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Students of Pesantren in Java (Photo: Lensaindonesia.com)

Variety of Pesantrens in Indonesia

OurIndonesia – Besides modern education system, Indonesian Muslims have a traditional education system, called Pesantren. Students in Pesantren live in dormitories called pondok (boys and girls dormitories are usually separated), where they learn classic and modern Islamic teachings under the supervision of scholars called kyai or ustadz.

This traditional system can be traced back to Indonesia’s pre-colonial era. Before the modern education system was introduced by the Dutch, pesantren was the only educational institution available in Indonesia.

Pesantren plays an important role in Indonesia, especially in the spread of Islam in the country. It has become a means of formal socialisation which Islamic belief, norms and values are transmitted through teaching.

Today, education model in pesantren has developed quite well. In the past, it was a place for teaching Islam in traditional ways. But now, there is a growing number of pesantrens that incorporate modern teachings (pesantren moderen/pondok moderen). Pesantrens that claim as modern are usually the ones where Islamic beliefs are taught in bilingual, in Arabic and English.

There are one type of pesantren, whose operation is seasonal. It is called pesantren kilat (short-time boarding school). This type of pesantren commonly operates during long holidays. Its students mostly come from non-religious schools who want to learn and deepen their Islamic knowledge.

Many have claimed that pesantren has a great contribution in shaping “Indonesian Islam” –a much moderate and tolerant face of Islam. However, Pesantren has also been suffering from misleading “terrorism” stigma. After Bali bombing incident in 2002 and several terror threats later, some pesantren are suspected to have involved in spreading radical doctrines, for some suspects of the terror acts are students or alumnae of pesantren.

Despite being perceived as the most comprehensive place to learn Islamic beliefs, education system in pesantren is often considered to be rigid and outdated compared to the secular education system.

Yet, despite all odds, it seems that pesantren still has a firm place in the country. Not long ago, the #AyoMondok (let’s study in pesantren) hashtag on twitter, a campaign suggesting people to study in pesantren, became number 1 trending topic.

Well, not so bad for a rigid and outdated traditional education system, eh?

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