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|Religion of Java|
The Wali Sanga (also transcribed as Wali Songo) are revered saints of Islam in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java, because of their historic role in the Spread of Islam in Indonesia. The word wali is Arabic for "trusted one" ("guardian" in other contexts in Indonesia) or "friend of God" ("saint" in this context), while the word sanga is Javanese for the number nine. Thus, the term is often translated as "nine saints".
Although referred to as a group, there is good evidence that fewer than nine were alive at any given time. Also, there are sources that use the term "Wali Sanga" to refer to saintly mystic(s) other than the most well-known nine individuals.
Most of the wali were also called raden during their lifetimes, because they were members of royal houses. (See "Style and Title" section of Yogyakarta Sultanate for an explanation of Javanese nobility terms.)
Some Muslim Sufis came to Java from Gujarat, India via Samudera Pasai (part of what is now Aceh). The earliest wali sanga was Maulana Malik Ibrahim (originally from Samarkand) who arrived on Java in 1419 CE.
Tracing the lineage back further than Maulana Malik Ibrahim is problematic, but most scholars agree all of them are of Arab descent. Although silsila are listed in various Javanese royal chronicles (such as Sejarah Banten) to denote ancestral lineage, the term in Sufism refers to a lineage of teachers. Some of these spiritual lineages are cited by van Bruinessen in his study of the Banten Sultanate, particularly in regard to Sunan Gunung Jati who was an initiate of various Sufi orders.
Although popular belief sometimes refers to the wali sanga as "founders" of Islam on Java, the religion was present by the time the Chinese Muslim admiral Zheng He arrived during his first voyage (1405-1407 CE).
The theory of Chinese ancestry maternally of Walisongo was publicized for the very first time in the book entitled "The Collapse of Javanese Hindu Kingdom" (1968), which is stating that Walisongo are descendants of Chinese Muslims.
Dewi Candrawulan, a Muslim Princess from Champa, was the mother of Raden Rahmat (Prince Rahmat), who was later known by the name of Sunan Ampel. Sunan Ampel was the son of Maulana Malik Ibrahim, and the ancestor or teacher of some of the other Wali Sanga.
The composition of the nine saints varies, depending on different sources. The following list is widely accepted, but its authenticity relies much on repeated citations of a handful of early sources, reinforced as "facts" in school textbooks and other modern accounts. This list differs somewhat from the names suggested in the Babad Tanah Jawi manuscripts.
One theory about the variation of composition is: "The most probable explanation is that there was a loose council of nine religious leaders, and that as older members retired or died, new members were brought into this council." However, it should be borne in mind that the term "wali sanga" was created retroactively by historians, and so there was no official "group of nine" that had membership. Further, the differences in chronology of the wali suggest that there might never have been a time when nine of them were alive contemporaneously.
At first, it was not easy for Islam to enter and thrive in the archipelago. Even in the historical record, in a span of about 800 years, Islam had not been able to establish a substantial presence. Notes from the time of the Tang Dynasty of China indicated that merchants from the Middle East had come to the kingdom of Shih-li-fo-shi (Srivijaya) in Sumatra, and Holing (Kalinga) in Java in the year 674 AD, i.e., in the transitional period of Caliph Ali to Muawiyah. In the 10th century, a group of Persian called the Lor tribes came to Java. They live in an area in Ngudung (Kudus), also known as Loram (from the word "Lor" which means North). They also formed other communities in other areas, such as in Gresik. The existence of the gravestone of Fatimah binti Maimun bin Hibatallah in Gresi, dated to the 10th century AD, is considered evidence of the incoming migration of the Persian tribes.
In his notes, Marco Polo relates that when returning from China to Italy in 1292 AD, he did not travel via the Silk Road, but instead traveled by sea towards the Persian Gulf. He stopped in Perlak, a port city in Aceh, southern Malacca. According to Polo, in Perlak there were three groups, namely (1) ethnic Chinese, who were all Muslims; (2) Western (Persians), also entirely Muslim; and (3) indigenous people in the hinterland, who worshipped trees, rocks, and spirits. In his testimony, he said regarding the "Kingdom of Ferlec (Perlak)" - "This kingdom, you must know, is so much frequented by the Saracen merchants that they have converted the natives to the Law of Mohammet — I mean the townspeople only, for the Java hill-people live for all the world like beasts, and eat human flesh, as well as all other kinds of flesh, clean or unclean. And they worship this, that, and the other thing; for in fact the first thing that they see on rising in the morning, that they do worship for the rest of the day.
