Wetu Telu

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Wetu Telu ("three times") is the traditional belief of the Sasak people of Lombok, Indonesia. Today the belief is centered around Bayan, a town north of Lombok, although it used to be widespread all over Lombok. It is a syncretic form of Islam which incorporates both Hindu and indigenous animist beliefs. Followers of Wetu Telu do not pray five times a day and some observe just three days of fasting during Ramadan.[1]


Wetu Telu means "three times". Wetu Telu is often compared with Waktu Lima or Wetu Lima ("five times"), another more orthodox sect of Islam in Lombok which is known for its strong attempts to eliminate Wetu Telu.


Islam origin[edit]

Before the arrival of foreign influence, the people of Lombok practiced a form of animism known as Boda, focusing especially on the worship of the spirits of the ancestors.[1] Sasak followers of Boda are known as Sasak Boda[2] Despite the name, there is no relationship between Boda and Buddhism.[2]

In the 7th century, Hindu-Buddhism began to influence the island through the influence of the Majapahit Empire.[2] After the decline of Majapahit, Islam was introduced to Lombok by the Javanese in the 13th century through the northwest part of the island.[2] This Javanese Islam intermingles with Javanese Sufism and is full of mysticism.[2] In the 16th century, the people of Makassar arrived in eastern Lombok and managed to capture Selaparang, an original kingdom of Sasak. Compared with the Javanese people, the Makassarese were more successful in introducing Sunni Islam to the island. Despite the complete conversion of Sasak people to Islam, this version of Islam, known as Wetu Telu, was highly syncretic, mixing animist and Hindu-Buddhist elements with Islam.[2]

Local Wetu Telu followers rely on an old palm leaf manuscript (lontar) to explain how Islam came to be accepted on Lombok and how it became differentiated from Waktu Lima:

Pangeran Sangopati brought Islam to Lombok. His oldest son founded the Wetu Lima, while his younger son founded the Wetu Telu. The followers of the oldest son, however, were struck by all kinds of accidents, disease and famine. The younger son's followers prospered. So it was decided to lock the Wetu Lima teachings in an iron chest which was thrown into the sea. Everyone was then blessed by Allah, and prospered thereafter.[3][4]

The legends also mention that the first to convert to the new religion was the King in Bayan.[5] Bayan may have been the center of population in Lombok during the time of the arrival of Wetu Telu.

Colonial period[edit]

The political situation contributed to the spread of orthodox Islam. In the 17th century, the Balinese Kingdom of Karangasem took control of western Lombok. They managed to take control of the entire island of Lombok after defeating the Sultanate of Makassar in 1740. The Balinese are relatively tolerant toward the Islam religion. However, local Sasaks were integrated into various levels of the ruling society. The Wetu Telu also participated in Balinese rituals, which were actually much closer to their own than Islamic rituals, intermarried with their conquerors, and willingly adapted to the Balinese irrigation system.[1]

Despite the relatively peaceful situation, some member of the Sasak people felt huge pressure under Balinese rulership. Some Sasak people started a rebellion, which was unsuccessful. Frustrated, some Sasak leaders asked for assistance from the Dutch to drive away the Balinese.[2] The Dutch managed to drive away the Balinese from Lombok, but instead of returning the power to the Sasak people, the Dutch conquered Lombok by taking over the lands previously occupied by the Balinese.[2] In the 19th century, after heavy fighting, Lombok was conquered by the Dutch. This means that the Sasaks had been conquered by both the Christian Dutch and the Hindu Balinese. In this situation, Islam was readily accepted by many Sasak as a political marker of identity, differing them from the Hindu Balinese and the Christian Dutch.[5]

Until the end of the 19th century, Wetu Telu syncretism was widespread in Lombok. Then, another, stricter, version of Islam began to gain ground, known as the Waktu Lima. Waktu Lima ("five times") is similar to mainstream Islam, but more orthodox in the way that it tries to eliminate Wetu Telu. Waktu Lima originated when the 19th-century purist reforms in the Arab world were brought to Lombok by Sasak hajjis (pilgrims to Mecca and Medina). Concerned by the version of Islam practiced by their countrymen, the hajjis attempted to purify the faith by removing all lingering traces of animism. Waktu Lima first spread among the rich, then slowly to other broader layers of society.[4]

However, under the colonial rule of the Dutch in Lombok, the more fanatical elements of the Sasak Muslim population were kept under control.[6] As a result, the Muslim reformers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries could only try to persuade followers of Wetu Telu by peaceful means. They channeled their energies into the Muhammadiyah religious school system, which imparted the strictly orthodox teachings of Islam.[4] Some of these orthodox Waktu Lima followers also used Islamic ideology to fight the Dutch, which increased the polarization between Wetu Telu and Waktu Lima; Wetu Telu focuses on keeping their loyalty with the Sasak royalties and local tradition, whereas Waktu Lima focuses on preaching purist Islam ideology.[6]

Post-independence and present issues[edit]

Relations between the followers of Wetu Telu and followers of the more orthodox Wetu Lima — particularly the conservative Nahdatul Wahtan sect — have never been good. Nahdatul Wahtan was founded after the independence of Indonesia and based in the East Lombok district capital of Selong. This organization, led by Zainuddin Abdul Majid, was created to combat the Wetu Telu religion.[4] Wetu Telu faced heavy pressure to conform to a more "respectable" form of Islam. As a result, Wetu Telu has been driven underground and, fearing sanctions, very few will admit to having Wetu Telu as their religion.[4]

In 1965, as a result of an attempted communist coup in Jakarta, a widespread massacre occurred all around the Indonesian archipelago, especially toward those who were suspected of being Communists or atheists. In some areas, those who did not belong to one of the "acceptable" religions were considered atheists and killed. During this period, some of the strictly orthodox Sasak Muslims classified the Wetu Telu as an "unacceptable" religion; however, no killing happened because Lombok has fewer fanatics.[4]

