The Spread of Islam and Local Traditions in West Java: A Historical Perspective

The history of Islam in West Java, particularly in the region of Sunda, dates back to the late period of the Sunda Kingdom. According to historical sources, the spread of Islam in the Sunda region began in areas such as Cirebon and Karawang. One of the earliest converts to Islam was Ki Gedeng Tapa, the harbor master of Muara Jati Port in Cirebon, who embraced Islam in the 15th century. His daughter, Nyai Subang Larang, who later gave birth to Sunan Gunung Jati and the rulers of Cirebon-Banten, studied at a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) in Karawang.

The spread of Islam in West Java reached its peak during the time of Sunan Gunung Jati, who propagated Islam in the eastern part of the region, while his son, Maulana Hasanudin, spread Islam in the western part and Banten. The Islamization of West Java during the 15th and 16th centuries led to the development of unique religious traditions among the Sundanese people, especially in their observance of religious festivals such as Ramadan.

One of the regions with distinctive traditions related to Ramadan is Priangan, the central mountainous region of West Java. Despite undergoing Islamization parallel to coastal areas like Cirebon, the Islamic culture of the Prianganese has a more distinct character. This uniqueness is attributed to the region’s historical position as a crossroads between Sundanese and Javanese Mataraman cultures since the 17th century.

The Priangan region maintained its Mataraman culture even after it was relinquished to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) following the Trunojoyo Rebellion (1674–1688). The noble families of Priangan, known as menak, continued to practice the Javanese noble lifestyle, preserving the cultural heritage of their ancestors.

One of the unique traditions among Javanese and Sundanese Muslims is the practice of nyadran, or sadran, a ritual that involves visiting the graves of relatives or ancestors before a specific celebration. This practice is believed to have originated from Hindu teachings and was later adapted into Islamic culture.

Another interesting tradition found in West Java is ngikis, a ceremony performed before the fasting month of Ramadan in Ciamis. Unlike other Islamic rituals, ngikis is devoid of Javanese Mataraman cultural influences and is considered a form of acculturation between Javanese Islamic and ancient Sundanese cultures.

In conclusion, the spread of Islam in West Java has led to the development of unique religious traditions among the Sundanese people. These traditions, such as nyadran, sadran, and ngikis, reflect the rich cultural heritage of the region and its complex history of cultural interactions.