Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Grigson
As Indonesians well know, the lives and deeds of the Wali Songo are an important part of the rich history of Islam in South East Asia. In Indonesia the devotion and influence of these religious leaders is widely felt and visiting their tombs is an expression of faith.
In the last six months I have had the honour of visiting six of the tombs of the Wali Songo. In August I visited Sunan Ampel, in September I visited Sunan Gunung Jati, and in November I visited Sunan Giri, Sunan Maulana Malik Ibrahim, Sunan Drajat and Sunan Bonang.
Today, I will visit the remaining three tombs: Sunan Muria, Sunan Kudus and Sunan Kalijaga.
Visiting the tombs has been a unique way for me to learn about this important aspect of Indonesian culture and history. I have been honoured to meet many pilgrims and the selfless people who devote their lives to maintain these tombs. We have discussed the important role religion plays in the lives of Indonesians and Australians.
For an Australian, the history of the Wali Songo particularly resonates. In one sense, it is a history of cultural interaction (I am told, for example, that Sunan Malik Ibrahim may have been born as far away as Persia and that Sunan Kudus was of Arab descent).
Australia, like Indonesia, has also been blessed by the many traditions and cultures that have been brought to our shores.
For example, Muslim traders from Makassar visited the northern coast of Australia from as early as the 17th Century. The first Muslims to permanently settle in Australia arrived in the1860s and were cameleers from Afghanistan and the Indian sub-continent. They played an important role in the exploration of central Australia and worked on the railway lines and the telegraph system.
Australian Muslims now form a valued segment of Australia’s diverse multicultural society. Our Muslim community is estimated at 500,000 people and Islam is the fastest growing religion in Australia. Muslims in Australia hail from many backgrounds but the largest group are those born in Australia.
As Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, I have visited almost fifty mosques as well as many churches, temples and other places of worship. These visits have demonstrated to me the many similarities between Indonesians and Australians and the values we share such as community and family.