Today, almost all Sasak villages adhere to orthodox Islam (also called waktu lima Islam in Lombok), while Wetu Telu syncretism continues to flourish mainly in isolated northern and southern parts of Lombok,[3] claiming around 28,000 adherents.[7]


Syncretism is a relatively common religious practice in Indonesia. The major religion of Balinese Hinduism and Javanese Islamic syncretism (kejawen) are examples of syncretism in Indonesia. In Indonesia, syncretism is characterized by a strong respect toward ancestors. Sasak followers of Wetu Telu believe after death the soul can still return to this world. Therefore, deceased ancestors can continue to exert a major influence upon the lives of their living descendants. This is why ancestral souls must be invited to ceremonies; if treated properly, they may aid the living and facilitate their undertakings.[3]

To the Wetu Telu, both the influence and the spirit of nature may influence the living. These supernatural powers dwell everywhere, especially in springs and hills. If not disturbed, these powers are not ill-willed or dangerous. Supernatural beings may even assist humans, and their assistance can be invoked by means of certain power-transferring media or objects such as sacred water and sacred cloths. These objects assist in establishing relations between the human beings and the spirit world, as well as protecting human beings from the attacks coming from ill-willed spirits.[3]

Wetu Telu has similarities with Balinese Hinduism. Some Wetu Telu consider Mount Rinjani (the highest mountain in Lombok) the dwelling place of the ancestors and the most powerful beings, including the Supreme Being; very similar with the Balinese Hinduism who consider Mount Agung (the highest mountain in Bali) the dwelling place of gods.[1]

Wetu Telu, although considered a sect of Islam, has striking differences with Islam in general. Islam revolves around the Five Pillars: the Shahada (declaration of faith), prayer, concern for the needy through charity, self purification through Ramadan fasting, and the Hajj if one is able. Wetu Telu, on the other hand only obliges its followers to follow three of them; there is no obligation to perform charity or the Hajj in Wetu Telu. Also, Wetu Telu followers pray only three times a day rather than five.[1] Some Wetu Telu followers observe just three days of fasting during Ramadan.[1] These differences between Wetu Telu and Waktu Lima often started doctrinal complaints among the Waktu Lima.[1]

Wetu Telu mosques in Bayan[edit]

Wetu Telu mosques are some of the oldest mosques in Lombok. The oldest one is the 17th-century Bayan Beleq Mosque in Bayan, northern Lombok. It is regarded as the central sanctuary for all north Lombok Wetu Telu Muslims. Bayan Beleq Mosque and other Wetu Telu mosques are always built of the most traditional materials: a multi-tiered pyramidal thatched roof made of alang-alang or bamboo shingles, supported with four main posts; a typical vernacular mosque style in Indonesia. Wetu Telu mosques have a square plan and walls covered in wood and bamboo, resembling early mosques from Ternate and Tidore.[7] Together, these very traditional-looking mosques constitute a single system.[3]

Apart from the obligatory large drum, Bayan Mosque has a number of unusual features in Islam. These include the dragon of Bayan, a mythical creature who is the village guardian, and sculptured wooden birds that look down upon the devotions of the kyai (religious leaders). Ordinary Friday sermons are never held in the Wetu Telu mosques. People only visit the Wetu Telu mosques to bring offerings of food to the kyai during ceremonies. The execution of religious duties rests entirely with the kyai. Ordinary people do not conduct the Friday sermon.[3]

Wetu Telu mosques celebrate the Mawlid (Prophet's birthday). During the occasion, Wetu Telu mosques are decorated with flags and cloths. In the late evening, the kyai meet to pray and share a meal. During Ramadan, all the kyai assemble each evening in the mosque to read prayers and at the end of Ramadan they come together to eat a joint meal and read the specific sermon reserved for this occasion.[3]

When a catastrophe happens, all the Wetu Telu kyai of northern Lombok would assemble in the Bayan Beleq Mosque to reestablish harmony with the world. This is enacted by means of a ceremony known as lohor jariang jumat. This takes place over two Fridays, and finishes with a sermon which is specifically Bayanese, and read in the local language rather than Arabic.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Müller 1997, p. 55.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Budiwanti 2000, p. 9.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Cederroth 1998, pp. 84-5.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Müller 1997, p. 54.
  5. ^ a b Cederroth 1995, pp. 9-10.
  6. ^ a b Budiwanti 2000, p. 10.
  7. ^ a b Waterson 1998, p. 41.

Works cited[edit]

  • Budiwanti, Erni (2000). Islam Sasak: Wetu Telu versus Waktu Lima (in Indonesian). Yogyakarta: PT LKiS Pelangi Aksara. ISBN 9789798966514.
  • Cederroth, Sven (1998). Gunawan Tjahjono (ed.). Religion and Ritual. Indonesian Heritage. 9. Singapore: Archipelago Press. ISBN 9813018585.
  • Cederroth, Sven (1995). A Sacred Cloth Religion?: Ceremonies of the Big Feast Among the Wetu Telu Sasak (Lombok, Indonesia). NIAS Report series no. 10 (revised ed.). Singapore: NIAS Press. ISBN 9788787062541. ISSN 0904-597X.
  • Müller, Kal (1997). Pickell, David (ed.). East of Bali: From Lombok to Timor. The Periplus Adventure Guides Series. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 9789625931784.
  • Waterson, Roxana (1998). Gunawan Tjahjono (ed.). Architecture. Indonesian Heritage. 6. Singapore: Archipelago Press. ISBN 9813018305.