Pesantren Somalangu, a lesser-known Islamic boarding school in Indonesia, holds a rich history that often goes unnoticed compared to prominent institutions like Pesantren Krapyak or Pesantren Tebuireng. However, in terms of age, Pesantren Somalangu surpasses them all, as it has stood for over five centuries. Not only is Pesantren Somalangu steeped in history, but its founder was also a prominent figure who lived during the same era as the Walisanga, the nine Islamic saints of Java. Another intriguing aspect of Pesantren Somalangu is its close relationship with Raden Patah, the ruler of the Demak Sultanate. Could it be that the scarcity of discussions surrounding this pesantren is due to the dark events that once took place there?
Sayyid Abdul Kahfi Awwal al-Hasani, originally named Muhammad Isham, arrived at Karang Bolong Beach in Kebumen in 1448 when he was only 24 years old. During that time, Java was under the rule of the Majapahit Empire, led by King Prabu Kertawijaya, also known as Prabu Brawijaya I (reigned 1447–1451). The title “sayyid” indicates that Abdul Kahfi, the son of Sayyid Abdur Rasyid bin Abdul Majid al-Hasani and Syarifah Zulaikha binti Mahmud al-Husaini, had a genealogical connection to Prophet Muhammad. According to Atabik in “The Historicity and Role of Pesantren Somalangu in the South Coast” (2014, p. 192), Sayyid Abdul Kahfi is estimated to have been born in 1424, and his year of death is believed to be 1609, making him live an exceptionally long life of 185 years. After his passing, the Hadrami scholar was buried in Bukit Lembah Lanang, Sumberadi, Kebumen.
During the early years of his journey in Java, Sayyid Abdul Kahfi traveled from Kebumen to Karanganyar, Surabaya, and Kudus. In Surabaya, he assisted in the preaching efforts of Sunan Ampel, while in Kudus, he established a pesantren, one of his students being a relative of Sunan Ampel named Sayyid Ja’far Shadiq, better known as Sunan Kudus. After 27 years of a nomadic lifestyle, Sayyid Abdul Kahfi finally settled in Demak. In that city, he developed a close relationship with the first sultan of Demak, Raden Patah (1455–1518). The bond between Sayyid Abdul Kahfi and Raden Patah was evident as he married the eldest daughter of the king, Nur Thayyibah, in 1469, when Sayyid Abdul Kahfi was already 45 years old. After starting a family, Sayyid Abdul Kahfi brought his wife and child to Somalangu, Kebumen, to the land bestowed upon him by his father-in-law. In that village, he laid the foundation for a pesantren that would endure for half a millennium. Pesantren Somalangu was established in 1475, a fact known from the Siberian emerald fuchsite stone inscription found at the pesantren. Weighing nine kilograms, the inscription contains writings in Javanese and Arabic scripts. The numerical date, or candrasengkala, is written in Javanese script, while the explanation is in Arabic script. The Arabic inscription on the stone clearly indicates: 25 Sya’ban 879 H, equivalent to January 4, 1475 AD.
In addition to his studies at pesantren, Kiai Somalangu also undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he studied under Sayyid Sa’id bin Muhammad Babashal in Misfalah, Mecca. His extensive intellectual journey made him a proficient scholar in Indonesian, Arabic, and Dutch. Following the proclamation of independence, a group of individuals in Kebumen established the Angkatan Moeda (AM) organization, which leaned towards leftist ideologies. To counterbalance this, Muslim leaders, including the charismatic Kiai Somalangu, established the Angkatan Oemat Islam (AOI). Founded in October 1945, AOI recruited santri (Islamic boarding school students) and farmers. Their headquarters were centered at Pesantren Somalangu. Due to Kiai Somalangu’s influence and the large number of devoted santri, Pesantren Somalangu became the stronghold and training ground for AOI. Additionally, its strategic location in the south, near the railway and close to the hills, also made it suitable for military activities. Kiai Somalangu, who led the pesantren at the age of 37, became the patron of the Muslim community in Kebumen. His noble lineage, tracing back to Prophet Muhammad, and the belief that he was a saint (wali), attracted thousands of people to join AOI. The number of AOI members was estimated to be around 10,000 people from all over Kebumen, not including the approximately 30,000 sympathizers. Members and sympathizers of AOI also came from surrounding cities such as Banyumas, Kutoarjo, and Wonosobo. During Dutch Military Aggression I and II (1947 and 1948), AOI and the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) collaborated to defend the independence of Indonesia against Dutch attempts to reoccupy the country. However, this good relationship deteriorated when the Hatta Cabinet introduced the Re-Ra (restructuring and rationalization) policy for the military. AOI rejected this policy as it would have eliminated its members from the TNI. The government attempted various peaceful methods to negotiate with Kiai Somalangu, including sending Minister of Religion K.H. Abdul Wahid Hasyim, who happened to be acquainted with him. Unfortunately, these offers were declined. Subsequently, from August 4 to 9, 1950, four TNI battalions, namely the Sruhandoyo Battalion (Gombong), Panudju Battalion, and Barus Battalion (Purworejo), as well as the Suryosumpeno Battalion (Magelang), under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Yani, surrounded Somalangu. One day later, the pesantren was successfully occupied by the Armed Forces of the United States of Indonesia (APRIS). Kiai Somalangu and over 600 of his followers who managed to escape fled to Kroya, Cilacap. However, due to their demoralized state, they failed to overcome the APRIS attack on September 26, 1950, in Gunung Srandil. As a result of shrapnel from a mortar explosion, Kiai Somalangu was killed. His body was buried at the same location.
Despite the tragic events that unfolded at Pesantren Somalangu, their historical significance cannot be denied. The pesantren’s long-standing existence, dating back to the 15th century, and its association with prominent figures such as Raden Patah and Sayyid Abdul Kahfi have contributed to its historical legacy. Pesantren Somalangu played a crucial role in the religious and political landscape of Kebumen, particularly during the Indonesian independence struggle. Kiai Somalangu’s leadership and the influence of AOI attracted a significant number of followers, and their collaboration with the TNI demonstrated their commitment to preserving Indonesia’s independence. Despite the challenges and tragic end that befell Kiai Somalangu, his contributions and the legacy of Pesantren Somalangu continue to be remembered and honored by the people of Kebumen.