, the colonizers never succeeded in colonizing Aceh.
Therefore, Snouck Hurgronje said that if you want to conquer Aceh, then one thing that needs to be done is to separate them from religion (Islam) by separating the power of the ulama and the ulee balang.
The impact of this policy arose a tension between the ulama and the uleebalang, which then led to the emergence of a social revolution between them.
In this context, religion is then used to carry out various socio-religious actions among the Acehnese themselves. In this case, the view emerged to return Aceh to its history, where the Acehnese people could apply Islamic Shari’ah.
As a result, religious issues then spread to issues of rebellion due to the disappointment experienced by the Acehnese against the central government. The following historical trajectory is that religion has become a tool of the Indonesian government’s power to ‘govern’ Aceh.
In this context, religion became a symbol of the Acehnese people, marking their difference from other provinces in Indonesia. However, the spirit to restore Aceh as it was in the 15-and 17 century AD continues to resonate, especially among those who say that implementing a kaffah religion through Islamic law is an answer to one of the many problems that befell the Acehnese people.
Finally, religion in Aceh then evolved into a kind of standardized system established in the law. Moreover, until now, we have been able to find out what religion means to the people of Aceh.
The author’s purpose in briefly describing the religious journey in Aceh above is to examine what is behind this social history in order to photograph the religious face of the Acehnese people in the present context.
One of the most pressing issues is the emergence of the mentality of never being ‘colonized,’ which has become a particular problem for the Acehnese until now. The mentality has never been ‘colonized,’ and pride in the past is a portrait of the understanding of the Acehnese people in practicing their religion. Religion is seen as an established historical product. Moreover, religion is always pulled back as a ‘pride’ and must be ‘maintained.’
Therefore, as a result, if new views or new understandings of religion emerge in Acehnese society, they are often rejected because of this paradigm. Religion in Aceh has always been pulled back, not wanting to answer current problems.
In the Acehnese context, the monopoly of religious interpretation through the face of Islamic Shari’ah has led to the death of the role of religion itself. Because the presence of religion is only interpreted in the form of formalities, while religion as a spirit of life is neglected, this is where the paradox arises, where religion can no longer answer the various challenges faced by society.
As a result, people are no longer interested in knowing more about their religion. Because for them, being religious is tantamount to practicing Islamic Shari’ah which is interpreted by religious leaders in Aceh today.
The worse result is that religious traditions with intellectual patterns, as exemplified by their predecessors, are increasingly being neglected. Likewise, religious traditions through the pattern of international relations that the kings of Aceh once carried out in the past are no longer visible in religious discourse in Aceh.
More profoundly, the religious tradition of uniting ‘ulama, umara’ and the people is difficult to find nowadays in Aceh. They only ‘unite’ if there is an urgent agenda to be resolved. Then, religion becomes neglected again and does not have the function as expected.
The narrow role of religion in the form of formalities and symbols has given the impression that the role of religion in Aceh has been reduced. On the other hand, the more religion is reduced to the level of formality and symbols, the substantive role of religion becomes obvious.
If we were still proud of Aceh’s history and religion, all development was carried out in the past. The intellectual world made a fairly well-known history in the Southeast Asian region with religion. Through religion, Aceh can expand international relations. Through religion, Aceh can produce various historical products that can still be seen today.
One of the problems that surfaced in the interpretation of religion is a shift in understanding religious teachings, which is not yet so grounded in Aceh today. In the era of the advancement of ICT (Information, Communication, and Technology), people may no longer study religion as usual in Aceh’s history.
In the past, the children went to school (SD or MIN). They go to the fields or help their parents in the garden in the afternoon. After that, in the afternoon, they took a bath and studied religion at the Tengku in the villages.
On the other hand, children are no longer following the rhythms of the past. Their toys already play stations. Their view has also changed.
The style of speech is no longer the same as the children of the 1970s and 1980s. Studying religion or the Koran only complements the sufferer while watching TV shows. Finally, this generation has emerged today, where religion is only escapism. In this case, it is necessary to rethink how to rearrange religious education for children, rather than thinking about formalism and symbolism issues.
Even more profoundly, nowadays, people no longer learn religion by coming to the teungku or recitation. This generation is a Muslim without a mosque – a term coined by Kuntowijoyo – where the emergence of a generation that understands religion through TV shows, VCDs, spiritual intelligence training, and the tradition of Umrah as an annual agenda.
The emergence of this generation in Aceh is undeniable. Unfortunately, any group has an effort to see how Muslims develop without a mosque in Aceh. Since Fajr, they have opened the Fajr Lecture program on TV. He goes to the office in the morning, reads the newspaper, and takes his children to school.
In the afternoon, he picks up the children at school while attending a family party in the evening, watching the news. At night watch TV shows, ranging from soap operas to political debates. However, he has a fixed schedule to participate in spiritual training, which is paid for in millions of rupiah. Likewise, he has a unique travel agent who is ready to send his family if they want to perform Umrah.
We want to say that the pattern of the Muslim religion without a mosque is that it aims to increase individual piety, not social piety. So that is why it is not surprising if there are attitudes to be indifferent to everything that appears around him. What is essential is that Muslim groups without mosques do not need to engage in social activities.
This group is more interested in performing instant religious activities. If you want to donate, transfer via bank. If you want an Ustaz, all you have to do is call one of the reciters for their family. If you want to know how to pray, buy the VCD. They have their community. If they want to patrol, they only need to pay one of the residents to take their place. Their children are busy with school, tutoring, and watching tv at night.
Muslim groups without mosques in Aceh are already symptomatic among elite residences or office study groups. Again, we certainly do not encounter this phenomenon in the historical trajectory of religion in Aceh. So this phenomenon is not seen as a challenge for the people of Aceh as a whole. It seems that policymakers do not see this as a phenomenon in religious life in Aceh today.
Social piety becomes a price that is quite expensive. Therefore, this religious phenomenon seems to have been missed in the Acehnese context. Religion is no longer a social spirit but only on the plains of symbols and mere formalities.
The sense of togetherness as an ummah has been insulated by the time and space of daily busyness. Employees who work in one office will have their community.
Assimilation is a phenomenon that is difficult to find in Acehnese society today. If anything, it seems that it is no longer about discussing the interests of religion in society but instead how to use religion for group or socio-political interests.
However, the role is increasingly becoming a stamp for some agendas that require ‘legitimacy’ from religion.
The ambivalence of the role of religion emerges, where it becomes a mere pattern of escapism. Religion is only present when some groups need it with a momentary purpose. Therefore, we need to see how best religion plays a role in society, especially in globalization, where society is moving towards pluralism and multiculturalism.
The role of religion must be balanced with the development of the Acehnese people. In other words, religion must be able to provide answers to contemporary problems without reducing its role as a guide in people’s lives.
The miniature portrait above also provides a new understanding for us in seeing the face of religion in Aceh. From the explanation above, there is a shift in the pattern of religion in Aceh today.
However, the emergence of a new religious pattern that is more aimed at individual piety has jolted the pulse of the religious life of the Acehnese, which is more focused on aspects of social piety. In other words, symbolic and formalistic issues do not appear to be an urgent agenda for review.
In other words, we are not surprised by the number of Acehnese who goes on the pilgrimage but is stunned if Hajj is a trend and no longer has social meaning. In the past, Hajj provided an intellectual stimulus and reform movement.
It does not seem very easy to get this picture which is only a small example presented in this essay. Readers can already guess what has shifted in the lives of Acehnese people today. Likewise, you can already wonder what should be done to respond to this socio-religious change.