Acehnese Religion

Doctrines Aceh is the northern province of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Acehnese religion is Islamic in the orthodox tradition with a growing mystical strain and some pre-Islamic elements such as a belief in spirits.
Religious practice in the villages of Aceh takes place in the meunasah and the house. The meunasah is a dormitory for adolescent boys and some adult men. During Ramadan, the fasting month, the recitation of traweh, voluntary prayers, and the Quran takes place there. Elementary instruction in Quranic recitation is often given in the meunasah, but also in the homes of teachers. Ritual is very important to the Acehnese and this is performed in the house. The different stages of life are marked by a series of rituals, which start with pregnancy. The nature of the formalities of these rituals has not yet been clearly understood.
This century has seen religious reform taking hold with the reform movement promising a new society if men follow religious ritual. Prayer is stressed as most important for it is believed to put men into a rational state called akal in which their passionate nature or hawa nafsu is contained and channelled into religiously sanctioned ends.
Belief in spirits has been minimised by religious reform. For men such belief is unimportant. Women, however, believe that spirits bring dreams. In remembering their dreams, women remember also that they have been visited by spirits. But as the spirits have left them, they are free of spirits and thus feel competent and in control of their own domestic lives.
The form of Islam in Acehnese religion is still taking dynamic shape. Mystical sects have arisen in opposition to the reform movement.

History In the fifth century CE Aceh was the Buddhist state of Poli recorded in the Liang annals of China. Hinduism arrived with traders in the seventh and eighth centuries, followed by Islam in the ninth century and Aceh became an Islamic sultanate. In 1292 Marco Polo visited Aceh and in 1345 the great Arab traveller Ibn Battutah reached there. Islamic scholars came from Egypt, Syria, and India, and Aceh was a base for the Islamic conversion of other regions of Indonesia.
The early history was much influenced by India. The heterodox mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri and his successor Shams al-Din al-Samatra (d. 1630) may have come from India. The greatest ruler of Aceh, Iskandar Muda, who ruled from 1607 to 1636, supported Shams al-Din, but the next king, Iskandar Thani (1636-41), banished these mystics from court and burned their books. After this Acehnese Islam was mainly in the orthodox tradition. However, some unique mystical movements have arisen. In the nineteenth century especially many Acehnese on the Haj in Mecca joined the standard tarekat orders of the Qadriyah and Naqshbandiyah.
Reform movements received an enthusiastic response but the reform was never lasting. Even so, the Acehnese were willing to die for Islam and proved this in the long Acehnese War (1873-1914) against the Dutch. After the official end to the war, individuals continued the holy war through the 1930's with suicidal attacks on Europeans which the Dutch called "Acehnese murder." These Acehnese individuals believed that through these attacks they would immediately enter paradise.
In the 1930's the Islamic reform movement gathered way and the suicide attacks faded. Daud Beureu'eh, a religious scholar, established religious schools on European lines which taught religious and secular subjects. Students from these schools became the Aceh leaders during the Japanese occupation and the subsequent revolutionary period. Daily prayer and other aspects of ritual were institutionalised by the reform movement.
The 1930's world economic depression affected the Acehnese and was a factor in causing the reform movement to gain popular acceptance. The ulama, teachers, had grown in importance with the Acehnese War, and they achieved their greatest success with the acceptance of reform. The 1945-46 revolution resulted in the elimination of the Acehnese nobility. Daud Beureu'eh became military governor of Aceh during the revolution and he continued to consolidate modernist religious changes. From 1953 to 1961 he led a rebellion against the central government demanding Islamic law for Aceh. This was not granted then but today Islamic law is in force and Aceh is a Special Autonomous Territory.
An Islamic university has been established in Aceh. Acehnese Islam is not stable though and there has been opposition to the reform movement. In the 1950's and 1960's the Naqshbandi order was very successful on the west coast of Aceh, spreading to other areas, and in the 1970's numerous mystical sects appeared. Such sects are opposed by the ulama.

Symbols Grabar has called the imposition of characteristically Islamic forms on conquered lands a "symbolic appropriation of the land."
The Acehnese make the Haj to Mecca, where is found the representation of Allah in the form of a sacred meteorite known as the Black Stone which is at the shrine of the Ka'ba. The Quran is regarded as the revealed Word of the eternal God.
Some features of the mosque have a deeply symbolic significance. The mihrab is a niche in the wall which gives the direction to Mecca for prayer. It also has an acoustic function to re-echo the words of prayer and by this reverberation of the Divine Word it symbolises the presence of God. The misbah, sanctuary lamp, lights the mihrab and is a symbol of the divine light as told in the Quran: "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is a niche wherein is a lamp" (Sura of Light, 4.35). The fountain in the court or entrance for ritual washing is symbolic of the springs of water in paradise.
These and other symbols can be found on the prayer-rug, which itself is a portable mosque. Symbols of paradise are common on these rugs, including gates, gardens, birds, and a Tree of Life as a Tree of Bliss to shelter the mansions of heaven. Calligraphy contains endless symbolic decorations.
The Acehnese incorporate their own symbols into the more general Islamic symbolism.

Adherents In the 1980's Aceh had a population of 2,610, 000, of whom 2,548,000 are Muslims (James T. Siegel, Acehnese Religion in The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, Vol 1, p. 24).

Main Centre
 Banda Aceh in the province of Aceh, north Sumatra, Indonesia.