“I always remember my childhood. The good habits taught by my parents, both Mother and Father, make me what I am today. “

The aforesaid utterance is the beginning of our conversation with Nyai—a honorific term for female Muslim clergy—Hj. Sintho’ Nabilah Asrori. The second daughter of almarhum K.H. Asrori Ahmad (Tempuran Magelang) and Nyai Hj. Ma’munatun Kholil (Rembang) told me about her childhood memory and occasionally shed tears. The role of her parents with regard to her education, self-care, personal hygiene, behavior, and commingling with others, really impressed her until the age of 56. All becomes the main capital for undergoing her life.

The caregiver of Pesantren Al-Hidayat for women in Kedunglumpang, Salaman, Magelang, Central Java, has completed her elementary education at SD I Prajegsari Tempuran Magelang. At a young age, she has been taught to read and understand the books (Salaf classical books/Kitab Kuning) from various branches of sciences. One reason for her interest in studying the books is because her father is a translator of dozens of classical books. It becomes her inspiration until she finally succeeded in compiling a guidance book of fiqh for daily life and has been used for reference in learning fiqh in several pesantren. Aside from the book of Fasholatan (book for prayer guidance), she also compiled a book of odes (Syi’iran) in the Javanese language.

The little Sintho’ was often asked to go along with her parents for silaturrahim (strengthening of relationship) to the ulama. Such habit, named Sowan (visiting ulama), has become a tradition in her family until now, therefore, she is well known as an easygoing person (she loves silaturrahim). “My hope until the end of my life is always easy to visit the sick, the hard and the needy,” said the woman whose door is always open for anyone. “The most memorable moment of mine is when I visit Nyai Nuriyah Lasem Rembang, Central Java, the mother of KH. Ali Maksum, Yogyakarta. My mother is from Rembang, so visiting Lasem is quite often. Meeting with Nyai Nuriyah makes me amazed and awakened. She is a woman who memorizes Tafsir Jalalain,” she added.  

On one occasion, in 1971 she was present and listened to the speech of Nyai Elok Faiqoh from Jember in a religious gathering. Sitting in the first row, she clearly listened to every word and the style of speech of this female preacher. In the heart, she prayed that one day she wants to be able to convey knowledge to the society, spreading benefits as much as possible. 

Another story of this woman who memorizes the Qur’an is once her father invited K.H. Hamdani, a Hafidz (Quran memorizer) from Mangkuyudan, Solo, to scrutinize Quran recitation. Whilst all the superintendents were men, the little Sintho was asked to listen close to the Hafidz (K.H. Hamdani). Her admiration to the Qur’an beautiful recitation inspired her to become a memorizer of the Qur’an in the future. 

After completing her elementary school education, Sintho’ continued her study at Pesantren Mathaliul Falah Kajen, Pati in 1972. At that time she was taken by her grandmother, Nyai Masfi’atun Kholil. As her grandmother met the caregiver of the pesantren, she conveyed her hope that she wanted Sintho’ to be a torch. Listening to the saying of her grandmother, Sintho’ could not interpret the meaning of it. Only after she has been adult was she able to discern the saying of her grandmother. She interpreted the torch as a light. 

After completing her Ibtidaiyah education (Islamic elementary school) in Pati, she was then asked by KH. Ma’mun Kholil, the caregiver of Pesantren Raudhatut Thalibin Rembang who is also her uncle to continue her education at his pesantren. Kyai Ma’mun educated Sintho’ to be a strong person. So, except attending formal education in MTs Muallimat (Islamic junior school) and MA Muallimat (Islamic senior school), she was also active in an intra-school organization. Even, she was elected as the chairman of OSIS (Intra-school organization for the student) for two periods. Seemingly, starting from this organization, her spirit for struggle was developing. For her, the struggle can be anywhere and not supposed to be a chairman. 

Besides being active in OSIS, she also has been the best participant in the Scouting contest. “Due to this achievement, I am given an opportunity for comparative study at the favorite school in Kudus. At that time I am asked to give a speech. I am really grateful although I am only a villager but given a great experience,” said Nyai Sintho’ with great enthusiasm. 

