Tuesday, August 7, 2012

ISIF Reception for Student Delegation from Bamberg, Germany

I've noted in past blogs some of the many changes that have swept through Cirebon in recent years - stores, malls, technologies etc. There are also a number of new educational institutions, the most interesting perhaps being the Institut Studi Islam Fahmina (http://www.isif.ac.id/) which is located not far from the state Islamic college (IAIN) on the outskirts of town.

I have been in email contact with a number of the people at ISIF over the years, and know some of the lecturers and students quite well. It is a young institution - the first class college class matriculated only 4 years ago and the yayasan which sponsors it was founded only 6 years ago - but has established an important presence mainly via the internet as a centre for liberal Islamic thinking, research and debate.

I visited the campus for the first time this afternoon (7 August 2012) in the company of my old buddy the pelukis kaca and local historian Opan Safari (who lectures in cultural studies at ISIF) for a buka puasa bersama with a group of students from the University of Bamberg. The event had a number of formal speeches, informal discussions between students and staff, and attracted a range of interesting characters - local budayawan from Cirebon, a novelist and short story writer from Jakarta who had earlier delivered a writing workshop to pesantren students, a Catholic religious leader, a kepercayaan religious leader (wearing an iket) etc. Some of the women present wore jilbab and other head coverings, but by no means all of them, and the students I spoke to were articulate and keen to both listen and express themselves. Opan explained to me later that most are on full scholarship - ISIF employs them as research assistants for projects and pays their fees out of this. ISIF is also supported by a number of private patrons.

I enjoyed speaking with a number of the folk from both Germany and ISIF - a German professor who is making it a point to include Indonesia in the Islamic studies curriculum (his own PhD was on Nabi Khidir stories around the Islamic world), a student doing an MA on interfaith dialogue who conducted research in a Jewish institution in Antwerp, ISIF's rector who did his PhD on Koranic interpretation etc.

There was also a college band made up of Sundanese drum, guitar, terbangan and other assorted instruments that played in interludes- both Western pop and Indonesian pop music. My friend Doddie, another pelukis kaca who is currently an ISIF student, said that this same band has been accompanying short wayang kertas performances he has been giving in recent months.

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