Sunan Ampel

The main reason that we are here in Jawa Timur was originally to be in Tulungagung, further east of Java. The 2nd part of the wedding which we attended in Jakarta was to be held here this weekend, at the groom’s hometown. But alas, the 2nd wedding was not going to happen as we were informed 2 months ago. But we decided to come to Surabaya anyway, to visit someone…well, his tomb actually.

Sunan Ampel who was one of the Walisongo ( 9 Saints of Java – songo = 9 ), was said to be one of those very instrumental in the spread and Islamization of Tanah Jawa. I will write a bit more about him in detail later in another entry altogether.We are both down with fever and flu but since we are already here, we don’t want to waste time recuperating in the hotel. So we decided to visit the Makam Sunan Ampel today.

What an experience it was ! Firstly, we decided, again just for the experience– to take the beca ( trishaw ) instead of the taxi. There were many beca riders looking for customers right outside our hotel, all chasing for business. The pak beca who got us initially was happy, but later I suspected , he actually regretted as both of us on one beca was alot of huff and puff work. 😛 If my father had seen us do that, he would definitely say we are crazy. The beca traveled on the main road with the lorries/trucks/cars/every other movable things on the road in a ‘no system manner’. What I would describe as traffic anarchy. But there we were, both squeezed on one beca and a skinny old man riding. And I was of course with the camera and a gleeful grin.

When we reached Masjid Ampel, it was quite a sight. There were so many people, as if they were on a tour group or something. All moving in large groups into the mosque area. Around the mosque is a bazaar/marketplace, not unlike the ones I saw in Madina, outside the Prophet’s Grand Mosque. We walked to the masjid but looking at the crowd, we decided to check the bazaar out first.

The shopkeepers and the people looked at us curiously, maybe because of the camera and/or because the husband’s physical appearance stood out amongst the crowd. One shopkeeper called us names in our faces, yelling out ‘ Ahh itu orang Abdullah Badawi itu dengan si Bule ! ‘ .. which I think he meant ‘that Malaysian and that foreigner’. I didn’t bother saying exactly where I am from, considering the currency of my hometown is far stronger than Malaysia or Indonesia, I was afraid of being overcharged in the bazaar had I revealed the truth.

Then we went to see visit the makam ( tomb ). The scores of people we saw earlier on were around the tomb reading surah Ya Sin and Al Fathihah and holding their own mini tahlils. We got a spot under the tree and did the same. Next to makam Sunan Ampel was the makam of his wife.

At this point, I realised something. Back in my hometown, the Javanese people call their grandparents Yayi ( grandfather ) and Nyai ( grandmother ). But in Java itself, they don’t. Yayi comes from the root word Pak Kiyai and Nyai comes from Bu Nyai. Pak Kiyai and Bu Nyai are actually guardians of the Pesantren ( religious schools ) here. So putting the jigsaw together, could it be because that the first Javanese migrants who came to my hometown long ago were mostly people from Pesantren? And was that also how Islam grew on our little island ?


There were the other makams of other great ulama ( religious scholars ) of Jawa Timur, mostly followers of Sunan Ampel. There was also makam Mbah Bolong. As as kid, I watched the horror film Sundal Bolong. And I associated the word ‘Bolong’ with anything that is spooky. But alas, today I found out that Bolong in Javanese means ‘a hole‘. So this Mbah Bolong was said to be a man who was granted the karamah of being able to see the Kaabah from a hole, hence determining the kiblat for Masjid Ampel. There was also makam Mbah Soleh, the man who was resurrected ( ? ) nine times, each time he was resurrected he finished off the work of assisting Sunan Ampel clean the mosque. He died for good when Sunan Ampel died. On the 9th time. There were 18 tombstones on his makam, every 2 for each of his death. So much mystics I am not sure which ones are true and which ones are legends.

We spent some time talking to the guardians of the tombs there for information and stories. Everyone asked where we came from. Then the husband wanted to spend some time in the mosque so I went out exploring on my own since I can’t pray this week.

Funny, when I was walking alone, no one called me names or made fun of me. I realised only when I was with the husband they did that. They were also friendlier to me this time round, although I was walking through the same bazaar I was with the husband earlier on. I suspected the husband reminded them of their Dutch- colonised days. There were calls of ‘ Buuuuu ayohhh fotoin kita buu ! Ayoooh ! ‘ with grins on their faces, gleeful that someone wanted to take photos of the streets they peddled on.

I spent quite a while at each stall in the bazaar, pretending to be interested in their wares, but really, I was actually listening to them talk. What I found peculiar was that many of the shopkeepers are Arabs and they really look pure bred Arabs, but they were speaking in fluent Javanese ! When I was in Madina, the Javanese workers working in the bazaars there were speaking pure Arabic. Now, a total linguistic reversal was right before my eyes.

( the lappy battery is running low so I think I shall continue later. And oh where IS the husband ? He has gone exploring on his own while I treated myself to full body ( head to feet ) Javanese spa for less than RM 90 in total… and till now he isn’t back yet. ) :S


6 thoughts on “Sunan Ampel

  1. So glad that the trip seems interesting enough 😀

    I was rather afraid due to the hotness of Surabaya you’ll be put off.

    OK enjoy the rest of your trip and be safe back home.

  2. “What I found peculiar was that many of the shopkeepers are Arabs and they really look pure bred Arabs, but they were speaking in fluent Javanese !”

    oh ya…this reminds me..most of the indon ibuk-ibuk who ‘adopted’ me in perth are of arab descent, and they still look strongly arab, anak-anak macam anak arab, yet the jawa accent is so strong. and i love their soto and this soupy noodle dish they always cook for mengaji lesson.

  3. You’re very fortunate to visit Sunan Ampel’s tomb and read the yasin there. I’ve been fascinated by WaliSongo’s story since I was a kid. I remember one particular story about WaliSongo built the masjid overnight which I heard from my grandma. The closest I got to WaliSongo was watching the Indonesian movie, Wali Sembilan many years ago. One thing that embedded in my mind was how graceful and heavenly beautiful the dialogue in that movie.

  4. Ana,
    Me too..
    I have always been fascinated with the walisongo history so when we were in Jawa Timur, we took the opportunity to visit the graves of 3 walis, Sunan Ampel, Sunan Giri and Maulana Malik Ibrahim.
    I couldn’t believe it myself I was at Maulana Malik’s Ibrahim’s tomb, for he was the first walisongo.

    Since I’ve visited 3 of them, I have 6 more to go… to dig into their history, which then I think will lead me to something I have been looking for all these while…

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