In Rembang, she felt bitter-sweet of struggle. The money transferred by her parents was often late but it was usual for her and did not abort her spirit in learning. She was aware of the economic condition of her parents that was quite miserable. She had to think hard in order not to burden her parents who should also bear the expense of her eight siblings. 

Such condition made her fearless when mocked by her school friends as she sold tape ketela (fermented cassava) and kerupuk (deep fried crackers). She always remembered the saying of her father, “If you are berated do not hate, if you are praised do not be proud”. 

One year in Rembang, Sintho’ began to be a public conversation. She was able to attract attention. Private teaching request and religious gathering invitation started coming. Whilst hearing the news that her friends in her village have got married and even already have children, Sintho’ even was eager to pursue her education as high as possible. “How would we have a devout male/female generation if her mother is not educated?” Said the woman who was born on March 18, 1960. 

The time for her to leave Rembang and return home was coming. In terms of education, there is no discrimination in the dictionary of her family. Although the level of her education is the highest compared to other women in her village, Sintho’ was not satisfied. 

His father then took him to Pesantren al-Hidayat Berjan Purworejo with her three younger brothers. Here, due to the will of Allah Almighty, she saw her mate KH. Ahmad Lazim Zaeni, a pious and humorous man who guided her younger brothers in the pesantren. In 1983, she got married and settled temporarily at the house of her father-in-law while continuing her struggle in the organization of Fatayat Nahdlatul Ulama (young female Muslims of NU). 

The new place did not make her awkward in the organization. Her name was gradually known by the public. Her work in the organization made the women in her society awakened in the matter of education, economics, social and so on. “Commencing from the organization, among my friends want to be my santri. But how? I do not have a pesantren yet. They somewhat compel me. Eventually, my father-in-law provides rooms for them,” said the mother of five children. 

The pesantren in her father-in-law lasted for 4 years. In 1990, she returned to her own home and built a simple cottage (pondok). The activity in the organization did not detract the intensity of her teaching in the pesantren. The time management taught by her parents, the modal of education from the pesantren and the support of her husband also smooth her activities.

Along with the development of the pesantren that she is nurturing, she then has santri of elderly women. Starting from three women who wanted to study from basic knowledge, now they are approximately 300 women. Those santri, with initial S3 (Santri Sudah Sepuh/ elderly women santri) are studying various books (kitab) starting from Fasholatan (book for prayer guidance) to Quranic interpretation. Their teachers are the santri who settle in the pesantren and already have a capability.  

Coming once a week on Tuesday, not a few of those santri who also ask for solutions to various problems. Though being bothered by their various complaints, Nyai Sintho’ keeps grateful that they are aware that every problem must be solved. According to her, no matter how small the problem is if the solution is not immediately found it will lead to a new problem. “Especially women’s issues. If the women are good—good in the sense of their behavior and condition—then the country will be good as well. So if there is anybody who treats the women improperly or the women are not good as there is something else which is also not good, then we must think together to find a way out,” according to the woman who likes to command her disciples to read wirid (zikr) and now elected as the Leader of the Branch Representative Council Board of Muslimat NU, Salaman sub-district, Magelang. 

With regard to the issue of child marriage, she said by telling the story of her santri. “It is one of the many cases I have found. There is a student graduating from junior high school. The child seems gloomy. Her recitation of the Qur’an is also not good. The child is also less responsive to cleanliness. Evidently, she has already been coupled to a prospective Kyai and one year later will be married. Her father wants to take a blessing from his future son-in-law. I am anxious. I call her father though he is also a Kyai. I just say that his daughter even cannot read the Qur’an yet. Then I ask, do you want to have a stupid grandson? Finally, his father listens to me,” said the alumnus of PUP (Women ulama training) of Rahima of the first batch with a smile. 

“If there is a child who is eager to get married, it is because he just knows its pleasure. He might often watch pornography or porn action on TV or internet. So, we must urge such child to do positive things and fun as his age,” said the caregiver of the pesantren who won the sanitation competition in the province level of Central Java. {} Ulya Izzati 

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