One hundred years after Polo, the Admiral Zhang He came to Java in 1405 AD. When stopped in Tuban, he noted that there were 1,000 Chinese religious Muslim families there. In Gresik, he also found there were 1,000 Chinese Muslim families, with the same amount reported in Surabaya. On Zhang He's seventh (last) visit to Java in 1433 AD, he invited his scribe named Ma Huan. According to Ma Huan, the Chinese and the Arab population of the cities on the northern beaches of Java were all Muslim, while the indigenous population were mostly non-Muslim as they were worshipping the trees, rocks, and spirits.
Early in the 15th century CE, Ali Murtadho and Ali Rahmat (sons of Maulana Malik Ibrahim) relocated from the Kingdom of Champa (Southern Vietnam) to Java, namely Sheikh Ibrahim Samarqandi (Maulana Malik Ibrahim) and settled in the Tuban area, precisely in the Gesikharjo Village at Palang District. Sheikh/Maulana Malik Ibrahim was buried there in 1419. After the funeral, both of his sons then heading to the Capital of Majapahit, because their aunt (Princess Dwarawati) was married with the King of Majapahit. And by the King's order, both of them then were appointed as officials of Majapahit Empire. Ali Murtadho as Raja Pandhita (Minister of Religion) for the Muslims, while Ali Rahmat was appointed as Imam (High Priest for Muslims) in Surabaya. Ali Rahmat was known as Raden Rahmat (Prince Rahmat), who then became Sunan Ampel.
In sum, multiple sources and conventional wisdom agree that the Wali Sanga contributed to the propagation of Islam (but not its original introduction) in the area now known as Indonesia. However, it is difficult to prove the extent of their influence in quantitative terms such as an increase in the number of adherents or masjids in the areas of their work in contrast to localities where they were not active. 
Names of the Walisongo
Some of the family relationships described below are well-documented; others are less certain. Even today, it is common in Java for a family friend to be called "uncle" or "brother" despite the lack of blood relationship.
- Maulana Malik Ibrahim also known as Sunan Gresik: Arrived on Java 1404 CE, died in 1419 CE, buried in Gresik, East Java. Activities included commerce, healing, and improvement of agricultural techniques. Father of Sunan Ampel and uncle of Sunan Giri.
- Sunan Ampel: Born in Champa in 1401 CE, died in 1481 CE in Demak, Central Java. Can be considered a focal point of the wali sanga: he was the son of Sunan Gresik and the father of Sunan Bonang and Sunan Dradjat. Sunan Ampel was also the cousin and father-in-law of Sunan Giri. In addition, Sunan Ampel was the grandfather of Sunan Kudus. Sunan Bonang in turn taught Sunan Kalijaga, who was the father of Sunan Muria. Sunan Ampel was also the teacher of Raden Patah.
- Sunan Giri: Born in Blambangan (now Banyuwangi, the easternmost part of Java) in 1442 CE. His father Maulana Ishak was the brother of Maulana Malik Ibrahim. Sunan Giri's grave is in Gresik near Surabaya.
- Sunan Bonang: Born in 1465 CE in Rembang (near Tuban) on the north coast of Central Java. Died in 1525 CE and buried in Tuban. Brother of Sunan Drajat. Composed songs for gamelan orchestra.
- Sunan Drajat: Born in 1470 CE. Brother of Sunan Bonang. Composed songs for gamelan orchestra.
- Sunan Kudus: Died 1550 CE, buried in Kudus. Possible originator of wayang golek puppetry.
- Sunan Kalijaga: His born name is Raden Mas Said, and he is the son of Adipati Tuban, Tumenggung Harya Wilatikta. Buried in Kadilangu, Demak. Used wayang kulit shadow puppets and gamelan music to convey spiritual teachings.
- Sunan Muria: Buried in Gunung Muria, Kudus. Son of Sunan Kalijaga and Dewi Soejinah (sister of Sunan Giri), thus grandson of Maulana Ishak.
- Sunan Gunung Jati: Buried in Cirebon. Founder and first ruler of the Cirebon Sultanate. His son, Maulana Hasanudin, become the founder and the first ruler of Banten Sultanate.
Additional Wali sanga
- Sunan Sitijenar - (mentioned in the Babad Tanah Jawi)
- Sunan Walilanang - (mentioned in the Babad Tanah Jawi)
- Sunan Bayat (mentioned in Babad Tanah Jawi)
- Sunan Ngudung (son-in-law of Sunan Ampel and father of Sunan Kudus),
Sources of information
Information about Wali Sanga is usually available in three forms:
- (a) cerita rakyat: usually written as school texts for children to understand the lives and teaching of the holy men who propagated Islam in Java and Sumatra. Some have been made into TV series, segments of which are available on YouTube.
- (b) kraton (palace) manuscripts with 'sacred' connotations: in verse and subject to limited access.
- (c) articles and books about the historical personages: by Indonesian and non-Indonesian writers who attempt to ascertain historical accuracy, sometimes by seeking corroboration from non-Indonesian accounts of history or religion.
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